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Backcountry baptism

The St James Walkway has a reputation as a superb introduction to multi-day tramping

The tranquil St James Walkway has long been a favourite destination for trampers. 

Commencing at Lewis Pass, the 66km marked trail provides access to some memorable and isolated mountainscapes where valley, forest, scree, snow and ragged summits form an exquisite vista. Best of all, the track can be negotiated with surprising ease and is suitable for all ages and abilities.

Most people will take 3-5 days to complete the track, stopping off at one of the several excellent huts along the way while enjoying the scenery and revelling in the space, colour, and personal challenge of completing a beautiful multi-day trek. For those with time to spare, there are many options to explore farther off the main route, to climb a mountain, visit a hidden lake, or just set up camp in a remote glen, away from huts and tracks. 

Only during the winter and early spring seasons are there the additional hazards of snow and avalanche to be wary of. Nor’west storms bringing heavy rain and strong winds can also turn the route into a dangerous mission.

For most though, the St James Walkway is a superb introduction to multi-day tramping.

Map by Geographx

1. Lewis Pass summit and tarn

At the start of the walkway, right beside the summit car park, is a remarkable and photogenic wetland and tarn nestled against the flanks of the Libretto Range and often reflecting the steep slopes of the Spenser Mountains. Literally three minutes walk from the car park, this beautiful icon is not to be missed as it so aptly captures the mood and beauty of the walkway. 

2. Cannibal Gorge and hut

So named as it was once the site of a Maori battle and subsequent victor’s feast, this grisly reminder of a violent past is now a peaceful walk through mature red beech forest with occasional glimpses into the deep canyon below. Cannibal Gorge Hut is the first major stopping point for walkers and is nicely set at the northern end of a large grassy flat. This roomy hut sleeps 20.

3. Upper Maruia Valley

One of the pre-eminent viewpoints along the route of the St James is revealed in the upper Maruia Valley. Several wide tussock-filled flats complement the riverside appeal of the walkway. The views of the often snow-capped mountains are timeless and majestic. The track passes over a small ‘troll-bridge’ before reaching Ada Pass Hut near the forest edge below the pass.

4. Ada Pass and hut

The crossing from the western side of the St James to the eastern side is via the barely noticeable climb to Ada Pass, 1008m, a low swampy saddle and one of the lowest points on the Main Divide. It lies just a few minutes east of Ada Pass Hut. 

5. Spenser Mountains

These 2000m-plus summits dominate the walkway, especially on the first three days out from Lewis Pass. They present a formidable barrier to the west and north. The principal summits are Gloriana, 2218m, Faerie Queene, 2236m, and Una, 2300m, all of which are accessible from the walkway.

Map by Geographx

6. Christopher Hut

On the second or third day, parties will reach the 20-bunk Christopher Hut, which offers a sweeping panorama of the Spenser Mountains and Ada Valley. On the way from Ada Pass, you may encounter the wild horse herd of the upper Ada – an exciting diversion. This herd dates from St James Station, a vast high country tract that was mostly returned to the public estate under tenure review.

7. Ada Homestead

At the junction of the Ada and Wairau rivers stands the Ada Homestead. Built around 1880 by J MacArthur, the site is well worth a visit, especially as the track passes close by. 

8. Anne Hut

The new Anne Hut has a great view from a high terrace above the Henry River. This 20 bunk shelter replaces the old hut which was destroyed by fire.

9. Anne Saddle

There is an easy approach from the upper Anne River via flats and a short bush climb to Anne Pass, 1136m. The descent to the Boyle River is steeper and longer. 

Map by Geographx

10. Boyle Flats Hut and Gorge

It’s a long day’s march to Boyle Flats Hut, passing the small shelter of Rokeby Hut, an old deer cullers refuge nestled into the bush edge just beyond a swingbridge. The hut is commonly used as the last night’s stop.

11. Magdalen Hut

The new six-bunk Magdalen Hut is partially off the main walkway route and consequently does not see as many overnighters staying here. However, the setting, including views of the Poplars Range, is lovely. It also has plenty of camping space.

12. Boyle River

The final section of the walkway passes through flats and bush alongside the attractive Boyle River and gorge, crossing two swingbridges to reach SH7 at Boyle Village. From here it is necessary to have arranged transport back to Lewis Pass to retrieve your car.

Total Ascent
Easy / Moderate
3-5 days. Lewis Pass to Cannibal Gorge Hut, 3hr; To Ada Pass Hut, 2hr; To Christopher Hut, 4.5hr; To Anne Hut, 7.5hr; To Boyle Flat Hut, 5hr; To Boyle Village, 5hr
Cannibal Gorge Hut ($15, 20 bunks), Ada Pass Hut ($15, 14 bunks), Christopher Hut ($15, 14 bunks), Anne Hut ($15, 20 bunks), Boyle Flat Hut ($15, 14 bunks), Magdalene Hut ($5, six bunks)
Off SH7 at Lewis Pass or Boyle Village
BT23, BU23

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