Monday, 23 February 2015

St James Walkway: 18-21st February 2015 (Day 3-4)

Tramping the St James Walkway...

Day three and four of my trip around the St James Walkway took me up the Anne River valley to Anne Saddle, then down the Boyle River valley to the outdoor education centre at Boyle Village.

Day Three:St James Walkway,  Anne Hut to Boyle Flat Hut (17.5 km's)

As usual I was up at the crack of dawn and on my way down the track, the distance to cover to Boyle Flat was 17.5 km's. For most of the day I was walking by myself,  around 11.30 several of the Te Araroa walkers caught up to me and we walked the final 5-6 km's of the track together.

Dawn at Anne Hut, St James Walkway on day three

I was the first out of the hut, I really like to walk in the early morning as it is a lot cooler than walking in the blazing heat of the afternoon. I also find the light of the early morning very appealing.

St James Walkway: setting out towards Anne River bridge

View back towards Anne Hut from the St James Walkway:
About 3 km's down the track you cross to the true left of the Anne River. I made the short side trip to visit Anne Cullers hut near this bridge but stupidly forgot to take a photo.

St James Walkway: Anne River from first bridge
  Anne Cullers is a historic 4 bunk hut build by the NZFS for deer culler's back in the 1950's. Others close by include Rokeby, Ada Culler's and Jervois Hut.

The smaller 2, 4 and 6 bunk huts in this area existed before the St James Walkway was built and would have been quite difficult to access. The tracks would not have existed only unmarked routes up the rivers, probably rough travel if you didn't know where you were going. 

 From the hut the St James continues up the true left of the river for awhile.

Anne Cullers Hut in 2013

Nice easy track up the Anne River valley for the first couple of hours, the track is mostly on river terraces with the occasional climb over intervening ridge lines.

St James Walkway: Track up Anne Valley

View towards head of Anne River on the St James Walkway
The ridge below is the most strenuous part of the track along this section of the walkway, this one climbs above a gorge in the Upper Anne River.

St James Walkway: one of the ridges that must be climbed over

Last river flat before climb to Anne Saddle, St James Walkway
Eventually you reach the swampy head of the Anne River, this is slower going.  As you get closer to the top the track becomes steeper but nothing too strenuous.

Start of climb to Anne Saddle
As you can see in the photo below its not much of a saddle to climb, all things considered...
Anne Saddle in middle of photo

St James Walkway: DOC Anne Saddle sign

St James Walkway: Anne Saddle in centre of photo

St James Walkway: nearing Anne Saddle
Below is the steepest part of the track, this is over the last 200 meters before the saddle, it is mildly steep and rocky and requires a bit of care.

Honestly, this is one of the easiest saddles I have ever walked over, bar Ada Pass!

Anne Saddle approaching the crest of the saddle

St James Walkway: Anne Saddle (1136 metres)
Here I am goofing it up on the saddle, it took me about 2.5 hours to reach this spot from the hut and is roughly 1/3 of the way to Boyle Flat Hut.

Jon at Anne Saddle on the St James Walkway
The descent into the Boyle is a totally different proposition, it is steep, rocky, and slippery, it would be about a kilometre from the saddle to the bottom but took me over an hour to traverse due to the terrain. My walking stick was a god send on this section of the track as it gave me that all important third point of ground contact.

Take care through here!

Steep descent into Boyle River Valley on the St James Walkway
Eventually you break out into the Upper Boyle River valley, it is really beautiful up there and would certainly warrant another visit just to camp in the area. It's all river flats and climbing over small ridges from here to Boyle Flat, about 9 km's further down the valley.

Upper Boyle River valley...nice camping potential!

River flats in Upper Boyle Valley from the St James Walkway
The track is seared into the grass of the river flats by all the passing feet. It is intersected at regular points by deer/pig/people tracks coming down from the hills. Watch for rocks and branches in that long grass, I tripped over an old rotten log walking along here.
St James Walkway: approaching Rokeby Hut
About half way along the track to Boyle Flat you pass the old Rokeby Hut, this is a small 2 bunk hut located inside a small finger of bush on one of the ridges. It is "rustic" in nature; dirt floor, sacking bunks, no lining... but in quite good condition. There is even a classic corrugated iron dog box for the mustering dogs which were once used up the valley.

