Thompson Pass from Waiau Pass

Image: Andrew Purdam | Creative Commons


Waiau Pass is an alpine crossing suitable for experienced parties only, linking Lewis Pass and Nelson Lakes National Park.


Track overview

Walking and tramping

8-10 days for full trip Expert: Route

Dog access

No dogs

About this track


Waiau Pass is a very technical pass that requires a high level of tramping experience

Lewis Pass to Ada Pass

From Lewis Pass to Cannibal Gorge Hut
Time: 3 hr 30 min
Distance: 7 km

From Lewis Pass to Ada Pass Hut
Time: 5 hr
Distance: 10 km

The track begins from the Tarn Nature Walk, across a natural bog, then enters the bush, descending 150 metres in a steep zigzag to Cannibal Gorge and the Maruia River.

A swing bridge crosses Cannibal Gorge to the true right bank. From here it is about 6 km to the Cannibal Gorge Hut.

Past the hut, the track follows an easy grade alongside the Maruia River, through beech forest and open alpinefields (prone to avalanches) to the Ada Pass Hut.

Ada Pass to Christopher Hut

Time: 4 hr 30 min
Distance: 10.5 km

This section of the track is on St James Station. From the hut, the track leads through bush over the Ada Pass and into the Ada Valley.

Beech forest opens to areas of tussock with patches of mountain beech.

Orange triangles at the clearing edge indicate the track through bush areas, following the true right of the Ada River.

At the junction of the Ada and Christopher Rivers, the track passes the historic Christopher (Ada) Cullers Hut. The Christopher Hut is a 10 - 15 minute walk from this point, close to the edge of the bush.

Christopher Hut to Waiau Hut

Time: 6 hr 30 min
Distance: 17 km  

Cross the Ada River below the Christopher Hut and follow the 4WD track into the Waiau Valley.

To reach Waiau Hut, follow up the Waiau River on the true right bank over mainly broad, grassy flats. Two old, bush-covered terminal moraines are crossed further up the Waiau as the valley starts to narrow.

Waiau Hut to Caroline Bivvy

Time: 1 hr 
Distance: 3 km  

Continue up the true right of the Waiau River to reach Caroline Bivvy.

Caroline Bivvy to Upper Waiau Forks

Time: Approximately 3 hr
Distance: 5 km  

Continue up the true right of the Waiau River until it veers left near the forks. Take care as the track may be overgrown in places. Cross the river and follow up a natural open area and past a good camping spot in the last stand of beech, before emerging into an area of mixed scrub.

It is essential you follow the orange markers to follow the best route.

Upper Waiau Forks to Waiau Pass

Time: Approximately 3 - 5 hr (depending on snow conditions)
Distance: 2 km

The track now crosses the east branch of the river, then climbs through scrub, where a few cairns and remnants of track lead well up the valley of the west branch to a tussock ridge. Climb this to reach the foot of low bluffs.

Ascend up easy ledges and tracks, then cross several tussock terraces, still climbing until spaced steel marker poles lead the way up a steep rocky ridge. At the top the route leads left on easy going to Waiau Pass.

Be prepared to turn back if snow is present (at any time of year), and you don't have an ice and crampons and avalanche rescue equipment.

Waiau Pass to Blue Lake Hut

Time: Approximately 3 hr
Distance: 5 km 

Follow the poles down the pass, then turn right along a prominent terrace before descending scree slopes to Rotopōhueroa/Lake Constance.

Bluffs on the left (west) side of the lake block your route, so climb steeply for 150 metres before edging above these bluffs.

Stay at the same altitude until near the lower end of the lake where you can descend onto rubble slopes. From here you will soon pick up a track crossing the vegetated moraine wall. This descends to Blue Lake Hut a short distance below.

Getting there

The track begins in the Lewis Pass area, from the Tarn Nature Walk.

Know before you go

Waiau Pass is an alpine crossing suitable for experienced parties only. Snow craft experience is required and equipment taken should include at least an ice axe. Weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly and icy snow conditions can be experienced at any time of the year.

Note: True right and left banks of a river are determined when facing down stream.

Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.


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