Route Guide: St James Walkway
The majority of this walkway lies on the St James Station, a large (173 340ha) high country station bordered by conservation land. Cattle are run on the station land and vehicle tracks, mud, and dung offer persistent company.
The first section, between Lewis Pass and Ada Pass, lies within the National Reserve and is very pretty. An overnight walk into the first or second hut would be most worthwhile. Later the track skirts Lake Sumner Forest Park. Butting up against the cattle flats of Glenhope Station, the muddy, trampled edge of the park has little to offer, however. The trees around Magdalen Hut are heavy with the parasitic native mistletoe, and a visit around Christmas would catch the scarlet bloom.
While the line of the track provides for easy walking, the path is in poor condition owing to trampling by cattle and low levels of maintenance. Marking is frequently vague and boardwalks are inadequate. If you've ever considered taking gum boots tramping, this might be the track to try them on.
Both ends of the walkway are on the Lewis Pass Highway, SH7, between Springs Junction and Culverden. Spaced about 15km apart by road, they are located at the Lewis Pass summit and Boyle Village, on the southern bank of the Boyle River. The track is most often walked from Lewis Pass to Boyle to take advantage of the height differential. Coaches run daily both ways between Nelson and Christchurch, crossing Lewis Pass around the middle of the day. They pick up and drop off trampers as well as providing end to end transport. Car storage is available at the Boyle River Outdoor Education Centre, and they will drop trampers at the Lewis Pass end for a small fee.
The walkway is exposed to harsh winter weather conditions, often coated with snow and, between Lewis Pass and Christopher Hut, prone to snow avalanches, and should be avoided by inexperienced parties in winter and early spring. Some restrictions apply to the sections of the walkway that cross the private land of the St James and Glenhope Stations. Camping and open fires are prohibited except where provided for specifically. Mountain bikes are prohibited. Deviation from the walkway and disturbance of stock is also prohibited. If a muster is in progress, trampers must comply with the instructions of drovers.
Lewis Pass-Cannibal Gorge Hut: 3¼ hr, easy
Originally part of the Rolleston Pack Track, the track into Cannibal Gorge departs northward on a boardwalk past a tarn and through sub-alpine bog land. An intentions book is found after a few minutes walk where the track pushes into forest. The well graded, smooth and pretty track descends evenly beside a mossy stream to a branch of the Maruia River. Over a small rocky stream-bed, a zigzag of track leads down the side of the narrow Cannibal Gorge to the sturdy swing bridge (0:30).
Heading upstream, the track climbs the true right bank, crossing a small creek and coming into the open on a steep hillside. A side track to the left once led to Phil's Knob, but it has been removed. Below, the river bends sharply (1:00). The track sidles easily along the gorge, crossing regular rocky creeks that drop directly to the river below. Some of these creeks are marked as avalanche zones.
Dropping to river level, the track passes through a series of grassy flats that would be suitable for camping (2:30) and over a steel bridged side creek. A brief, muddy climb, and the track levels off in low forest. The ridges of the Spencer Mountains to the right and the Freyburg Range to the left are visible over the treetops. The first hut is nearby in a pretty clearing.
Cannibal Gorge Hut-Ada Pass Hut: 1¼ hr, easy
Switching between flats and forest, but always close by the river, the track crosses a small creek (0:30) and commences a gentle climb. Before long, it opens onto a clear grassy hillside and avalanche zone, with impressive views of the ridges to the left and further up the valley (1:00). The clearing ends at Billy Goat Gruff Bridge, the track crossing what remains of the river. Alongside a small creek, the track leads eastward, coming quickly to the hut. There are magnificent mountain views here with space for camping.
Ada Pass Hut-Christopher Hut: 3½ hr, easy
A 10 min forest trail crosses the creek and leads over the flat pass (1008m), the boundary of St James Station. Dropping briefly, the track breaks onto the wide flats of the Ada River where paradise shelducks are likely to herald your arrival. Cattle may be present from here on. Crossing to the true right as the flats close in, the track enters light, monotonous forest (1:20). A brief view across the valley along Camera Gully to Gloriana Peak (2218m) is allowed at one point. Eventually a small creek leads back to the valley floor as a new set of flats opens up (2:25) directly beneath the slopes of the imposing Faerie Queene (2236m). This section is marked as an avalanche zone. Sunny, smooth flats bordered by matagouri and celery pine make for fast and easy travel, although the track is forced to climb onto the forested hillside several times as the meandering river cuts off the flats. The St James horses are a wild herd that graze the river flats here amongst the cattle and on the river flats to the east. They are easy to spot and not particularly concerned by trampers.