Rokeby Hut in its bush surrounds

Ye olde dogge hawse...behind Rokeby Hut

Interior of Rokeby hut, St James Walkway

About 3 kilometres down valley you arrive at the swing-bridge to Boyle Flat Hut, my final destination for the day. I've stayed at the hut previously  and it is very nice, well maintained and in a prime location.   

Boyle Flat Hut, St James Walkway
The water source for the hut is normally piped from a nearby stream, but with the dry, hot weather this has dried up. If you are visiting the hut the alternate source of water is the very nice creek about 50 meters to the north of the hut. Follow the track which goes past the left hand side of the wood shed, it is easy to find.  

Approach to water source for Boyle Flat Hut
Nice clean looking water in the creek but I would still purify it as who knows what is lurking just upstream.

Unnamed side stream near Boyle Flat Hut

I spent the night at Boyle Flat hut with 2 Australian and 2 German TaT walkers, the other 10 legged it down the valley as they wanted to get to Hanmer Springs for the night.That would be a total of 31 km's of walking for the 10 of them!

Personally, I was more than happy to walk the 17.5km's and call it a day....

Day Four: St James Walkway, Boyle Flat Hut to Boyle Outdoor Education Centre (BOEC) (14.5 km's)

Another early morning as the 5 of us staying in the hut over night headed down valley to the road end at Boyle Village. I've walked this part of the track numerous times now so was well acquainted with what lay in store.

Boyle Flat Hut on the St James Walkway

Travel through this section is easy, the track is benched from the hut to the first swing-bridge over the Boyle, although there are a number of new slips on the track to be tackled. I really like the Upper Boyle valley it is dense, much like a West Coast track.

Track between Boyle Flat and first swing-bridge

Lush track side growth, Boyle Flat track

St James Walkway: Boyle River view south
Eventually you reach the old stile which separates the upper valley from the cattle flats around St Andrews. The swing bridge is about 100 meters further down the track from this spot.

St James Walkway: the stile just before Boyle swing-bridge

Swing-bridge over Boyle River
I was surprised with how dry the normally muddy track is, no rain for a couple of months will do that I suppose. The dry conditions probably shaved at least 40 minutes off the usual time between the two swing bridges over the Boyle River. Normally you have to carefully jump from log to log, you can plough through but you will end with mud up to your knees.

Nice dry conditions on the St James Walkway

St James Walkway: near St Andrews flats
St James Walkway: half way to Boyle Village

I love catching my first view of the lower Boyle Swingbridge, it means you are nearly home. Only the last fairly easy walk out to the road end left.

St James Walkway: lower Boyle swing bridge...beautiful sight!

Two of the Te Araroa walkers and I reached the road end at Boyle Village together, we meet up with the other two walkers as we pulled out onto the Highway.  I dropped them all off in Hanmer as I was going there for some lunch.

Best and worst bits of the St James Walkway

 Best part of the tramp was the whole section from Lewis Pass to the Christopher River, the Spencer Mountains are spectacular. Anne Hut is awesome, I know it is new but a lot of thought went into the design and it shows. I love those wide grass plains you walk across. I also really enjoyed interacting with the TaT trampers they are an eclectic and interesting group of people, and good value.

The worst was the 5 hours I spent walking around Mt Federation and up the Henry Valley: it was hot, dry and windy. After walking 25 km's I was goddamn happy to eventually reach the hut that day.

Why is this not a must do tramp for all New Zealanders?

Awesome trip, and much recommended to all you Kiwis out there, it is a relatively easy 4-5 day tramp so put your boots on and give it a go!

Access: From SH 7 (Lewis Pass Highway), the track starts at Lewis Pass Tarns, southern terminus is at Boyle Village.
Track Times: Day three: From Anne Hut it is 6-7 hours to Boyle Flat Hut via Anne Saddle: Day four: From Boyle Flat Hut it is 4 hours to Boyle Village
Hut Details: Anne Hut: serviced, 24 bunks, water tanks, wood burner, toilets, wood shed: Anne Cullers Hut: basic, 4 bunks, open fire, water from stream, toilet: Roxeby Hut,:basic, 2 bunks, wood burner, water from stream, classic dog box out the back: Boyle Flat Hut: serviced, 20 bunks, water from stream, wood burner, toilet, wood shed: Magdalen Hut: standard, 6 bunks, water tank, wood burner, toilet, wood shed
Miscellaneous: Some un-bridged side streams. The walkway is in a high alpine area and as such is prone to extreme weather. 

