Home / Articles / Mountain biking

There’s more than one way to skin the St James

Image of the January 2020 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
January 2020 Issue

Dave Mitchell rides the St James Cycle Trail and details all the options for overnight stays

The St James Station was farmed since 1862 but when it was retired in 2008, the stunning scenery, mountain ranges and cool clear streams, rivers and lakes were encompassed into the 78,000ha St James Conservation Area.

The park fits snugly between the Spenser Mountains and the St James and Opera ranges. It’s dissected by the Waiau River and along its eastern boundary runs the Clarence River with Molesworth Station beyond.
Amongst the river valleys, streams, wetlands, lakes, and high altitude tarns are more than 450 species of flora and fauna. Red, mountain and silver beech climb the lower slopes to the bushline with patches of mānuka, kānuka and matagouri at the forest edge and across the valley flats.

Logistically, there is a couple of ways to do the 64km cycle trail. A one-day mission is do-able with an early start and a car shuttle of the 25km between the start and endpoints of the track. But it’s best ridden in two days with an overnight stay in either Lake Guyon, Christopher, Anne or Pool huts. If you park halfway between the two ends at the Fowlers Pass campsite, no car shuttle is required.

The main track climbs steeply from the bridge to the top of Saddle Spur, followed by a fun rocky downhill before trundling along high river terraces to the newly refurbished four-bunk Pool Hut. Just beyond the hut is McArthur Bridge and an old farm track that undulates from the bridge to a short sharp climb to the top of Charlies Saddle. The track then descends swiftly into the Edwards Valley to the historic four-bunk Scotties Hut.

Two kilometres from the hut is Cow Stream and another kilometre upstream is a relaxing hot pool, marked with a red X on the topo map.

For 29 years Wilderness has helped Kiwis get outside.

If you value our mission: to help you ‘see more, do more, live more’, then please consider subscribing.

Once you sign up, you can browse all web content including more than 610 trips. You’ll also receive our Wildcard, offering discounts at more than 20 partners throughout New Zealand.

Importanly, your subscription will ensure Wilderness will be there to inspire the next generation of outdoor Kiwis

Subscribe from as little as $7.00/month for instant access to all articles, trips, gear reviews and gear guides.

View all our subscription options and join the club.

Already a subscriber? Login Now.

Cycling around the long and narrow Lake. Photo: Dave Mitchell

The trail gradually climbs up the Edwards River, fording it and many of its side streams a few times before a granny gear climb delivers riders to Peters Pass. From the top, a flowing section of single-track descends Peters Valley to the historic St James homestead and the trail end car park.

From Maling Pass, the track heads east beside the Clarence River, which is just beginning its 230km journey to the sea from Lake Tennyson. It’s a gradual climb to Maling Pass (1308m) with glimpses of Lake Tennyson along the way and a sea of alpine tussock and patches of beech forest marching up the adjacent slopes to beautiful Mt Princess.

Drop over the top of the pass and enjoy the free-flowing downhill into the Waiau River where the track down the valley continues to deliver a magic adventure as it follows the river’s deep and clear waters surrounded by stunning scenery and wildflowers.

After 13km, the 4WD track is left behind and riders continue along the true left of the river on purpose-built cycle trail. Partway along is the sidetrack to Lake Guyon which is one of the most beautiful high country lakes in New Zealand and worth visiting or staying at overnight.

On a hot day, Lake Guyon, a long thin body of water sandwiched between dry hills, provides cool relief and reflects patches of beech forest and clearings of lush green grass set against a clear blue sky. To the west, the Spenser Mountains extend to the snow-capped peaks of Una, Enid and the Humboldt Peaks. The little four bunk mustering hut beside the lake is constructed of beech framing and corrugated iron, renowned for its ability to withstand the storms of the high-country. The historic six-bunk Stanley Vale Hut can be reached after a short climb from the far end of the lake.

Horses and bikes at Stanley Vale Historic Hut, 2km south of Lake Guyon. Photo: Dave Mitchell

Another overnight option starts opposite the Lake Guyon turn off, where the Waiau River can be forded onto an old farm track that heads around the base of Yanks Hill and up the Ada Valley to Christopher Hut.

Back on the main trail, a long procession of river flats delivers riders to Saddle Spur Bridge after 16km. It’s a high wire crossing of the Waiau River just below Muddy Lake and the confluence of the Henry River. For another overnight option, after crossing the bridge, poled orange-topped markers can be followed north and across the Henry River, then west on 4WD track for 9km to Anne Hut (24 bunk). This is a modern hut with commanding views from its lofty river terrace.

The main track climbs steeply from the bridge to the top of Saddle Spur, followed by a fun rocky downhill before trundling along high river terraces to the newly refurbished four-bunk Pool Hut. Just beyond the hut is McArthur Bridge and an old farm track that undulates from the bridge to a short sharp climb to the top of Charlies Saddle. The track then descends swiftly into the Edwards Valley to the historic four-bunk Scotties Hut. Two kilometres from the hut is Cow Stream and another kilometre upstream is a relaxing hot pool, marked with a red X on the topo map.

The trail gradually climbs up the Edwards River, fording it and many of its side streams a few times before a granny gear climb delivers riders to Peters Pass. From the top, a flowing section of single-track descends Peters Valley to the historic St James homestead and the trail end car park.

Distance
60km (Lake Guyon Hut +5km, Christopher Hut +10km, Anne Hut +15km)
Total Ascent
1654m
Grade
Difficult
Time
6-9hr
Access
From Hanmer, drive north up Clarence Valley Road over Jacks Pass and left onto Tophouse Road. After 12km, the old St James homestead is reached. Fowlers Pass Camp is another 13km along the gravel Tophouse Road and the Maling start point a further 12km.
Map
BT24

GPX File

St James Cycle Trail (gpx, )

GPX File

Your device does not support GPX files. Please try a different device.