As the Christopher River valley opens up ahead, the track climbs into forest a final time and turns hard right into the lower Ada valley, revealing a vista that is completely new and yet somehow familiar. Cattle, horses, and dung feature more prominently as the track rounds this bend. An old deer cullers' hut is nearby, comfortable and tidy, if small and lacking in amenities.
A further 20 min walk leads to the new fenced-in hut, with camping space within the fence line. Faerie Queene to the northwest presides over the length of the valley, while to the southeast Lake Hill is visible across the Waiau Valley.
Christopher Hut-Anne Huts: 4 hr, easy
The open station land of the Ada, Waiau, and Henry Rivers is exposed to hot summer sun and persistent wind. Water should be carried.
A poled route sets off over the wide cattle flats toward the end of the valley, clambering onto the hillside and over a stile where a fence crosses the valley floor (0:50). Following a long curve beneath the barren slopes of Mount Federation into the Waiau River valley, past the Ada Homestead and onto the golden of the Henry valley, the track climbs over several more stiles (1:40).
Beyond Delta Stream the track climbs through a gentle, hummocky landscape and meets a 4WD track, which it follows much of the way to the Anne Huts. Bellbird calls drift from pockets of beech as the track crosses toward the Henry River. The first views of the Henry are from a terrace next to a small, windswept gorge (3:00). A swingbridge crosses to the steep hillside opposite where the track quickly drops to riverside flats. The flats on this side of the valley are notably greener although it could hardly be said they were prettier. Where a small creek descends from Mount Jervois to the south, a deep valley comes into view across the river to the north. This valley, carved out by Thurso Stream, affords a final view at its head of Faerie Queene, 10km away.
A vehicle track climbs off the valley floor onto a high grass plateau, divided in the distance by the Anne River, which enters from the left. Across the river, the plateau is covered handsomely with red tussocks. Through some scrub, the track drops off the terrace to a small bridge over the Anne. The old and new huts perch side by side here on the river-bank.
On the little spur behind the old hut you will find a rough track that leads after a minute or two onto the terrace behind the huts. There is a marvellous view from here. Most of the terrace this side of Anne River is boggy (as indicated by the red tussock presence). Camping would be possible near the beech trees at the dry edge, however.
Anne Huts-Boyle Flats Hut, 5 hr, easy
Large red jasper boulders decorate the river-bed as the track crawls alongside on a narrow cattle flat through the winding valley. Where the river narrows, the track climbs briefly onto a low terrace before dropping down steps to a bridge over the Anne. Easy riverside flats lead along the true right bank. Later the track detours into hillside forest where a long slip has blocked the river. Beyond the wide grassy delta of Kia Stream (1:15) and a second alluvial fan, the river becomes a creek and bends to the west. Climbing gently, the last of the cattle are left behind for now and red tussock overtakes the wet valley floor. An easy 15 min climb through light, regenerating beech levels off in the open forest of moss, lichen and beech at Anne Saddle (2:00).
The rich music of bellbirds accompanies a relatively quick drop through beech, ribbonwood and celery pine to the floor of the deep Boyle valley. Coming out by a small creek, the track strolls onto narrow flats at the river's edge. From here the track is a mix of grass cattle flats, short boardwalks, light forest, and mud, with poles marking the route occasionally as the flats widen. paradise shelducks guard the flats while Canada geese congregate in shy gaggles along the river and sometimes honk high overhead. As the valley widens, old terraces appear on the left, and the track occasionally climbs onto these to avoid some hazard or bend in the river. Rokeby Hut sits high on one of these terraces just before the wooden Rokeby Stream bridge (3:50). Magnificently sited in a small clearing, the hut is an excellent lunch spot sheltered from the valley winds.
