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August 2012 Issue
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Across the Zampa Tops

Photo: Mark Watson
Highway to Ada Pass Hut, 3.5-4hr; Ada Pass Hut to Zampa Summit and tarn 4-5hr; tarn to highway, 4hr.
From State Highway 7. Lewis Pass access point to Saint James Walkway
BT23 Lewis Pass
Spenser Mountains, Lewis Pass National Reserve

The Zampa Tops are one of Canterbury’s unsung gems and make a great weekend destination. The tops are easily traversed and make a convenient two-day round trip.

Lying just north-east of Lewis Pass Highway (SH7) and running parallel to the Saint James Walkway, these windswept, tussocky tops make for easy travel and stunning views of the Spenser Mountains’ peaks of Gloriana and Faerie Queen. For those wanting to get off established tramping tracks and into some simple bush navigation this is an ideal trip, as the bush travel is easy and the tops relatively uncomplicated.

From Lewis Pass the tramp follows the easy but picturesque Saint James Walkway for the first day, ending at Ada Pass Hut. Tussock flats and crystal clear streams nearby make for great photo opportunities or an evening wander. This area’s not without its history too: these valleys were travelled by pre-European Maori to gain access to the coast. Cannibal Gorge is named for the large quantity of human bones discovered there after a conflict between two tribes. The victors reputedly cooked and ate their foes remains on the spot.

From Ada Pass Hut the tops are accessed after a one hour climb through beautiful open beech forest. Golden tussock benches and shimmering tarns make a welcome respite from the bush and a nice spot for a break as you emerge onto the tops. The range is then followed south-west for 2-3hr, passing craggy peaklets and offering awesome views of the Spenser Mountains to the north and Mt Technical on the other side of the highway. It’s hard not to linger here; absorbing the landscape and enjoying the sensation of remoteness – despite only being a few hours from the road.

The large tarns beneath Zampa’s summit make an ideal lunch spot before the long descent back to Cannibal Gorge is tackled. The entrance to the valley is steep at first but soon relaxes into a world of alpine plants, stunted beech and a babbling infant stream as it winds its way down to the confluence and Cannibal Gorge bridge, where a short climb back to the highway will warm you after the river crossings.