St James Walkway: 18-21st February 2015 (Day 1-2)

Tramping the St James Walkway

I spent 4 days tramping around the St James Walkway near Lewis Pass last week. The St James Walkway is a near circuit 67 km long taking in the Maruia, Ada, Henry, Anne and Boyle River valley's. There are a number of good huts to stay in on the way, as well as some fine scenery especially the Poplar and Spencer Mountains.

Christopher River Valley, Spencer Mountains day two of the St James Walkway

Profile diagram of the St James Walkway: Source DOC website

Day One: St James Walkway, Lewis Pass to Ada Pass Hut (12.4 km's)

I started from the Lewis Pass end of the track as a clockwise tramp takes advantage of the downhill tilt to the whole track. I left my car at the Boyle Outdoor Education Centre and got them to shuttle me to the start of the track at the Lewis Pass Tarns. A valuable service as it is common for cars to be broken into at the St James Walkway car park, they cannot safely be left there. At all!!!

The St James Walkway starts with the scenic track around the Lewis Pass Tarns and is clearly sign posted from there.

St James Walkway: the tarns at Lewis Pass

Here I am looking fresh as a daisy before starting the long walk, I did not look so fresh by the end!

Jon at the start of the St James Walkway
The start of the track is through some beautiful alpine bogs, very picturesque, before descending steeply to the Maruria River and the first swing bridge on the track. The track condition is generally good with plenty of signs and a mostly finely benched track to follow.

Scenic walk at Lewis Pass Tarns

Start of the St James Walkway

St James Walkway: descending towards Maruia River

Cannibal Gorge section of the St James Walkway

St James Walkway: log jam in side stream
This is a mature area of beech so there were some spectacular examples of Red Beech to be seen along the track. The tree below would have been at least 5 meters around the trunk.

Big Red beech tree on St James Walkway
You eventually arrive at the first swing bridge across the Maruia River, this is the first of seven bridges you cross on the track. Generally all the major rivers are bridged. There are several un-bridged side stream's (especially in the Cannibal Gorge section) that could be a problem if it was raining heavily.

Cannibal Gorge: first swing-bridge (6 more to go)

Cannibal Gorge is so named as it was the site of an impromptu battle between tow Maori iwi before Europeans arrived in New Zealand. As was their custom, the winning side ate the losing side for dinner...

The early history of New Zealand is pepper shot by instances of extreme violence and carnage...both Maori and Settler history. 

St James Walkway: information about Cannibal Gorge

St James Walkway: typical up and down track
About one hour along the track you reach the point where a creek on the true left of the river leads up to the Zampa Tops. The Zampa Tops are a continuous series of tussock clearings from here all the way along the range of mountains and make an excellent fine weather tramp.

St James Walkway: creek leading towards Zampa Tops

I had the usual progression of wrens and robins following me along the track, there is a goodly number of birds in the area. I saw a number of Tui, Bellbirds, Robins, Kakariki and Keruru as I walked along.

Bush Robin on the St James Walkway
There are a number of "no stop" avalanche zones along the track, the steep terrain combined with a lot of snow in winter makes avalanches fairly common. you should not be venturing up this end of the St James Walkway over Winter unless there is zero snow on the higher areas, its just too dangerous.

St James Walkway: avalanche warning sign

St James Walkway: Cannibal Gorge Track about 2 hours in

Here is a brand new addition to the track, the Cannibal Gorge Hut bridge, built in December 2014, you could still smell the pine scent and feel the grease on the cables.

St James Walkway: new swing bridge (2014) across Maruia River
Eventually you reach Cannibal Gorge Hut, a 20 bunker about 3.5 hours in. It is a fine looking hut and would certainly warrant a stay if you started the tramp later in the day. Personally, I was bound for Ada Pass Hut another 2 hours up the track.

