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Exploring the Lewis Pass

Brian Cosgrove - 20/05/2011

One of two passes from Canterbury to the West Coast; the Lewis Pass provides relatively easy access through and to the mountains of North Canterbury.

Travelling north from Christchurch we branch left at the Hanmer Springs turnoff and enter the lower end of the pass. The Waiau River flows on our right and the hillsides on the left are dry and uninteresting, but twenty minutes up the road we pass several creeks crossing the road. Shale Creek, Boundary Stream, Williams Stream, and Calf Creek, this is all Glynn Wye Station. Before the introduction of the helicopter deer control, this was prime deer stalking country. Now with the reduction of deer numbers, the whole of the foothills here and over the Waiau are choked with broom and scrub. I am not convinced that this is progress, and I doubt there is more stock on this land than there was before. With the creek beds also overgrown access is much more difficult.

The Lewis Pass
The Lewis Pass
Map source: Brian Cosgrove
Click here to view a larger version

In this section of the road we look across the Waiau River, at the lower end of Glen Hope land above the gorge. Crossing the river when the river is friendly is not as difficult as it may look.

Just upstream the Waiau turns north here and drains a huge watershed back to the Spenser Range, leaving the Hope River to continue up the Lewis Pass. High on the promontory at the junction of the Hope and the Waiau is the Glenhope Station - 10,000 Hectares 4000 Sheep and 350 cattle. All of the Glenhope land is on the other side of the river.

Travelling on we find two very attractive twin lakes, that are popular with the local water birds. As we leave the lakes, around the bend the Glynn Wye Homestead appears set out below. An extensive station of mainly hill country 25,600 hectares, 16000 sheep, 1400 cattle & 1400 Deer. There is a high swing bridge opposite the homestead giving a fine view of the Hope River gorge.

Travelling west with the Hope river on our right we cross the long Hope River bridge on a wide flat river plain. Salmon travel up the Waiau/Hope to spawn (Feb/Mar) and the deep pools against the cliffs here are possibly the last option to catch them still in good condition. There is a comfortable parking area just over the bridge on your left.

West of here is all Poplars Station over the bridge and downstream is Glenhope land. The Poplars Station is a property consisting of high country and vast open flats running up five different rivers, the Boyle (Magdalene valley) Lewis, Doubtful, Hope and the Kiwi - an area of 7200 hectares running 7000 sheep and 1600 cattle. The Hope River swings away left a little above the bridge, draining the Hope watershed, a large area flowing from near Lake Sumner. 4WD access is no longer available to the Kiwi and the top of the Hope, as DOC has run a fence across this area. Poplars Station grazes the front land and will deny access. There is a DOC walking track up the true left bank of the Hope that anyone can use. Over the bridge and downstream offers some excellent country, bush and open areas that are not too taxing, unless of course you decide to climb. Moving on past the Engineers camp, we leave the foothills and enter the bush-covered mountain spine of the Southern Alps. The next major river system is the Doubtful coming in from the west on the opposite side of the river.

View of the Doubtful River
View of the Doubtful River
Photo source: Frank Caico
Click here to view a larger version

The Doubtful is a huge system, with river flat hunting and bush down to the flats on both sides of the river. The road swings north high above the river and you look down on the Sylvia Flats - a typical South Island mountain view of heavy bush clad mountains with impressive tops above a clearly defined bush line. A particularly fine view in winter with snow on the tops of the surrounding mountains.

Still moving on, the next marker is the Boyle River Bridge. A turnoff just short of the bridge takes you to the entrance of the Magdalene Valley with the Boyle River flowing down the lower half of the valley. It is claimed that a Christian Mission was established in the valley in the early 1900�s. Half way up the valley there is a line of old poplar trees, and there were also gooseberry bushes growing. The valley always seemed to have a serene peaceful presence and the name Magdalene also gives some credence to this history 4WD access is no longer available up the valley.

The right hand side of the valley is high open hillside climbing up to Mt Mons Sex Millia at 1835m. After flowing through a gorge the river turns north about 10km up the valley. A small waterfall shows the beginning of another rough gorge area with the bush closing in on both sides. Through the gorge the valley opens up again into fine river flats.

