St James majesty

Lewis Pass – Lewis Pass Day 124-128, 70km loop

By completing this 5 day, 70km loop, we connected once more with the TA for two nights, and saw the same scenery from the side of the Waiau Pass that we looked up towards from the West Sabine hut. And, it was a great, graded “moderate” tramp! No 500m of vertical scree for us to scramble over.

After a lovely evening with Swiss-Kiwi couple Robin and Martin (who we first meet in a Puhoi backpackers), we were driven to the start of the loop – near the top of Lewis Pass. We weren’t too sure what to expect, but whatever mental image we had – the St James surpassed it. The path was a path – what luxury. The beech forest was a mix of regenerating muddle of young, old and dead trees competing for light and soil, and beautiful moss covered floor. We walked alongside a crystal clear river, to the rather grizzly named Cannibal Gorge (yes, supposedly after Maori cannibalism in times past). Then out into a sub alpine meadow. Other than small scrambles where avalanches or erosion had wiped out the track – it was just lovely walking. The sun shone, and with just 4hrs to walk in the day, we stopped over to marvel at our good fortune to be lucky enough to be here. And yes, even after all this time, the fact it was a Monday did add to the sweetness!

We shared the first hut with an adventurous Frenchman, the second with a German couple and 2 retirees retracing tramps of 30years ago. It wasn’t until we connected with the TA that we had capacity issues – even a new hut is not pleasant when it is full-to-brimming. Added to that the TAs were onto their 7+ night in the bush – they were over it, and over each other. A German-UK family with 2 young kids removed any tranquility. Yes, we were the grumpy old gits in the corner, muttering about loss of peaceful, wilderness experience. Thankfully, all of them decided to walk out (31km!) in one go, so on our last night we shared the gorgeous hut with Murray, a retired Ozzie/Kiwi, a mad young Ozzie who had walked over 40km that day to make sure he got to Chch the next day, and a young, painfully quiet Swiss lad. Much more convivial – we learnt a lot about some Ozzie tramps that may make our list (if I can get over the thought of leeches and other wild life), and even had some whiskey courtesy of Murray.

Most of our days consisted of 4hrs of walking, which we spread as long as we could over the day, soaking up the magnificent scenery, with just one 6hr day to keep us honest. The two passes were kind, even though they were 950m and 1130m respectively. The track lead us through alpine meadows, complete with free-range if not wild horses. The last day returned us to beech forest, and back to Boyle Village.

Our faith in NZ tramping has been returned. It is an amazing country and there are at least a handful of tramps that are not “hard-core”. Away from the TA gives us so many more options, and takes any of the “destination-race” stress away. Don’t get me wrong, the TA is an amazing journey and an amazing asset for NZ. We should invest to keep the infrastructure up to scratch for the steadily increasing demand. But, there is more to NZ than the TA, and we are just so pleased to be taking time to explore the south island – off that particular beaten trail.

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