The St James Walkway (SJW) was by far one of the most outstanding tramps we did in New Zealand. It’s 66km in length starting from the Lewis Pass and finishing in Boyle Village, which despite its name is not an actual village. The track goes through bog, a gorge, open alpine fields and beech forests, it is also well serviced with backcountry huts so the hike can been done in anywhere from 2-4 nights. We went with 3, with a final night of camping by a road so as not to miss our bus in the morning.
The morning we were dropped off the Lewis Pass was completely socked in with threatening rain clouds, once again we were the weird people on the bus getting off in the middle of nowhere, as soon as the bus pulled away it started to rain. Apparently if you hike in New Zealand you are used to facing four seasons in one day, we thought by being there in their summer time we would have mostly good weather, we were in fact, wrong.
The rain started off as a light mist but quickly progressed to a downpour, we really couldn’t see much but somehow it seemed pretty and very, very wet.
We arrived at the first hut, Cannibal Gorge, at 12:30pm, we’d been walking for a whopping 90 minutes, the plan was to pop in and have lunch but we both came to the realization that we would not be going anywhere after stripping off our soaked shoes and socks. Despite the early hour and the fact that we were 2.5km from our intended destination the dry welcoming hut sucked us in, we figured out how to get the coal fire going (trickier than one might think) and since we were the only ones there, shamelessly hung all our wet gear around to dry.
By 2pm the fire was going great, and the sun had come out. Now we felt a little silly for stopping, but still didn’t bother to move, it seemed like too much work. Fifteen minutes later it was pouring again and we high fived to our laziness! As the evening wore on and more people turned up they were all glad we already had the fire going and as we cooked dinner we watched in amazement as the rain turned to flurries and eventually snow. It snowed for 3 hours! Keep in mind this is the summer time in NZ. All the kiwi people were dead excited. It ended up being quite a fun evening.
The next day we got up nice and early so we could set off first into the winter wonderland that was awaiting us. There was not a cloud in the sky, and the first hours walk to the next hut was awe inspiring. The mountain tops were all covered in snow, the ground crunched with each step and the wild flowers looked to be cowering together from warmth.
Funny thing, by the time we got to our lunch spot, we were sweating buckets, the snow was gone and the sun was relentless. New Zealand really does have some strange weather. Our stop for this day was the expansive Anne hut, sitting on a large plain. When we arrived we met a ranger who was doing some serious scrub work as a Norovirus outbreak had occurred in the Nelson Lakes region and thanks to the Te Ararao thru hikers, it was spreading rapidly, so there was some heavy duty disinfecting happening. Coincidentally we also got to see some thru hikers we’d already met as this was our 4th time ending up on the trail again! (Maybe the trail gods are trying to tell us something?)
The next day was a short walk to the Boyle Flats Hut, we originally wanted to walk to the end of the track and get picked up the next day but of course being a Saturday, it’s the one day the bus doesn’t run, if its not the weather interfering with plans it’s the transportation! The day was fairly overcast and the track took us mostly through swamp but the whole gang from the Anne Hut were staying there too so we kept ourselves entertained.
Our final day brought sun and the track was nice walking along the Maruia river. We had no trouble camping by the road (there was even a toilet!) and our bus arrived the next morning to sweep us off to Christchurch.
Despite all the different weather we experienced we really enjoyed the St James Walkway, it’s definitely off the beaten tourist track.