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Lewis Pass area at the heart of New Zealand’s Southern Alps

Dorothy - 24/11/06

Driving along the road through the Lewis Pass from Springs Junction to Waipara is a scenic feast – rivers, mountains, mountain tarns and native New Zealand beech forests. From this road you can set off on short or long walks, including the St James Walkway, a four day walk in stunningly beautiful subalpine country. The name Junction suggests a choice of roads, and from this junction all the roads offer mountain vistas and views of rivers and bush. Springs Junction can be reached from the West Coast through the Rahu Saddle from Reefton,or from the north following the road from Murchison.

Reefton to Springs Junction over the Rahu Saddle
From Reefton you drive 44km (28 miles) on S.H. 7 to Springs Junction. First you drive up the gorge of the Inangahua River and climb gradually for 36km (22.5 miles) to the Rahu Saddle. The scenery is picturesque with bush close to the road on both sides and a number of sparkling streams crossing the road. There are frequent glimpses of the mountains beyond. Once you reach the Rahu Saddle it is a short winding down hill trip to Springs Junction, the entry going to the road through the Lewis Pass.

Murchison to Springs Junction
On this route you travel 83km (52 miles) through hilly country with only occasional farmhouses as this is not fertile farming country. The most outstanding feature on this stretch of road is the Maruia Falls which were formed by the Murchison Earthquake on 17 June, 1929. The epicentre was not far west of Murchison and the tremors continued for two weeks, with the resulting landslides changing the landscape and damaging roads, bridges, buildings and farmland. The earthquake caused a drop in the bed of the Maruia River. Since 1929 the force of the falling water has eroded the bed of the river at the bottom of the falls which have gradually become higher than in 1929 and are very popular with kayakers looking for an adventurous challenge. You can walk down a short track to the river where there is a great spot for taking photos.


The Maruia Falls
The Maruia Falls

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Springs Junction
The small settlement at Springs Junction is mainly a service centre for travellers where you can buy petrol, a cup of tea, and essential food supplies at the shop. There are motels near the Junction and a hotel and hot pools not far away.

Springs Junction to Maruia Springs
The road from Springs Junction runs at first through a wide valley.


A view across the Maruia River
A view across the Maruia River

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The road then narrows to run through beautiful bush for 14.4km (9.5 miles) to Maruia Springs.

Lake Daniells Track
Four km (2.5 miles) from Springs Junction there is a walk beside the Alfred River and Fraser Stream to an attractive mountain lake. There is easy walking along a clear track and the return trip takes about two hours. It is very popular for school trips.

You would be wise to put on insect repellent before walking any of the tracks in this area as large numbers of sandflies breed in fast-running streams in most forested areas of New Zealand. Sandfly bites are irritating and tend to itch.

Measuring changes in the Alpine Fault
In the calf paddock near the start of the track there is a short low concrete wall which was built to show any recent movement along the Alpine Fault which passes through this area.

The Waterfall Track Nature Walk
8km (5 miles) south from Springs Junction - 7.4km (4.6 miles) north of Maruia Springs Hotel - is the small car park for the Waterfall Track Nature Walk.


The waterfall
The waterfall

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It takes only ten minutes to walk the track to the 36 metre (118 feet) falls, but I would recommend allowing thirty minutes for the return trip as there is much to see and a lot of bird life to listen to.


The beech forest through which the track goes
The beech forest through which the track goes

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The track takes you through river terrace red beech/silver beech forest and crosses a small stream twice on the way to the waterfall.


One of the stream crossings
One of the stream crossings

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The walk is in the Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve and walkers are urged to keep to the track so that plants and insects will not be damaged.

Birds in the area
You will hear the song of the bellbirds as you walk and you may be lucky enough to see this olive-green bird in the trees. The tui has shining black feathers and a tuft of while feathers at its throat. Its call is similar to the call of the bellbird but its tune includes harsher notes. If you keep very quiet and still you may see a grey bush robin. If you hear a long repeated trilling sound that indicates that there is a grey warbler (riroriro) in the area. You will recognise the fantail because its name describes its characteristic tail feathers. It will flutter around the track just above head height.

At Maruia Springs there is a hotel with a fine Japanese restaurant and hot mineral springs in a wonderful mountain setting overlooking the Maruia River. The water for the pools is piped from a hot spring on the other side of the river. There is also backpacker accommodation.

Maruia Springs to the summit of Lewis Pass - 13.3km (8.3 miles)
The road climbs steadily to the summit of the Pass 865m ( 2840 ft). As you travel watch for a splendid view of the mountain called “The Faerie Queene” 2235m ( 7,330 ft ) in the Spenser Range.

Walk to lookout
An easy walk on a well formed track to the lookout at the summit of the pass is timed to take about 30 minutes to return, but the scenery is spectacular and you will probably want to linger along the way, enjoy the mossy beech forest and take photos of the views of the Maruia River, Cannibal Gorge and the surrounding mountains.


View from the top of the Pass
View from the top of the Pass

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The Tarn Nature Walk
Also in the area - 1km (0.62 miles) from the top of the Pass - is the Tarn Nature Walk. This is an easy walk around the tarn and takes about thirty minutes. It is a good example of a mountain tarn and alpine bog vegetation.


The tarn at the top of the pass
The tarn at the top of the pass

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Walkers are urged to keep to the path as it has taken hundreds of years for the bog to grow to its present form, but it could easily be destroyed if it were trampled on.

The large tarn probably formed in an area of glacial moraine after a period of glaciation which geologists estimate was about 20,000 years ago.

Vegetation is mainly turpentine scrub, bog pine, red tussock, club moss and lichen, until the track passes briefly through an area of mountain beech, hanging with lichens. When you leave the trees you will come to a small knob and from this vantage point turn and you will see the Spenser Mountains and the Freyberg Range in the distance, and far below the Right Branch of the Maruia River cutting through Cannibal Gorge.

There are no facilities here and it is not a suitable place to camp.

The St James Walkway
This is a five day walkway in the subalpine area covering 66km (41 miles) and is recommended for walkers of average fitness. It can be a difficult walk in winter weather which can cause extreme conditions. It passes through pastoral and forested country and gives access to stunningly beautiful country..

Walkers are recommended to walk the track in parties of at least four people, and to carry equipment to spend a night camping if the huts along the way are full when you arrive. A sleeping bag with a waterproof cover and a good pack are essential. You will need waterproof clothing and strong boots, a first aid kit, an ample supply of food that is light to carry and a cooker and fuel.

Always fill in your plans in the Intentions book in each hut.

The track begins along the walk to the lookout at the summit of the pass, and ends at the Boyle settlement. Buses passing through the pass will pick up trampers at either end of the tramp. The car parking at the Boyle settlement offers more security.

Lewis Pass summit to Waipara
This road winds down through the bush on easy grades. In winter and spring snow on the mountain tops adds to the magnificence of the scenery. When it leaves the bush the road runs around high bluffs above the Lewis River. It then crosses the Boyle River and further on the Hope River after which it follows the Waiau River to the Hanmer Springs Junction.

It is pleasant travelling over easy grades to the town of Culverden – a popular stop for a tea and toilet break. The road then continues over undulating country and through the impressive limestone formations of the Weka Pass to reach Waipara.

At this junction turn right and follow SH 1 to reach Christchurch.

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