Cannibal Gorge Hut, St James Walkway

Cannibal Gorge Hut, St James Walkway

St James Walkway: iinterior of Cannibal Gorge Hut
Past Cannibal Gorge Hut the track is generally within view of the ever decreasing Maruia River, it was very cool and pleasant on such a hot & sunny day. All the water up here is fine for drinking...there are no farm animals in the upper valley.

Mid reaches of the Maruia River on St James Walkway:

St James Walkway: mid Maruia Valley
The views get progressively better as you move towards the head of the valley, the mountains get steeper and more alpine in nature. There are some beautiful high alpine cirques and U- valleys that would not look out of place in Fiordland, Mt Cook or Aspiring NP.

St James Walkway: a high cirque basin on the Spencer Range

Freyburg Range: eroded U-Valley on St James Walkway
About 20 minutes from Ada Pass Hut you cross the Billy Goats Gruff bridge, if you are wanting to have a wash this is the closest stream to the hut. Gentle travel across some river flats and the hut comes into view.

St James Walkway: Billy Goats Gruff bridge
Ada Pass Hut is a 14 bunker, it is really nice- well maintained, and has both coal and wood for the fire. It is on a small river terrace with plenty of open space around the hut for a small village of tents if required.

The tent in the photo belonged to a pair of German trampers who had gone for a day-trip up to Three Tarn Pass. We had a short chat when they arrived back before they left to walk out to Lewis Pass at around 5 pm.

Ada Pass Hut
Right across the valley is the route up to Three Tarn Pass, this is one of several routes into Nelson Lakes NP via the East Matakitaki Valley. It is steep, rough and would require ice axe and crampons if snow was present.

Ada Pass Hut: the Three Tarns Pass is up this valley

Interior of Ada Pass Hut, St James Walkway
Here is a good view of the flat area in front of the hut, the stream was only a trickle but drift wood piles indicate that it carries a good load of water in winter. If stream water was required it would need to be fetched from a larger stream 10 minutes down the valley.

Route towards Three Tarn Pass from Ada Pass Hut
I had a very restful night at the hut, the only other occupant was an Australian tramper who was walking the St James in a counter clockwise direction. I got some good info from him about track conditions further along the walkway. He had pre made Peanut Butter sandwiches for his tramping food, three per day.

Day Two: St James Walkway, Ada Pass Hut to Anne Hut (25.1km's)

As is my norm I was packed up and on the trail by 7am, my intention being to walk to Christopher Hut and stay for the night. This was giving myself a long rest day as it is only 4 hours between the huts. More about that plan later.....

St James Walkway: track between Ada Pass Hut and Christopher River
The track to Ada Pass starts right outside the door of the hut, it is a very gentle ascent up the last 200 meters to the pass. As you can see from the photos below, Ada Pass hardly deserves the name, it is basically a flat track on top of a flat plateau.

DOC track sign at Ada Pass on the St James Walkway

Ada Pass (1008 meters)
Ada Pass is basically a flat track through the forest, if the signs weren't there would you recognise it as a pass at all? Nonetheless it is one of the passes which separates the east coast of the South Island from the west coast.

What Ada Pass actually looks like...St James Walkway
On the far side you begin a very gentle descent into the headwaters of the Christopher River, the track alternates between grass flats and bush fingers, it is very pleasant walking.

St James Walkway: descending from Ada Pass

St James Walkway: grass plains on the way to Christopher Hut

View back towards Ada Pass from St James Walkway

St James Walkway: Faerie Queene coming into view on left

The further down the valley you travel the more spectacular the view of the Faerie Queene (2232 asl) becomes until it dominates the whole left side of the valley. The mountains on the left side of the valley are the demarcation line between Nelson Lakes NP and the St James Conservation Area.

Faerie Queene from St James Walkway

St James Walkway: great forest track section

Camera Gully, Gloriana from near Ada Cullers Hut
This photo really doesn't do the peak justice, it is enormous and totally dominates the valley, this is most obvious once you reach Christopher Hut and can see it on the horizon. In winter avalanches have fallen off these peaks and reached 100 meters up the far side of the valley. That is why you should not be up here over the winter months. 