Over the river and into forest, the track follows the edge of the terrace before dropping to the flats by an old rocky slip. An uneventful trail leads to the next hut situated in a pleasant forest clearing across the river. A swingbridge provides access.
Boyle Flats Hut-swingbridge, Boyle River: 1 hr, easy
Back on the true left, the track climbs higher on the hillside and sidles through the pretty forest of Lake Sumner Forest Park while the river below enters a gorge. After a few minutes a helpful sign marks Dead Horse Gully. Back at the riverside a good track leads to a fence and stile at the edge of a small flat. The walkway crosses a swingbridge here, while a side track leads to Magdalen Hut.
Swingbridge-Magdalen Hut: 20 min, easy + river crossing
Keeping to the true left bank, a smooth track through trampled forest leads to the fenced in hut across Maritana Stream. There is ample flat camping here, and as mentioned, the beeches inside the fence line hang thickly with mistletoe, a particular delicacy of possums.
Swingbridge-Shelter, Boyle Village: 3¼ hr, easy + river crossing
Climbing into muddy forest, the track levels off as red beech becomes dominant. The Boyle River bends westward and the gloomy track drops to the muddy edge of the valley floor, skipping between the degraded forest of Lake Sumner Forest Park and the muddy grass flats of Glenhope Station. Numerous narrow, rocky creeks drop in parallel gorges from the ridgeline of Faust (1710m) to the north. These would become impassable in some conditions. At the second creek the track seems to disappear. It follows the rough bed upstream a few metres before climbing out the opposite bank. Beyond here a scruffy track leads interminably through scruffy forest.
A swingbridge (2:30) crosses the turbulent Boyle and the track clambers onto a terrace of kanuka. An intentions book and toilet are passed as the track ends on a dirt road (2:50). The road continues down the valley past baches to the shelter and car park by the main road. The Boyle River Outdoor Education Centre is on the left.
ShazDavis Great walk - we did it in 4 days (day 2 was the long day) late May, early June over the Queen's birthday weekend. Lots of horses (2 herds) some snow for the first day and a bit. Coal and wood fires were a great bonus. Anne hut is exposed but lovely. Anne Hut to Boyle Hut is 21km not 17km but the DoC timing was about right. We used the Boyle Outdoor Centre transport option (prices have gone up since the last posting) and that was great. Had huts to ourselves for 2 of the 3 nights - which for a pubic holiday weekend was amazing. The gradient is easy but some path finding skills necessary in places (between Christopher and Boyle Huts).
15 June 2015
mantis Cattle and other stock have now been removed (March 2011) and the new hut at Anne River is almost complete. Good side trips if you have the time (Three Tarns Pass etc) also fantastic birdlife particularly in the Maruia and around the Boyle River Camp at the end of the track
22 March 2011
ledge 2009 Update:
My wife and I, both entering our middle ages, and not particularly fit, did the St James over New Years. Surprisingly, the huts were only half full - one night we had Christopher Hut to ourselves, as others were tenting.
As the walkway is being de-stocked by June 2010 (& we only saw about 30 head of cattle), there aren't many cowpats left. Or mud, for that matter. The track was in great condition, the huts all had brand new toilets, the wx near perfect. My wife wants to return!
P.S. Yes, there's only 14 mattresses per hut, but hey, they are designed for 20 people to sleep across, 7 on top, 7 below.
P.P.S. The DOC brochure indicates 4-6 hours between the big huts, and we comfortably met these (generous) track times. We found their times encouraging.
Boyle Outdoor Ed Lodge:
Charges $25 to drop you off at Lewis Pass. Charges $5 per day for vehicle storage, (ie another $25.00).
18 January 2009
karcher My wife and I tramped this walkway in November 2007. Our tramping abilities could hardly be further apart as she is an experienced tramper and I am a virtual novice.However we had a wonderful time. After being shuttled up to the Lewis Pass by the kind lady from the Boyle Outdoor Education Centre we began our walk at 10.30am on a Tuesday.We never saw another human being until 2.00pm the following Friday and that was only because two DOC gentleman had come up from Hanmer Springs to service the last hut.We had warm and sunny weather throughout, obviously we had the huts to ourselves and views at times to die for.As a track it seemed to have everything from stunning mountain views, beautiful clean rivers, pastoral sections, great swingbridges and despite what I have read elsewhere easy to find marker signs. I have to say it has rather whetted my appetite for another long tramp although I have not let that on to my wife yet!!