Moving further up the Magdalene the area surrounding the swamp carries a large selection of water birds, with Canada Geese predominating. The bush on the flat here is delightfully open, while sphagnum moss covers the ground and a small stream runs through. Continuing to the end of the valley, the bush continues on the left as the open valley continues on into the Ada Valley, and the Ada Hut.

A DOC walking track (St James Walkway) starts at the entrance of the Magdalene and travels up the right hand side of the Boyle River. The track follows the river as it turns into the second gorge and carries on to the Cannibal Gorge. Full details on tracks, huts and times and bookings are available from www.doc.govt.nz.

Back to the Boyle Bridge and a few kilometres up the road, we find the NZDA Hut on the right hand side of the road, opposite the junction of the Nina and Lewis rivers and looking up at Mt Norma.

Looking up the Lewis River at Mt Norma
Looking up the Lewis River at Mt Norma
Photo source: Frank Caico
Click here to view a larger version

A walk up the main ridge of Mt Norma (immediately opposite the front of the Lodge) is not a difficult climb, and gives a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains.

A wire bridge across the Lewis gives access to a track up the right hand side of the Nina. This is a very pleasant and easy walk, and fishing in both the Nina and the Lewis is excellent.

Travelling further up the valley the headwaters of the Nina open up to a wide basin common to many of these river valleys.

There is now I believe a bridge over the Nina in the middle section and a new Nina hut has been built in this area.

Leaving the NZDA hut and about half way to the top of the pass, there is a track off to the left to Waterfall Basin. It is a pleasant walk up the right hand side of the stream and opening into a grand cathedral type arena at the headwaters of the stream. On the flat area just short of the top of the pass is a very picturesque Mountain Tarn with reflections and view of the northern mountains.

Waiau River flowing on your right as 
                       you enter the pass
Waiau River flowing on your right as you enter the pass
Photo source: Rupert Wood
Click here to view a larger version

At the top of the pass there is parking above the road. A moderate to easy climb up the ridgeline takes you to the open tops. As you start from the highest point of the road, this is then the shortest climb available to the open tops. From here you get an excellent view of the Maruia valley and north to the Faerie Queen peak in the Spenser Range.

Down the road to the Maruia Springs Hotel, where hot springs and bathing areas are available. The Maruia River flowing past has good flats both up and down the valley, and provides fine fishing spots. The road down the valley for some distance is closely guarded and sometimes covered over by large beech trees, a very pleasant and memorable drive.

A view across the Maruia River
A view across the Maruia River
Photo source: Peter Hunt
Click here to view a larger version

Perhaps 5km downstream from the Hotel, at a point where the road bends left and leaves the river, is Camp Flat, a parking area for the Lake Daniels track.

A fine swing bridge now crosses the Maruia River here and leads onto the track to Lake Daniels (1-1� Hrs). More fine fishing and hunting is available in this area.

The Lake Daniels Track
The Lake Daniels Track
Photo source: Brian Cosgrove
Click here to view a larger version

You are now through the Lewis Pass, with Springs Junction offering you the choice of North through the Buller Gorge to Nelson or west via the Rahu Saddle to Reefton and the West Coast.

An article dealing with the same area was published in The New Zealand Outdoor Hunting Magazine Dec 2010 issue, as "Hunt the Lewis Pass". That article was written for deer hunters, with references and hunting notations included.

Ode to the aging Hunters

Brian Cosgrove

Up the Lewis Pass we travel
With plans and dreams and marvel
At the mountains yet to conquer
And see the streams that wander
Down valleys we might never know, and ponder
Views of nature�s splendour
Where deer find rest and birds do nest
In forests clean and pure.
Where waterfallls in hidden glens
Tell us that there is an end
To the journeys of our mountain men.
We thought the day would never come,
When these adventures would be done.
But alas tis true for me and you
We can't always do the things we do
For the mountains are higher
and the rivers colder than the ones
that we once knew
And the road up the Lewis that we travelled on
Even the bends we once knew are gone.
They tell us it�s progress, well if they must.
But for me I even miss the dust
of a road that was an adventure to travel,
that tested the grit of man and muscle.
But the mountains remain, and the bush is the same
God knew we needed a haven.
May you honour and protect it, enjoy and respect it
This land God made just for you.

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