The St. James Walkway
15-20 September 2007
The St James was the first walkway to be established in a sub-alpine area. About 66 km long, it is designed to take five days and our off-season trip proved to be great E/M tramping. Our group of four crossed on the 7.30am ferry to Picton, and after a night in Murchison, we drove in steady rain to the start of St. James on the Lewis Pass. After a car shuttle with the caretaker at Boyle Lodge, and our car carefully parked at the end of the walk, we set off in the rain.
The track headed down through fine mixed beech forest to the Maruia River, crossed by a swing bridge at Cannibal Gorge. This part of the track had been closed until a couple of weeks before because of track damage and tree-fall caused by heavy snow. We still had to negotiate many logs across the path, but the rain eased off to a drizzle by mid afternoon. The route passes under avalanche paths and at one point we had to cross some fairly major avalanche debris. We decided to stop at Cannibal Gorge Hut when we reached it about 3.30pm. All the huts on the St. James are serviced by DOC; they have stoves with wood and coal supplied, so we had a warm cosy hut each night.
Next morning it looked like the weather might improve, and as we walked on up to Ada Pass Hut, it slowly cleared and we were surrounded by stunning blue sky and glistening snowy tops. After a stop at the hut, we continued up and over the easy Ada Pass and down into the St. James Station.
The track followed the Ada River through beech forest and open tussock flats, under the peaks of Gloriana and the Faerie Queen in the Spencer Range. As the valley widened, the Christopher Valley came into view with fine snowy peaks at its head, and we stopped to photograph a herd of the famous St. James wild horses and the historic St. Christopher Hut before reaching Christopher Hut. The night was frosty with clear skies. Indeed we didn’t see any more rain for the rest of the trip.
In the morning the views of the Spencer Range were superb and the early morning mist gave us some magical moments. We continued on the main route, which follows the Henry River, and on to Ann Hut. On the way we saw a second small herd of horses and again enjoyed the sun on the snow capped hills around us. Ann Hut also has an old historic hut nearby and is equipped with an emergency radio.
In the morning, a hard frost again, we set off up to Ann Pass clad in gloves, hats and thermals. There was a little snow on the ground and the views across and up into the head of the Boyle were superb. The descent into the Boyle is steady and steep and for the rest of the trip we followed the Boyle River. We had a sunny lunch at the historic Rokeby Hut and stayed the night at the Boyle Flats Hut.
On our last day we did the 40 minute side trip to Magdalen Hut, a quaint hut constructed of two old railway huts, but leaky and about to be replaced by a new hut. This hut is on a route leading further up into the St. James and Glen Hope Stations.We reached Boyle Lodge around 3.30pm but due to the possibility of showers, we decided to stay there for the night.
We spent the next two days in Nelson Lakes staying the night in the Bushline Hut on Mt. Robert. Still with a clear blue sky, we explored the tops towards the old ski field, enjoying fine views of the Nelson Lakes tops in the distance. This was a great trip to do at this time of the year and an area most definitely worth revisiting.