Walking New Zealand

St James Walkway - through pastoral land, beech forest and sub-alpine regions

- By Barbz Lowther

We recently walked the St James Walkway, a distance of 66 kms, usually walked over five days/four nights. There are five serviced huts, and two basic huts on the route.

Histor i cally this trail was used by early Maori to travel from the east to west coast, often to procure Pounamu. Many people have spoken of the St James as ”Sound of Music “country - wandering along river valleys full of wild flowers and birds, with no big hills to struggle up.

This is all true, but what they forgot to mention was the rain. It rains a lot, any time of year, particular­ly on the western side. After heavy rain, the track becomes a stream, the side streams are rivers with submerged bridges, and the rivers are raging. We were really lucky to escape the heavy rain, which fell most nights, leaving very wet track to paddle along. The track begins and ends on the Lewis Pass, about a two and a half hour drive from Christchur­ch, with entry and exit points 16kms apart. It can be walked in either direction, but many prefer to leave vehicles in secure parking at Boyle Outdoor Education

Centre, and be shuttled to the western entry. We arrived late in the day, so left a vehicle at Boyle Outdoor Education Centre and started walking, hoping to reach Magdelan Hut before dark.

The track through beech forest was lovely walking, for a couple of hours, but then deteriorat­ed into areas of thick black bog, which slowed us a bit. We reached a swing bridge leading to Magdelan Track as the light was fading.

Using torches we negotiated the well marked track for half an hour, until orange markers led to a very fast flowing stream. Because we couldn’t see how deep it was, we camped out under tall beech trees.

When bird song woke us at 5.30am, there was Magdelan Hut, just on the other side of the water which was only knee deep. Oh Well, better safe than sorry.

We cooked porridge in the hut, retraced our steps to the main track by the bridge, and headed north to Boyle Hut. It was beautiful here, a mix of dry leaf-strewn trail under beech trees, and swampy grasslands.

We saw the first of many Canadian

St James Walkway - through pastoral land, beech forest and sub-alpine regions

geese that entertaine­d us every day. As we approached, the adults set up a loud clamour, and ran away; while the young slunk in the opposite direction, and lay low – but often right on the track, so we had to detour to avoid them.

After stopping for a break at Boyle, we continued over grassy river flats to Rokeby- a tiny three bunk hut sitting in a field of buttercups, with a back drop of tall beech trees. It was beautiful From here it was still five to six hours over the saddle to Ann Hut.

We didn’t want to rush, so we decided to stay. It was a good decision because the rain started an hour later, and continued most of the night. This was to be the pattern for the rest of the trip, mostly dry days and heavy rain at night, which made the vegetation sparkle with droplets of water.

The morning dawned bright and clear, and we wandered along swampy flats, then up a pretty trail, where roots, rocks and fallen trees were smothered in moss. On this section we met five Te Araroa walkers, who had started walking from Cape Reinga several months ago, and were still enthusiast­ic.

We realised how lucky we were, and how fickle the weather is. They’d had heavy rain for the preceding three days. So far, we hadn’t walked in the rain.

Ann Saddle was a gradual climb, and we spent half an hour on the

summit, watching tuis, finches, and a little robin hopping around, no doubt hoping for crumbs.

The trail down to the hut was undulating and really pretty, with lots of buttercups and orange and white daisies, growing amongst long grass waving in the breeze.

We passed several fan slips, where big stones lay on the track, and large boulders had rumbled down the hillside to end in the flats way below. The valley was quite majestic- tall mountains with beech forest, on either side of wide grasslands full of wild flowers and geese, with the river meandering through.

We reached Ann hut at about 4 pm and were impressed with the amount of dry wood stacked. It was easy to get a fire going to dry wet gear.

On the fourth day we woke to fine drizzle, and started off through knee deep very wet grass. Orange markers led us up through a stand of beech, and we followed the trail above the river, which was flowing really fast, cutting into the banks in places.

The trail was a mix of beech forest and swampy river flats with lots of butterflie­s, moths, and flowers of all colours. A group of wild horses approached us, then formed a circle around their young, as we got closer. It was quite special. We also surprised a black pig in a scrubby area just before Christophe­r Hut. The morning dawned bright and clear, and again the day was a mix of beech and very wet river flats. Every side stream was a river, and bridges were submerged, so it was ‘a paddle’.

We stopped at Ada Hut for lunch and watched waterfalls gushing down from the surroundin­g hills. The river became wider and wider as streams and waterfalls joined it. We arrived at Cannibal Gorge Hut as a group walked in from the opposite direction, the first group we’d shared a hut with.

The track from here, beside the Maruia River was incredibly beautiful – an undulating leafy trail through Beech forest, with scattered mossy logs and lichen dripping from branches. Swing bridges spanned side streams, and snow capped peaks peeped out above the trees. The last half hour to the Lewis Pass was up hill.

Reaching the road, we explored the Alpine Loop Walk and the pretty little tarn. This is a lovely picnic spot, with many people stopping, so it wasn’t hard to find a ride back to our car, 16 kms down the road.

The St James is a pretty walk, which can be walked equally easily in either direction. The huts are excellent and well maintained and the track well marked. In holiday time it is wise to carry a tent because the huts can be full, and there is no booking system.

St James Walkway - through pastoral land, beech forest and sub-alpine regions

 ?? www.walkingnew­zealand.co.nz ?? Above: Beech forest between Boyle Village and Hut.
Below left: Negotiatin­g steps over a fence.
www.walkingnew­zealand.co.nz Above: Beech forest between Boyle Village and Hut. Below left: Negotiatin­g steps over a fence.
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Above left: Canadian geese. Above right: Lichen on the rocks.. Middle right: The Maruia River.
 ?? ?? Above left: Walking through river flats between Christophe­r and Cannibal Gorge.
Above right: Young Canadian geese.
Middle left: Canniball Hut.
Below left: Christophe­r Hut.
Above left: Walking through river flats between Christophe­r and Cannibal Gorge. Above right: Young Canadian geese. Middle left: Canniball Hut. Below left: Christophe­r Hut.
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Below right: The trail between Ann and Christophe­r huts.
Above: Open flats near Rokeby Hut. Below right: The trail between Ann and Christophe­r huts.
 ?? ?? Above right: Lichen on the rocks. Below right: A very wet part of the trail.
Above right: Lichen on the rocks. Below right: A very wet part of the trail.
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