TRAIL STATUS UPDATE: St James Cycle Trail
DATE: 7 November 2017
ISSUE: The St James Cycle Trail is now open. Please note contractors will be repairing sections of the trail during the month of November and there is still some seasonal damage. We ask riders to cycle with the utmost care. Thank you.
Maling Pass — St James Homestead (1-2 days, 64km)
The first of the Great Rides to open, this fantastic trail passes through the iconic St James Station, near the alpine spa village of Hanmer Springs.
Established in 1862, the St James Station was one of the largest cattle and sheep farms in New Zealand, before being purchased by the New Zealand Government in 2008 to form the St James Conservation Area.
The 64km trail offers a mix of riding grades through stunning and diverse scenery, including soaring mountain peaks, crystal clear rivers, high country lakes, alpine meadows, sub-alpine beech forest and expansive grassy river flats.
In spring the alpine meadows are in full bloom, while from summer through to mid-autumn riders can experience rich contrasting colours on long evenings, with the chance to see the famous St James wild horses.
The St James Cycle Trail is an enthralling and challenging journey through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular and historic high country – a true mountain-biking experience to be proud of, and one you will never forget!
In early 2013 a new family-friendly ride called the Homestead Run was opened. This 15km loop starts from the end of the St James Cycle Trail at St James Homestead and is a great option for families or riders who don’t have enough time to attempt the full trail.
Relax, unwind and indulge at the multiple award-winning Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa. You will have to travel a long way to match the quality experience this outdoor alpine thermal retreat delivers. Open year round you can ‘take’ the healing waters in the open air thermal pools, sulphur pools, or relax in your own private pool.
There are three AquaTherapy pools, a heated freshwater lap pool with LazyRiver, an AquaPlay area (for children under 10 years old) and a SuperBowl waterslide.
FOREST WALKS AND RIDES
An extensive network of walking and biking tracks is located near the Hanmer Springs village in the nearby Hanmer Heritage Forest, an old experimental forest containing a mix of exotic tree species, with some more than 100 years old.
RIDING THE TRAIL
MALING CAR PARK TO WAIAU 4WD ROAD END, (GRADE 3 INTERMEDIATE) 12KM
From the car park, the trail follows the 4WD track. Gently gaining altitude at first, the trail soon steadily climbs towards Maling Pass, the high point of the trail (1308m).
From the pass, the trail descends steeply through alpine meadows and mountain beech forest into the Waiau Valley, crossing bubbling streams along the way.
Once on the valley floor the trail levels out and follows the true-left side of the river to the road end.
Note: The descent from Maling Pass is steep and the surface loose – control your speed and take special care when negotiating the numerous drainage ditches that cross the track.
WAIAU 4WD ROAD END TO SADDLE SPUR BRIDGE, (GRADE 3 INTERMEDIATE) 15.5KM
The first third of this section is a purpose-built cycle track. From the road end, the trail traverses the hillside on the left of the Waiau River, before emerging onto the wide river terraces at the junction with the Lake Guyon track. The 10min detour to this picturesque lake is well worth the time and effort.
The trail then follows old stock and farm tracks that meander down the Waiau Valley over the grassy river flats, passing by Little Lake and Muddy Lakes before arriving at the spectacular Saddle Spur Bridge.
SADDLE SPUR BRIDGE TO SCOTTIES HUT, (GRADE 4 ADVANCED) 14.5KM
This is the most challenging section on the trail, with rocky and uneven parts and hard climbs, tricky descents and a giant matagouri forest to negotiate.
Once over Saddle Spur Bridge, the trail climbs over the demanding Saddle Spur to reach Pool Hut. The trail then crosses the McArthur Bridge before climbing steeply to Charlie’s Saddle.
After a winding descent, the trail crosses the Edwards River Bridge to arrive at Scotties Hut.
Note: Sections of the trail after Saddle Spur and after McArthur Bridge are very narrow and pass steep drop-offs. We recommended you walk these sections.
SCOTTIES HUT TO ST JAMES HOMESTEAD, (GRADES 2-3, EASY TO INTERMEDIATE) 17KM
Follow the 4WD track up the Edwards Valley. The trail is mostly easy going, interrupted by short stretches of rocky riverbed and unbridged streams.
The climb up to Peters Pass is the last big effort on the trail – here the trail leaves the 4WD track, taking an easy downhill run through the beautiful Peters Valley to the St James Homestead and the end of the trail.
At the homestead there are numerous protected historic farm buildings dating back to the 1880s that give a glimpse into the past glories of this high country station.The woolshed in particular deserves exploring.
