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.

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

About track difficulties

      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. 


      Raoulia grandiflora. Photo: Kerry Cragg.
      Raoulia grandiflora

      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 settlement 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.

      Tophouse Road, St James.
      Tophouse Road, near St James homestead

      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.

      Be avalanche alert in St James brochure (PDF, 314K)


      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
      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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