St James Conservation Area
Located in the Canterbury region
IntroductionLocated on three mountain ranges, the area has exceptional recreation opportunities and natural features including glaciated valleys, glacial moraine deposits, streams, wetlands, lakes and high altitude tarns.
- 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.
Find things to do and places to stay St James Conservation Area
Fishing for trout on the Waiau, Henry and Ada rivers and lakes Guyon and Tennyson is available to all fishing licence holders. Licences are available from fishing / outdoor sports shops, Fish & Game Council offices and information / visitor centres.
Further information, including sports fishing regulations, is available from Fish & Game.
This includes all motorised vehicles.
Vehicles are restricted to the Edwards Valley and Maling Pass 4WD tracks from Tophouse Road as far as the signs by the Waiau River.
Access is only permitted during the drier summer months and is closed for the winter season usually from June to the end of September. Vehicle access is controlled by gates with different combination locks at the two track entrances:
- Edwards Valley, and
- Maling Pass carparks.
Off-road vehicle users need to register before taking their motorised vehicles into the St James Conservation Area.
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
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.
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.
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.
Do not trespass onto Glenhope Station.
Glenhope Station’s boundary surrounds Boyle River on the section of St James Walkway from Boyle Village to Magdalen Hut. Stay on the track and note that hunting is not permitted on Glenhope Station – offenders can be prosecuted for trespassing and poaching.
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.
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
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 www.beacons.org.nz)
- 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.
Avalanches can occur in St James Conservation Area in any season. Find out about avalanche danger in St James Conservation Area.
You can take dogs onto St James east of the Waiau River (ie: access from Tophouse Road).
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.
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.
St James Conservation Area was one of the largest operating cattle/sheep stations in the country, dating back to 1862. Read more about the homesteads of St James Conservation Area.