HOMESTEAD RUN, (GRADE 1 EASIEST) 15KM
From the St James Homestead, ride up the beautiful Peters Valley to Peters Pass where a great picnic spot overlooks Waterfall Stream.
Follow the trail until it intersects with the Edwards Valley 4WD track. Head east (right) down the 4WD track to connect with Tophouse Rd, then ride 3km down the valley to the homestead.
The St James Cycle Trail is located near Hanmer Springs in North Canterbury.
The nearest airport to Hanmer Springs is a 90 minute drive away in Christchurch. You can drive or catch a bus from Christchurch – if driving, take SH1, SH7 and SH7A to get to Hanmer Springs.
Offering a full range of quality accommodation and cafés, Hanmer Springs is an ideal location from which to base your St James Cycle Trail experience. After your ride, the village’s famous thermal pools and massage therapists are a treat for weary legs.
From Hanmer Springs take Clarence Valley Road over Jacks Pass to connect with Tophouse Road (13 km from Hanmer Springs).
This road follows the eastern boundary of St James Conservation Area as far as Lake Tennyson. The St James Cycle Trail starts and finishes on the Tophouse Road.
There is no regular public transport from Hanmer Springs village to the St James Cycle Trail. A charter service from the village to the trail is offered 7 days a week by Hanmer Adventures.
These are backcountry gravel roads suitable for 2WD vehicles. Constant care must be taken and do not exceed 50 kph. There are narrow sections, blind corners and dust from other vehicles, which can severely reduce visibility.
Be prepared to encounter cyclists and horse-riders at any time.
- Visit Hurunui
- Visit Hanmer Springs
- Department of Conservation – Waimakariri Area Office
Phone: +64 3 313 0820
Physical Address: 32 River Road, Rangiora 7400
Postal Address: PO Box 349, Rangiora 7440
It doesn’t take long to plan. We’ve developed a guide with the NZ Mountain Safety Council to help you. Read and download the guide FREE and ensure you’re prepared for the following.
While access into the St James is relatively easy, riders must be prepared for the worst at all times.
YOUR SAFETY IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY
The St James Cycle Trail travels through a remote alpine environment, subject to weather extremes, flooded rivers and avalanches.
Before your trip ensure you have:
- Official Trail Guide.
- Thoroughly prepared your bicycle for the trip.
- Obtained current trail status information from the DOC website or Hanmer Springs i-SITE.
- Checked the latest weather forecast.
- Left your intentions with someone.
- Essential bicycle spares and tools.
- A 406MHz personal locator beacon (PLB) or mountain radio.
- Enough warm clothing and extra food to spend the night out if you have to.
- Insect repellent.
MOBILE PHONE COVERAGE
There is no mobile phone coverage beyond Jacks Pass. You are on your own unless you take a satellite phone, mountain radio or PLB (hire outlets are listed on www.beacons.org.nz).
Treat all rivers with respect; never attempt to cross swollen rivers or streams.
Maling Pass can be affected by avalanches in spring/early summer when warmer temperatures or rain make the snow unstable. Even if you cannot see snow from the track there may be enough snow out of sight on upper slopes to form an avalanche that could reach the track.
There are toilets at the start/finish of the trail and at all the huts along the trail.
Camping areas are provided at each end of the Trail at Lake Tennyson and at the St James Homestead. There is also a day shelter at the Homestead. The trail offers three 4-bunk huts and numerous camping spots, providing the opportunity for a multi-day trip.
Note: The historic huts are maintained to preserve their heritage and provide basic shelter with limited facilities.
Water is accessible at many points along the Trail, but its purity cannot be taken for granted. We recommend you boil, filter or treat your water. Avoid taking water from the lakes as waterfowl are often present in large numbers.
All sections of the Trail are open to walkers and some sections are also open to 4WD vehicles and horse-riders. Please respect other users and follow the code of conduct for shared-use tracks:
- Respect that other users have different, and valid, reasons for being there.
- Anticipate other users around corners or in blind spots.
- Expect the unexpected; cycle at a speed from which you can stop safely if a hazard arises.
- Do not startle other users – greet them when approaching, especially from behind.
- The basic give-way rule for shared-use tracks is: 4WD and other motorised vehicles give way to walkers, cyclists and horses; cyclists give way to walkers and horses; and walkers give way to horses.
- Common sense and courtesy prevail at all times.
The St James Cycle Trail is subject to the notoriously erratic and changeable weather of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.
Sudden wind changes can result in a rapid deterioration of the weather, bringing gales, extreme cold, heavy rain and snow at any time of the year.
During the summer, temperatures can range from scorching heat during the day to bitter cold at night, with wind and high UV levels a constant feature. The prevailing wind is from the west and typically builds during the day, making an early start desirable.