Side view of Faerie Queene from the St James Walkway

Bush track between Ada Pass and Christopher Hut
Eventually you reach the Ada - Christopher River confluence and start walking down valley towards Christopher Hut. The river is very close to the track at this point but moves further way the further down valley you travel.

The Valleys in this area are the home of the St James wild horse herd, they live on the wide grass plains and forest fringes.

View south towards Christopher Hut from the St James Walkway

View north up Christopher River Valley from St James Walkway
As you can see below the immensity of the Faerie Queene (2234 asl) becomes more obvious the further away you get. The whole Spencer Mountain Range averages out at between 1900-2200 meters so they are not insignificant peaks.

Faerie Queene in all its splendour, Spencer Mountain Range
You pass Ada Cullers Hut near the confluence, it is a historic NZFS 2 bunk bivy from the deer culling days.  It would once have been home to a couple of cullers clearing deer from this area. I read a book about deer culling last year and the author said this hut was often buried up to the window sill in snow. They often had to dig it out before it could be god it must have been cold inside.

Ada Cullers Hut
About 20 minutes further down the valley you arrive at Christopher Hut. The hut would be the first real shelter for Te Araroa walkers coming over Waiau Pass.  There is a small 2 person bivy (Caroline Creek) at the head of this valley but  it is in poor condition.

Caroline Creek Bivy in 2015
NB: 2018...there is now a new 6 bunk hut located one hour down valley from Caroline Bivy. Waiau Hut was built in 2017 with funds donated to DOC for the purpose of building a hut in this valley. 

Waiau Hut in 2018 from the DOC website

Christopher Hut is not on the direct line between the Waiau Pass Track and Anne Hut, but river conditions sometimes force TA walkers to venture this way to find a passable ford.

Christopher Hut

It is quite a nice hut; 20 bunks, with plenty of space, water tanks and lots of wood for the fire. The problem would be the mice: when I opened the door three ran off across the floor, sign of them was everywhere and I could hear them running around in the walls. I think DOC need to do a major poisoning program to eradicate them here.

There is often a hut warden in residence over the summer months, they have their own separate quarters on this end of the hut. 

St James Walkway: interior of Christopher Hut: dining area
I was at the hut by 10.15, the early arrival time combined with the mouse problem made me decide to keep walking: I decided to set off on the 13 km, 4 hour trek to Anne Hut, skirting the base of Mt Federation. I ate an quick lunch and started the boo-ga-loo!

Bunk room at Christopher Hut, St James Walkway

Wild St James Horses next to St James Walkway
I passed some of the wild St James horses just near the hut, there were about 10-15 of them herding together in a patch of bush. These are descendants of ex farm animals released in the early 20th century to provide a supply of hardy animals for St James Station. It must be a hard life up here for them in winter as they sometimes get 3 meter snowfalls in this area.

St James Walkway: more wild St James Horses
The start of the track is easy travel across expansive grasslands, this then turns into a miserable rocky, swampy grovel around the lower slopes of Mt Federation. The track is hemmed in between the river and Mt Federation making for a lot of climbing and descending spurs.

Heading towards Mt Federation on the St James Walkway

Faerie Queene from near Ada Homestead, St James Walkway
This is the end of the easy travel for the next hour or so: from this point the track is irritating. It  runs up and down the lower slopes of Mt Federation, you are never more than 100 meters from the river but because it is mostly swampy you cant walk on the river terraces.

As we say in Kiwiland, noice....!

Ada Homestead in distance across river
There is Ada Homestead in the distance on the true left of the river. This is a working sheep and cattle station, on leased DOC land and provides a link between the Spencer Mountains and St James Conservation Area .

The track from Waiau Pass joins the St James near Ada Homestead. Often Te Araroa walkers need to walk some distance up the Christopher Valley to cross this river. I could see several easy points to cross the Christopher but then it has been a long dry summer.

Close up of the Ada Homestead from the St James Walkway
Once around Mt Federation there is a 2 hour walk up the Henry River valley to contend with. Take LOT'S of water with you from Christopher/Anne Hut as this section is exposed, hot and bone dry: there is no potable water at all.There are cattle in both the Christopher and Henry Valleys so any river water there is suspect.

