St James Walkway

Lake Sumner Conservation Park, St James Conservation Area, Lewis Pass National Reserve

  • 5 days one way
  • Easy/medium

A long and easy walk on St James Station near Lewis Pass. Beech forest, mountain scenery, farmland, wild horses, mud.

Cannibal Gorge Hut • By mantis. Licence: C.
St James Walkway: Key information
Walking time
5 days
21 hr 30 min
One way
One way
No bookings — open access
No — open access
St James Walkway: Find it
Lewis Pass car park, SH7
Boyle Village, SH7
580m – 1,136m
Altitude change 556m
St James Walkway: More information

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.

Faust • By Grandy. Licence: C.

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 to Cannibal Gorge Hut

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.

St James Walkway June 2009 • By Ancient Tramper.

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. 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 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 • Serviced Hut (DOC). Capacity: 20.

Cannibal Gorge Hut to Ada Pass Hut

Switching between flats and forest, but always close by the river, the track crosses a small creek 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. 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 • Serviced Hut (DOC). Capacity: 20.

Ada Pass Hut to Christopher Hut

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. 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 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.

Faerie Queene (2236m) • By matthew. Licence: C.

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 minutes' 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 • Serviced Hut (DOC). Capacity: 14.

Christopher Hut to Anne Huts

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. 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.

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. 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. The new Anne Hut is a services 20-bunker.  A km furtheron, through some scrub, the track drops off the terrace to a small bridge over the Anne. The 4-bunk Anne Cullers Hut (historic) still perches on the river-bank but a larger hut close by burned down in Jul 2010.

Magdalen Hut 2011 • By mantis. Licence: C.

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 Hut • Serviced Hut (DOC). Capacity: 20.

Anne Huts to Boyle Flats Hut

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 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 minutes' climb through light, regenerating beech levels off in the open forest of moss, lichen and beech at Anne Saddle.

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. Magnificently sited in a small clearing, the hut is an excellent lunch spot sheltered from the valley winds.

Rokeby Hut • Basic Hut/Bivvy (DOC). Capacity: 3.

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 Flat Hut • By mantis. Licence: C.

Boyle Flats Hut • Serviced Hut (DOC). Capacity: 20.

Boyle Flats Hut to Boyle River swingbridge

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 to Magdalen Hut

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.

Magdalen Hut • Standard Hut (DOC). Capacity: 6.

Swingbridge to Boyle Village shelter

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 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. 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.

Walking times

  • Lewis Pass-Cannibal Gorge Hut: 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Cannibal Gorge Hut-Ada Pass Hut: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Ada Pass Hut-Christopher Hut: 3.5 hours
  • Christopher Hut-Anne Huts: 4 hours
  • Anne Huts-Boyle Flats Hut, 5 hours
  • Boyle Flats Hut-swingbridge, Boyle River: 1 hour
  • Swingbridge-Magdalen Hut: 20 minutes
  • Swingbridge-Shelter, Boyle Village: 3 hours 15 minutes
ID 239

About this track

Added 1 June 2001 by matthewmatthew. 6 revisions, most recently 19 July 2017 by matthewmatthew.
326 views in the past year (27 per month).