18 December 2007
donorkebab I walked this trach just before Christmas in 2003. It is a great tramp, has some great views and suitable for beginners, too. We walked from Cannibal Gorge hut to Anne Hut in one day, and the last 2-3 hours were a bit tough on our legs, but it was feasible. (We wanted to spend Christmas Eve in Hanmer Springs, so we had to push.) The forest between Lewis Pass and Cannibal Gorge is beautiful!
31 March 2005
Apollo This track was great. My partner and I completed this in November 2004 in three days and the differing scernery is awesome. The wild horses were out in force by Christpher Hut (along with the Sandflies). Must say, though, that I'm glad we began at the top of the Lewis and walked out to the Boyle settlement. Anne Saddle may have been a bit much otherwise. All of the huts are well kept and the possums only visited at Ada Pass Hut (where, if the noise was any indication, they had a rather good party). When can I go back?
8 February 2005
sinch116 Kimmyh51 sorry I do not know why you are so slow... maybe you should take bigger steps :-) I did the track with my sister over New Year 00/01, and Boyle Flats Hut to the road took us four hours, where we had to wait another hour for our parents to arrive and pick us up! We had a great trip with quiet huts the whole way (although maybe that was because it rained/hailed three days out of four and there was snow on Ada Saddle), and a beautiful sunrise at Boyle Flats Hut on New Years Day.
20 August 2003
robbie_12 This is one of my favourite sub alpine tracks. I have tramped it over 6 times over the last 13 years and never tire of this track. No matter what time of the year it always offers something special. Sadly the birdlife is decreasing as feral cats become dominant around Christopher hut. This is a great track for beginners. Plus a track to be respected, its rivers can rise so quickly, lives have been lost on this track. But the scenery is spectacular, something not to be missed in either summer, winter, rain, snow or sunshine. I'll be back again to get a taste of something special!!
8 July 2003
uubeem I have just finished tramping the St James and had a great time.I read the comments about the mud and crap below and wondered what to expect at this time of year.Maybe DOC have done a lot of work since January but even a first "away" time tramper didnt mind it,in fact enjoyed getting dirty.Dont moan Dave, a bit of mud and crap are better than staying home and being a sad B*****.uubeem.
30 May 2003
kimmyh51 Why are we so slow????
Everyone is talking about how it took them less time than it said or the sae amount of time to walk this track. We went form the carpark to boyle flats hut for one night & it took us 6 hours! each way! It was our first time with packss but we had done a lot of day walks before hand & I spent about 5 - 10 hours a week workling out (about 60% is cardio)....why did it take us so long? I cant imagine getting through that in 4 hours!
4 March 2003
dave bliss I was generally disappointed with this track, as it seemed impossible to get away from cattle (some of which were determined to be stroppy) even in places where they weren`t supposed to be! A entry in a hut book suggested it be renamed "the cattle crap trail" and for me this almost summed it up.
Having said that there are some several really fine views of snow covered mountains.
I advise boiling all water - the Anne Hut water tank had a dead possum in it and apparently this is a recurring problem..... the rivers and creeks would possibly have a fair amount of cattle effluent..
