St James Conservation Area

The St James Station was purchased by the Crown in October 2008 as part of the tenure review process on high country pastoral lease land.  It has subsequently been transferred into Department of Conservation management.  This hit the news at the time as a great gain for recreationalists (NZ Herald article).  I just did not get it.  The farmed section of the St James Walkway had always struck me as being a particularly boring tramp.  But after an Easter of solo exploration my view has been drastically updated.

I had not grasped the extensive area covered by the tenure review and the ramifications this has for access to stunning areas that were not on my adventuring radar.  Here’s a link to the DOC page from which you can download a brochure and map of the area

The St James Conservation Area provides a stunning natural highway between the Hanmer/Molesworth region and the Nelson Lakes region.  Christchurch folk can easily drive to Hanmer and access the more remote and rugged areas of Nelson Lakes.  In my mind, this area previously required a much longer drive up through Murchison and St Arnaud.  Now, there is a no-permission-required full-access option in easy reach.

Furthermore, the mountain biking potential is very exciting.  The Lake Tennyson-Lake Guyon loop is already establishing itself as a must-do.  From what I could see, that trip is highly recommended.  Hunting, fishing and horse trekking opportunities are overwhelmingly abundant.

DOC have already made great strides in providing access points with signs, parking areas and toilets.  Cattle are still being grazed in the Waiau valley, but grazing will be phased out.

My trip took me from the Clarence River bridge, over Maling Pass and into the Waiau.  From there I went into the Waiau headwaters, noting the extensive work that is being undertaken to upgrade the Waiau track as part of the national walkway Te Araroa.  I left Te Araroa and crossed Thompson Pass, lapping up the beautiful Thompson Lake on the way.  An adventuresome skirting of the headwaters of the D’Urville River saw me on the western side of the Main Divide and into the East Matakitaki River.  Scaling the Main Divide again via the Mt Una basin, I descended back into the Waiau via the untracked Enid Stream.

An exceptional route featuring the spectacular 2000m-plus glaciated peaks of the Spencer Range.

Here is my video of the sights: