A Return to Walk the St James

I first walked the St James in the year 2000 with Frank Saxton, then again with Ron, Polly and Shirl in 2014. So this was the third time and with Karla. The track, depending what you read, goes from to 64km to 67km long. We chose to start at the long end of 67km starting from the Lewis Pass car park. So we were on our way.

Ho! We Have Got Our Country Back! Well, almost as there are still many foreigners about but at least the numbers are reduced. Now it’s okay to have visitors but heavens above, (if one is allowed to say that now), New Zealand’s (not Aotearoa) population is, or was, around four million and I’ve read that we had four million visitors last year! This is just too much especially for our ‘wild’ lands resulting in over crowded huts (with many not paying), and the loss of the freedom of open spaces. For a comparison: the UK, with a population of around 54 million people had 37.9 million visitors for the year 2019. I’m sure they would object if they had 54 million visitors each year.

Central and local government have responded very poorly with infrastructure and such, resulting on the poor old local taxpayer having to fund and put up with this overseas visitor population influx. I’m also surprised at the moaning of the so called tourist industry during the virus lockdowns etc, who seem to think we owe them a livelihood. I feel they should get back to doing something useful instead of becoming just servants to foreigners. We survived okay before this ‘tourist’ boom and we had more freedoms too.

They say that our total population is estimated now of about five million and to me, that should be about our maximum anyway and say just have up to two million visitors each year?


Now to get away from all that and back to the fresh mountain air on the track. Karla arranged for transport from the Boyle Lodge to the start of the track just down from Lewis Pass. Our transfer driver was a volunteer who was born in Ireland, an orphan, staying at a couple of different orphanages before coming to New Zealand. He farmed at nearby Appleby and retired to Christchurch. Whilst playing with the Google search he noticed a newspaper photo of an member of parliament and a child who had the same surname name as his and was from the same area. He was intrigued so did some searching and found out, what he thought, that the women might be his half-sister. Upon meeting her, she responded with, “You’re my brother.” He then found out that he had other brothers and sisters whom he was able to meet except for one brother who was in Nepal. Later this brother, about to return home to Ireland, changed his airfare to detour to New Zealand. “I want to see you in person” he said.

It isn’t all that much of a drive to the start of the track and with Joe chatting away and showing photos of his recently found family, in no time we had arrived. We hitched our packs and started walking at 9.14am and arrived at the first hut, Cannibal Gorge Hut at 12.34pm and had lunch. From the carpark the track led down through native bush to the right branch of the Maruia River. We were travelling upstream, past through winter avalanche zones with open clearings starting just before Cannibal Hut. The track was good for a start but with a couple of washouts, some people might have found it ‘awkward’ in places. The odd tomtit came and checked us out here and there along the track. No robins though. Ourisias (mountain foxglove) were in flower along the edges of the track.

Billy Goat Gruff Bridge.

We arrived at the Ada Pass Hut around 1.30pm after crossing the Billy Goat Gruff bridge over the Maruia River, which had reduced in size considerably to when we had started. We had walked 10 kilometres.

Hut People: Generally other users of the huts can be quite interesting to talk to but others can be quite a pain. A couple from Auckland reckoned that all South Islanders were racists and that we had no culture! Well, I can trace my ancestors back to the 1600’s, plus oral to 1230 odd, and I bet that will cover a lot of ‘culture’. That’s not counting our South Island, New Zealand culture. The racist bit apparently arose when one of their friends fled Auckland during the virus lockdown, was found out while touring on the West Coast and told to get back to his home in Auckland!! It seems that to some, all laws are made for the rest of us but not those with inflated opinions of themselves. Anyway, we were glad that they skipped a hut and went ahead of us.

The next morning we started walking at 7.51am for Christopher Hut 10.5 km away. Up and over the Ada Pass (of 1008m above sea level) and coming out of the bush again to river flats with the large open spaces. Canada geese sounded their warning honks as we passed then, following the Ada River then stopping for a break at the old Ada Culler’s Hut (it’s not the Christopher Culler’s Hut DOC, stop interfering with our culture!). Great views of the Spenser Mountains and the peaks of Gloriana (2218m) and Faerie Queen (2236m) and further along, Mt Una (2233m).

Ada Cullers Hut.

The deer culler’s hut of days past when the red deer population increased dramatically during and after the WW2. (Most of the men were elsewhere shooting at people instead). The deer cullers weren’t culling though – just shooting as many deer as they could. Interesting was the window which appeared to be from a Brengun carrier (ex WW2). Ah, we used to make use of anything in days gone by. Not like today, with recycling fashionable, but what’s really meant, just throw it away and buy junk replacements.

