Historic hiking on St James
Fowlers Pass is part of a historic stock route lying between the upper Clarence Valley and Stanley Vale catchment, a feeder of the Wairau River in southern Marlborough. It is one of three moderate crossings of the rugged and remote St James Range which runs in a north-south direction from Lake Tennyson in the north to the Amuri Ski Field in the south. The other two crossings are Malings Pass and Edwards Pass, both of which have 4WD access over them, though they are often walked and mountain-biked as well.
Fowlers Pass is an excellent two- or three-day through-trip which allows access to the interior of the St James Range, especially the beautiful Lake Guyon, and the scenic lower Stanley River which is seldom walked.
The hike to the pass is steady but not too hard, as it follows the mostly well-graded horse track around the flanks of Mt Seymour right into the pass and so a good rate of climb can be maintained for the entire ascent. On our trip, we were rewarded with some vibrant tones colouring the ranges as we gained the pass summit where a cool breeze was wafting through from the west.
There are occasions, when tramping, when everything just goes well – perfect weather, interesting terrain, moderate load, good pace and ease of travel over an unknown but straightforward route. Tramping to Stanley Vale Hut was like that for us and we just kept on going, over and down the steeper northern face of Fowlers Pass into the attractive basin of Smyths Stream and out to the larger Stanley River. The fords were easy and the track well-marked. With snow on the peaks and a lowering evening sun we strolled through the Stanley as dusk fell and out onto the expansive flats of Stanley Vale just south of picturesque Lake Guyon.
The historic Stanley Vale Hut stands near the bush at the edge of the flats, well back from the river on a terrace and has a great view of the St James Range and Mt Clara, 1945m, one of the highest summits.
The hut is constructed from slab beech with a mud and timber frame and dates to the 1860s. As the original homestead for the Stanley Vale run, it was a remote and hardy outpost in a wild and inhospitable environment. Later it was amalgamated with Lake Guyon and other pastoral leases to become the legendary St James Station. Restored several years ago, it now has six bunks, a small log stove, two rooms, and even a library above the burner. It is a memorable location and its rustic charm makes for a great overnight stay.
The next day, as the sun crested Mt Clara and illuminated the weathered façade of Stanley Vale Hut, we tramped down Stanley River to link with the Edwards River, where the St James Cycleway comes through from the Wairau Valley.
The Stanley River Track is an attractive walk. It’s a pleasant march downstream on easy terraces above the river until Muddy Stream, which is forded, and then onto Stanley Gates Gorge where a small canyon constricts the river and a bypass route climbs above the rock walls.
We trudged up the dry Racecourse Stream and over the even drier wasteland of The Racecourse, a large, expansive flat locked between the ranges and filled with tussock and some swampy sections. It took an age to cross and we were relieved to reach the scrubby hills overlooking the Wairau Valley, which we climbed to gain Charlies Saddle.
From the saddle, we dropped into the Edwards River and made our way to Scotties Hut, which was occupied by several hunters, so we continued on up the Edwards and struck camp near Cow Stream for our last night out.
It was a beautiful calm evening and we stargazed for a while after dinner, enjoying the bejewelled array in the clear skies above before a long, relaxing sleep.
The final day was easy walking on wide flats beside the river and over dusty Edwards Pass where Mts Sadd and Horrible watched from lofty heights, before an easy descent to Tophouse Road and a long, windy, gritty cycle back to Fowlers Camp to retrieve the ute.
- Fowlers Camp to Fowlers Pass, 1-2hr; To Stanley Vale Hut, 3-4hr; Scotties Hut, 6-7hr; To Tophouse Road, 2-3hr
- Stanley Vale Hut (free, six bunks), Lake Guyon Hut ($5, four bunks), Scotties Hut (free, four bunks)
- North of Hanmer on Tophouse Road
- Stanley Vale Hut (gpx, )
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