St James Cycle Trail, Hanmer Springs

The St James Cycle Trail is one of the 23 Great Rides under Nga Haerenga, The New Zealand Cycle Trail.

The first of the Great Rides to open was the St James Cycle Trail in November 2010. It passes through the iconic backcountry of St James Conservation Area, near the tourist town of Hanmer Springs.

The 64km trail starts and finishes at the Maling Pass and St James Homestead entrances which are 25km apart along Tophouse Road. It is recommended to start at the Maling Pass entrance as there is more downhill this way and the predominant wind comes down the valley behind you.

The trail offers stunning scenery with a mix of trail standards, down spectacular river valleys, past high-country lakes, through beech forest and grassland valleys. The trail starts by Lake Tennyson and runs over an alpine crossing which climbs 200m up the St James Range and down through mountainous river valleys. The highest point on the trail is Maling Pass (1308m), between the Clarence and Waiau river valleys, while the southern end of the trail exits the Waiau Valley via Charlies Saddle (754m).

The trail takes 1–2 days depending on your level of fitness and riders will need to be reasonably fit and experienced to undertake the full trail. The first section from Maling Pass to Lake Guyon is intermediate grade, with steep slopes and rough terrain. After that the track becomes increasingly difficult and remote – requiring river crossings and bike carrying in places and is suitable for experienced cyclists only. Experienced mountain bikers are expected to complete the full trail in roughly ten hours.

Best time to ride

The best time to ride the trail is in late spring to view alpine flowers. The trail will also appeal from summer through to mid-autumn when riders can experience rich contrasting colours on long evenings, all with superb mountain backdrops, crystal clear waters and even an opportunity to ride past managed but free-ranging horses. Hanmer Springs offers cycle hire and the town is an excellent location to rest weary legs in thermal pools while also enjoying a full range of quality accommodation and cafes.

Getting there

The trail starts and finishes at Tophouse Road. From Hanmer Springs take Clarence Valley Road over Jacks Pass to connect with Tophouse Road (13km from Hanmer Springs). This road follows the eastern boundary of St James Conservation Area as far as Lake Tennyson. 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. There are three huts along the way, as well as numerous camping spots, providing a chance to make a weekend of it.

For less experienced riders, there is a more comfortable day ride nearby, where cyclists can ride to Lake Guyon and back again. There is also the option of taking a 4WD vehicles (and bikes) over Maling Pass as far as the Waiau River, and then riding a 7km section of purpose built track, there and back.

Plan and prepare: Your safety is your responsibility

Anyone wanting to ride the trail in winter will have to be prepared for snow and ice. While access into St James is relatively easy, this remains a remote back country area. There is no cell phone coverage. Before your trip ensure you have:

  • Checked the latest forecast
  • Left your intentions with someone
  • A PLB (personal locator beacon) or mountain radio
  • Enough warm clothing to spend the night out if you have to.


Avalanches can occur every year when there is snow in the mountains. Most occur during winter storms or 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.

Maling Pass can be affected by avalanches when there is more than one metre of snow on the track.

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