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Located on three mountain ranges, the St James Conservation Area encompasses exceptional natural features and recreation opportunities. Glaciated valleys, glacial moraine deposits, streams, wetlands, lakes and high altitude tarns all dominate the area.


  • The western side, from Lewis Pass to the Waiau River is characterised more by mixed beech forests, open river flats, tussock tops rising to rocky snow mountain tops. 
  • In contrast, the eastern side is drier, open country with magagouri, exotic grasses, regenerating shrublands and mountain lakes. 
  • The Waiau River runs north to south through the St James Conservation Area.

Place overview


  • Fishing
  • Four wheel driving
  • Horse riding
  • Kayaking and canoeing
  • Mountain biking
  • Skiing and ski touring
  • Walking and tramping
  • Check clean dry
    Stop the spread of didymo and other freshwater pests.

    Remember to Check, Clean, Dry all items before entering, and when moving between, waterways.

In this section

Find things to do and places to stay St James Conservation Area

About track difficulties
About track difficulties
About hut categories


Fishing for trout on the Waiau, Henry and Ada rivers and lakes Guyon and Tennyson is available to all fishing licence holders.

The fishing seasons are detailed in the latest Fish and Game Sports Fishing Regulations provided when you purchase a fishing licence.

Licences are available from fishing / outdoor sports shops, Fish and Game Council offices and information / visitor centres. Further information is available from Fish & Game

Heritage sightseeing

The St James Conservation Area was one of the largest operating cattle/sheep stations in the country, dating back to 1862.

Learn more about the history of the area, and how St James Station came to be conservation land.


Hanmer Springs Ski Area (formerly the Amuri Ski Field) falls within the conservation area. It is a club-run facility that operates under a concession to use public conservation land.

The ski area is open to the public during the winter season and provides ski-hire, poma and rope tows, a day lodge and accommodation as well as a shuttle service to and from Hanmer Springs. The ski-field road is closed to vehicles in summer, but can still be used by cyclists and walkers.

There are also opportunities for heli-skiing and ski-touring in the St James Conservation Area.

Four wheel driving

Vehicles are usually restricted to the Edwards Valley and Maling Pass 4WD tracks from Tophouse Road as far as the signs by the Waiau River. Vehicles need to stay on these tracks at all times.

Off-road vehicle users need to before taking their motorised vehicles into the St James Conservation Area. Read more about motor vehicle access

Horse riding

You can take your horses through most of St James Conservation Area, with the exception of the St James Walkway and the privately fenced land around Ada homestead.

The St James horse herd can be seen around the Henry, Waiau and Ada river valleys. These horses are mustered and the off-spring removed and sold every two years. A stallion and up to 30 brood mares are contained within the Henry River catchment (which includes the Henry Track and access to Anne Hut). Leave the gates closed at all times.

The horses are technically wild as they cannot be handled and will generally move away from visitors, but do not chase them and avoid contact with the stallion and mares with foals at foot. For more information, contact the DOC office during office hours.

Horses can follow most of the mountain-biking tracks – except the 5 km of mountain-biking track from the Maling Pass-Waiau River junction to the turn-off to Lake Guyon. This section of track is too narrow to accommodate horses, walkers and mountain bikes. Horse riders will need cross to the true right of the Waiau River for this particular section if wanting to access Lake Guyon from Maling Pass.

In normal flows the Waiau River is more easily crossed in the upper reaches. Note: Saddle Spur and McArthur bridges further down the Waiau River are not suitable for horses.

Horse rider’s care code

Ride with care for the environment and others:

Sharing tracks and trails

When using tracks shared with mountain bikers, walkers and four wheel drivers, approach blind corners no faster than a walk because other users may be just around the corner. Pass others at a walk and keep your horse under control at all times

Weeds and disease
  • Before entering conservation areas make sure all your horse riding gear is cleaned and free of seeds and soil which may spread weeds and disease. Also thoroughly clean your horse’s hooves, and your floats or trucks.
  • Only allow your horse to eat weed free feed at least 48 hours prior to entering conservation areas. Weed free feed includes clean chaff, pellets and cracked, rolled or steamed grains. Never take meadow hay as it often contains seed. If you can’t do this then carry bags, pick up your horses poo and take it home with you.
  • When carrying hard feed, take a nosebag for your horse. It minimises spillage and adding to the food supply of rats.
  • Consider undertaking some basic education in weed and seed identification, and assisting DOC in identifying and eliminating new outbreaks of problem species.
Protecting the environment
  • Do not take horses into fragile natural areas with a high conservation values such as swamp land, sand dunes or fragile alpine areas. They can damage natural ecosystems by trampling and grazing. Be observant and avoid unduly disturbing unstable or erosion prone soils.
  • When crossing creeks, streams and riverbanks, select firm, stony crossings, and cross at a 90º angle to the banks. Use bridges or well-used crossings wherever possible to limit erosion of the banks.
  • Carry and use canvas or collapsible buckets and/or pump and hose where possible to water and wash horses.
Using campsites and huts
  • When staying overnight relocate portable yards each night, to help minimise trampling and vegetation damage.
  • Use tree protectors on nightlines to prevent trees from being damaged. Incorporate stops in line to prevent horses becoming entangled around trees.
  • Where possible make nightline length 15 metres or more to reduce concentrated impact.
  • Always camp horses well clear of watercourses (at least 50 metres away). Wash and water horses downstream from where other campers get their water.
  • Remove horse manure from hut and campsite areas. Take it home with you or scatter  it so that it degrades faster.
  • Take all your rubbish and recycling with you - don’t bury or burn it.