We walked over large areas of grassland and every now and then it sort of became a competition to spot the Canada geese heads. These heads would pop up from the long grass and keep an eye on us as we passed. Move closer to them for a photo? Not likely as they would take off with loud wingbeats and honking to another area not too far away. It wasn’t long before the Christopher Hut came into view just after noon. We left the Christopher Hut the next morning a little before 8am, heading for the Anne Hut, 15 km away or 13km depending which map one read. Somehow we seemed to have chosen the 15km one.

The window in the Ada Cullers Hut.

Three wild horses plodded along through the long grass about 200 metres away as we walked on. It seemed as if they suddenly caught sight of us and stopped, looked and then the stallion moved towards us, really prancing with his front feet. We became a little alarmed as we had stopped to take a photo. He came on. We started to walk again, to heck with the photo. Moving on seemed to satisfy the stallion that we were no threat as he just stopped and watched us continue on our way.

The mist came down the from the hills, around us and it soon started to drizzle and continued for the rest of the day. The celmisia, eyebrights and gentians, sensibly had their petals closed due to no sunshine. We plodded on down the valley, passing the old Ada homestead on the other side of the river. Around the corner and into the Henry River valley, disturbing more Canada geese as we tramped along.

Arrived at the Anne Hut soon after mid day and dried out by the woodburner. Outside was a tethered white and black horse and inside the hut was an old deer culler keeping dry. He told us that he had been making trails for horses, trapping possums and wandering around the high country, a lot on horseback for many years. He had some interesting stories. The Anne Hut seemed to be a collection point for people walking the TA – the Te Araroa Trail (or the long trail) which runs here and there, the length of New Zealand. These TA walkers come from the Nelson Lakes National Park, passed Blue Lake, down the Waiau to the Anne Hut and continue Southwards. Some arrive walking the St James, so we had people from France, Switzerland, Christchurch, and us more or less locals.

Anne Saddle: morning tea.

We left Anne Hut at 7.57am on frosty ground, a blue sky above and in cooler air. Walking up the Anne River valley to stop for a spell on the Anne Saddle at 11.25am (1136m asl). I think this is the highest point on the St James. Down into the Boyle River valley through native bush for a start then coming out onto grass flats. Sections of the track looked to have been traversed by horses, as some edges of the track had fallen away and one board walk had a number of planks broken.

Anne Hut in the Henry valley.

We came across a small tarn with tadpoles swimming about. It was good to see them as they seem to have disappeared from ponds around home. The water must have been good, clean and pure for the tadpoles. Then we came to the Rokeby Hut at 2.25pm for a spell and to inspect this old historic hut. Three bunks, old style, with a range and oven. Some had tried to light the fire in the oven would you believe. No doubt they moaned about the smoke filled hut? Overall the track was in a rough condition and it looked as if there had been no maintenance for some time.

Boyle Flats Hut. We arrived at 4.25pm after walking 17km. A DOC worker doing a good job while his offsider seemed to say ‘awesome’ every first and second word while talking to some doing the TA. Our gas stove cartridge ran out which was full at the start of the trip. It was of the ‘Ascent’ brand, 230g cartridge, manufactured in Korea but made ‘Awesome in NZ’. That stupid ‘awesome’ again! Well, it certainly wasn’t and it should have lasted longer than this. What a dumb thing to put on a product? Even if it had lasted the whole trip.

The Boyle River & Magdalen Valley.

We left Boyle Flats Hut at 7.20am. the next morning with a frost on the ground. “It’s a Long Way To Tipperary”, says the song and it was a long way to the car park on our last day too. Fourteen and a half kilometres, so leaving earlier and picking a sunny spot to have breakfast along the the way was good. We had passed the odd poisonous fungus of Amanita muscaria growing under beech trees which was surprising I thought but a sign of a healthy forest anyway. After crossing the swingbridge at the turnoff to the Magdellan Hut at 8.28am, we were walking alongside the Boyle River with the private Glenhope Station on the other side. A digger was working making a new track nearby. Maybe this new track will be in the Lake Sumner Forest Park instead of perhaps wandering over the Glenhope Station land?

Over the last swingbridge and the final walk out to the Boyle Village and carpark in the early afternoon.

Crossing the Boyle River.

On the way home a number of road works or signs that said road works. Like the sign that says men working, or it’s really a stick person (we can’t have just men working) but I think the signs should say men/people standing as that’s what it appeared to be a lot of the time. Something like the roads signs of old – Ministry of Works but which many called; Mystery of Works.

I had strained my ankle while working up Will’s Gully a week before and I thought it was okay for the trip. Alas, those long day walks showed that it hadn’t recovered fully. It was sore when we arrived at the end of the track but at least it hadn’t fallen off anyway. I was thankful for taking my walking pole.

Amanita muscaria under native beech.

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