I found the track generally well marked, except at one point dropping down off a terrace near Rokeby and again closer to Magdalen. At both places the obvious track evaporated. There were suprisingly few people on the track in late January
13 February 2003
georgiepie I walked the St James track with my youth group. There were about 20 of us I think, and it was sooo much fun!! We were all pretty inexperienced (apart from our leaders who are tramping fanatics!!).If you haven't tramped the St James and have the chance to do it, then DO IT!! Its one of the best experiences of my life so far. Like I said, we were all pretty inexperienced trampers and Anne's Saddle was hell for all of us... and we did the easy side! :) also it snowed every night we were there, making for really cold starts. Also on the last day (we started from the Cannibal Gorge end) it was hailing so much, and it was incredibly windy too which meant that it was hailing right into our faces. It was pretty unpleasant!! But like I said, the best time of my life. Also, I suggest that after you do the St James, drive on over to Hanmer Springs. The hot pools were the PERFECT way to end 5 days of walking!! :) It is a great tramp... and I pay tribute to my tube of sweetened condensed milk... it is pure sugary energy when you need it... and best of all, it can fit in your pocket. :P Happy Tramping!! :D Love from georgiepie, age 17. PS- watch out for the possums... we bought along an 'instant cheesecake' mix for dessert, and thinking we were pretty smart we decided to put it on the porch to set in the cold outside air (as I said before, it was snowing all night), but when we went out to get it... the possums had their naughty little paws in it!! :P Be careful, they will eat ANYTHING! ^_^
11 November 2002
skiwimum The section of track from the Boyle Village to the Boyle Hut (return the next day)is a great overnight family tramp. We have done it many times when our children were younger (9/10 yr olds and upwards). The scenery is great and the river is beautiful.
Just a word of caution if taking children ... do make sure they have good sturdy footwear or boots and that they have all the right tramping gear including a good tramping raincoat, woollen hat etc. And
do check the weather forcast carefully before you go if taking children. You want to make each early tramping experience a good one for kids!
There are sometimes a few minor slips on the track above the river from the swingbridge by the Magdalen Hut turnoff towards the Boyle Hut, but they are usually quite passable with.
Plenty of cattle around the hut and quite big ones .... they run away pretty quick tho'
All in all a good family trip
4 November 2002
azza I have walked the St James many times - from both directions.
The hut spacing is not very well thought out. Whenever I tramp it, I always use a tent - this allows the walk to be completed in 3 days (or 4 days if you want easy walking).
It's kind of a strange tramp in that it feels sub-alpine, but there is no climbing to talk about (the Anne saddle is steep, but short).
Note that at the Boyle village end you can save 1/2hr to 1hr by ignoring the track and heading off across the flats.
Just past the swingbridge, where the track cuts away from the river, there is a partially overgrown track that continues to follow the river on the true right, towards Magdalen hut. Following this will lead onto the flats, where you can either make your own way, or follow a rough track across the plains for about 1/2 hour. Eventually you come to a bluff across your path, with a stream in front of it. Follow the stream up for 50-100m to gain access back to the main walking track.
One last note, because of it's length this tramp is well travelled during public holidays, especially Easter. If walking at this time, take a tent!!!
22 August 2002
nzfella I have walked the St James twice, both times four days/ three nights. The first time was before the huts were upgraded and I was not totally impressed. The second time was September 2000, and I was delighted to see that the huts were much better. If you intend to do tjis trip in four days I highly reccomend that you make Christopher Hut your first stop, then Ann Hut, aqnd Boyle Flats on the last night. By doing it this way you will make the trip much more enjoyable. I don't agree with the time for an experienced and fit trsmper, as it is easy to get to Christopher form the Lewis Pass road (including viewing the Tarns near the car park) in 6 hours. We left the car park at 10am and had lunch at Ada Hut. From Lewis Pass road end to Christopher is very pleasant walking through bush, albeit up and down, whereas from Christopher to Ann Hut is mostly open and not very exciting except for the wild horses, which are really nice to see. We were really lucky on the last day as it started to snow, and continued most of the day adding another dimension to the scenery with light fluffy snow and snow resting on the trees making for wonderful photo opprtunities, The St James is a nice tramp, but ther are much nicer that are alot less known. Happy tramping, Rod
2 January 2002
Your web site would be the most accurate in times of walking that I have come across. It may be of help to trampers if they knew that the times you quote are walking times and not the total time between points. I checked all times against a stop watch and they were all within five minutes. One thing it would be prudent to check. The bunk capacity of the huts. I know that according to the D.O.C. map some of the huts have 20 bunks. This is not so! One night we had 18 trampers trying to fit into 12 bunks and the map told us that there were 20 bunks! I'm pretty sure this was the Ada Pass Hut. In fact the only huts enroute that would have slept 20 people were the Cannibal Gorge and the Boyle Flat huts. The rest are suspect to say the least.
Once again, congratulations on a fantastic effort to give detailed information on walks and tramps.
20 February 2001