Arthurs Pass is named after Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson (1841–1934). Arthur Dobson had been tasked by the Chief Surveyor, Thomas Cass, to find out if there was an available pass out of the Waimakariri watershed into valleys running to the West Coast. In 1864, his brother Edward joined him and accompanied him into the valley of the Otira River. A West Coast Māori Chief, Tarapuhi, told Arthur of a pass that Māori hunting parties occasionally used. When Arthur returned to Christchurch, he sketched the country he had traversed and included it in a report to Cass. Arthur Dobson did not name the pass, which he found very steep on the western side. Dobson named the site that became the township Camping Flat.
When the gold rush began, a committee of businessmen offered a £200 prize for anyone who would find a better or more suitable pass from Canterbury to the West Coast. At the same time, Edward Dobson (Arthur’s father) was sent to examine every available pass between the watershed of the Taramakau, Waimakariri, and the Hurunui, and after examining passes at the head of every valley he reported that “Arthur’s” pass was by far the most suitable for the direct crossing.