This is a massive valley, the far side would be 5-6 km's away at this point.

On the St James Walkway around base of Mt Federation

Hot and bothered (not in a good way) on the St James Walkway

St James Walkway: entering Henry River valley
Eventually you connect with an old 4 W/D track half way up the valley- you follow this for the rest the way to the hut and makes for much faster travel. Apparently there is a side track connecting the St James Walkway with this 4 W/D track near the Waiau River, but I didn't see it.  If you can find it use it as it would probably save you 30-40 min's walking time.

Henry River Valley...still 1.5 hours to Anne Hut
Eventually you reach the Henry Swing was quite sporty crossing it. The wind had come up and it was swaying back and forth alarmingly as the wires need tightening. You need to cross this bridge as the 4 W/D ford further up the valley looked deep and swift even with the dry. The bridge was built because people have died trying to cross the Henry River.

 Far better to play it safe and follow the track instead.

Swing-bridge over the Henry River
After the swing-bridge you ascent one last hill on the 4 W/D track, it is then a 2 km trip across a plateau to Anne Hut sitting temptingly out on an open plain. Believe takes a looooooooooooonnnggg time to cover those last couple of kilometres!

Anne Hut is a total is brand new and repositioned from its old location closer to the Henry River.

Anne Hut (2012), in the St James Conservation Area

St James WalkwayAnne Hut, detail of one of the bunkrooms

Anne Hut, the fire and bunkrooms, St James Walkway

St James Walkway: Anne Hut, living space, cooking bench

The hut is new, rebuilt in 2012 after the old Anne Hut burnt down.  It is big: 24 bunks, warm (well insulated), spacious, well appointed with a big wood shed (full) and multiple rainfall water tanks. Very, very nice.

View down Henry River Valley from Anne Hut
Look at that view, awesome!

I noted with interest that the hut was connected to the ground with massive concrete piles, which leads me to believe that it must be bloody windy up here sometimes. Also, it must get some shockingly deep snow as the hut was probably at 800-900 meters in the middle of an wide open semi alpine plateau.

View up valley from Anne Hut to Opera Range
As the day wore on various trampers turned up at the hut, all of them Te Araroa walkers from other countries. I was the only Kiwi there so I got pumped for information. Most of them had walked all the way from Caroline Bivy: a distance of 30-40 km's! I was suitably impressed as my 25 km trip had left me totally stuffed, I don't know if I could have walked another 10-15 km's.

Eventually there were 14 of us in the hut and it made for a great atmosphere. We had Swiss, German, French, Australian, Canadian, Czech and New Zealand trampers there that night. I had several conversations with people about tramping, New Zealand, their home countries & food of course, always a good topic of conversation. It seems steak dinners, bacon and cheese burgers, wedges and ice cold coke or beer were being lusted after:)

Dusk at Anne Hut on the St James Walkway looking east towards St James Range

Nightfall Anne Hut looking west towards Opera Range

So two full and interesting days of tramping completed with 2 more to follow. The next section would take me from Anne Hut to Boyle Flat Hut and then out to Boyle Village.

Access: From SH 7 (Lewis Pass Highway), the track starts at Lewis Pass Tarns, southern terminus is at Boyle Village.
Track Times: Day one: From Lewis Pass- 2.5 hours to Cannibal Gorge Hut, another 1.5-2 hours to Ada Pass Hut: Day two: 3 hours to Ada Cullers Hut, another hour to Christopher Hut. 4 hours to Anne Hut from Christopher Hut
Hut Details: Cannibal Gorge Hut: serviced, 20 bunks, water tank, wood burner, toilets, wood shed: Ada Pass Hut: serviced, 14 bunks, water tank, wood burner, toilets, wood shed: Ada Cullers Hut: basic, 2 bunks, water from stream: Christopher Hut: serviced, 20 bunks, water tanks, wood burner, toilet, wood shed: Anne Hut: serviced, 20 bunks, water tanks, wood burner, toilets, wood shed
Miscellaneous: Severe avalanche risk in Winter/Spring, some un-bridged side streams. The walkway is in a high alpine area and as such is prone to extreme weather.