Get more information on horse riding and riding times in the St James

Kayaking and canoeing

The upper Waiau River from Maling Pass to the Hope River confluence is reputed to be one of the best rivers for rafting and kayaking in the eastern South Island. Experience is essential for those not in a guided party.

There are four gorges graded 3–4 depending on river flow. The first gorge between Maling Pass and the Edwards River is the most challenging. The three gorges after the Edwards River confluence include the notorious ‘Narrows’.

The Edwards River confluence is the last exit point until the Waiau River runs alongside SH 7. There are limited access points for vehicles and some boat carrying will be necessary.

For more information refer to the Whitewater NZ website.

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    About this place

    Nature and conservation

    The government purchased St James Station as public conservation land in 2008, funded by the Nature Heritage Fund.

    It was purchased to protect its natural, physical and cultural values and to open it up to outdoor recreation and tourism. 


    Vegetation within the area includes red, mountain and silver beech/tawhairauriki/ tawhairaunui forests, mānuka/kānuka and matagouri scrublands, numerous alpine species, at least five species of tussock, and a vast expanse of valley-floor native grasslands. Some 430 indigenous species of flora and 30 native bird species have been identified.

    Getting there

    You can access the St James Conservation Area either from the west side on SH 7 or on the eastern boundary along Tophouse Road.

    West - SH 7 and St James Walkway

    The western side provides access to the St James Walkway which starts and finishes on SH 7. Entry points are either  at the top of the Lewis Pass just off the car park and picnic area, or at the Boyle Village from SH 7, Lewis Pass Road. There is no further vehicle access from SH 7, and please note that mountain bikes and horses are not permitted on the St James Walkway.

    West - SH 7 via Glenhope Station land

    For horse and walking access over private land from Boyle Village to Waiau River via Steyning Stream, permission is required from Glenhope Station phone +64 3 315 7697

    East - Hanmer Springs and Tophouse Road

    The east side of the St James Conservation Area can be reached via Hanmer Springs.

    From Hanmer Springs township, take Clarence Valley Road over Jacks Pass to connect with Tophouse Road (approximately 13 km from Hanmer Springs). This road follows the eastern boundary of the conservation area as far as Lake Tennyson. This road follows the eastern boundary of St James Conservation Area to Lake Tennyson. All tracks along this road are open to cyclists, horse riders and walkers.

    Off-road parking is available at St James Homestead and at the entrances to Maling Pass and Fowlers Pass tracks. Do not leave valuables in your vehicle.

    Public transport

    There is no regular public transport along this route although there are numerous options for chartering transport from Hanmer. The latest information is available at the Hanmer Springs i-SITE (+64 3 3150020), 10 am - 5 pm, 7 days a week, except for Christmas Day.

    Distance from main centres

    • Christchurch 190 km 
    • Nelson 224 km 
    • Picton 296 km 
    • Greymouth 145 km

    Know before you go

    St James is an alpine environment, subject to weather extremes, flooded rivers and avalanches. Visitors must be prepared for the worst at all times:

    • Take clothing for all weather conditions regardless of the forecast, as well as extra food / water supplies.
    • Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return.
    • Treat all rivers with respect; never attempt to cross swollen rivers or streams.
    • There is no cell phone coverage in this area. You are on your own unless you take or hire a satellite phone, mountain radio or personal locator beacon (hire outlets are listed on
    • Topographical maps are essential for all backcountry trips. Check with your closest DOC office, visitor centre or this website that all tracks and huts are open before leaving.
    • Your safety is your responsibility.


    The St James Conservation Area has a large amount of avalanche terrain in it. Read more about the avalanche season.


    You can take dogs onto St James east of the Waiau River, but this will require a permit prior from the DOC Waimakariri Area office prior to your trip.

    To protect its high conservation values and vulnerable native birds, particularly kiwi, dogs are not permitted west of the Waiau River.

    Dogs must be kept under control at all times. Clean up after your dog and remove any faeces. Dogs are not permitted in any of the huts. 


    Fire is always a conservation concern in the high country. There will be no open fires in the St James Conservation Area.

    More information about DOC and fire management


    Rangiora Office
    Phone:   +64 3 313 0820
    Address:   32 River Road
    Rangiora 7400
    Full office details
    Arthur's Pass National Park Visitor Centre
    Phone:   +64 3 318 9211
    Address:   State Highway 73
    Arthur's Pass
    Full office details
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