St James Cycle Trail (Maling Car Park Across Fowlers Pass)
St James Conservation Area is a large area (78,000 hectares) managed by the Department of Conservation, nearby Hanmer Springs in the South Island. DOC purchased the land in 2008 from private ownership and created the 64km St James Cycle Trail in 2010 and a smaller 15km loop early last year. Although far from being an avid mountain biker, the track has been on my radar for a few years now and finally with a weekend free it was time to check it out. We left Christchurch at 5.30pm on Friday headed for the DOC campsite Lake Tennyson, just 1.5 km from the Maling Pass entrance which due to the predominant wind, is the end which you're recommended to start at (as we found out on the Sunday, the wind can be pretty extreme at times).
I'd heard the fishing at Lake Tennyson was pretty good, so having purchased a 24 hour fishing licence at the Christchurch Hunting and Fishing shop for $23 and a suitable fishing lure for $4, decided to give it a crack. We arrived at around 8.30pm to the sight of fish jumping just a stones throw from where you camp.
You have to wade out to about knee depth and cast out about 10-15 metres as there's a shelf that drops off and is the area where the bigger fish are. I'm told also that if you walk over to the other side, the fish are bigger. This evening, my luck was limited to catching two smaller trout which were returned as they were a bit too small but put up a good fight. The DOC campsite at Lake Tennyson is a small grassy area with a shelter that you can use to do your cooking in (no cooking facilities) and a toilet, but it's free which is awesome. It get's pretty cold here in the evening even in the middle of summer as the sun disappears behind the mountains, and the mosquitoes can be annoying in the morning but as long as you're well prepared this is a great spot. We awoke in the morning with the sun shining, what a great way to start the day![caption id="attachment_1253" align="aligncenter" width="819"] Here's a quick video of the Lake Tennyson campsite filmed in the morning http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrR32e5tIVE Saturday morning, 8am it was time to set off from Maling car park, the starting point of the St James Cycle Trail. At this point, we had a pretty casual attitude toward the route options and we'd make our mind up about going the full distance or stopping at Lake Guyon at some point along the way. The decision would depend on how we handled the terrain. By chance we had an encounter with an active family of four that had planned to take a route from Lake Guyon across Fowlers Pass, meaning that once you arrived back onto Tophouse Road, it was a 10km trip back to the car, rather than a 25km grind from the homestead. What this effectively meant, was more fishing time at Lake Guyon.. Music to my ears, however this would need to be presented carefully to my partner! With a fishing rod strapped to the mountain bike, we departed along the first part of the trail which would be a climb of about 250 metres or so. The first 45 minutes or so was fairly flat going, passing a couple of streams and generally in cruise mode. It was a bit more of a struggle to get up to the top of Maling Pass and had to get off a couple of times to walk the bike up. Once you got to the top that's pretty much when the fun started as it was about 3kms of downhill before you reached the awesome Waiau River. On this downhill section there's plenty of loose rocks, so can be a bit tricky. Unfortunately one of the members of the family we met in the car park had a fall on this part and had to get some attention, so pays to be careful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwEAXS4Ms0o Once you hit the Waiau River it's fairly flat going with a few ups and downs but nothing serious. After cruising along this part for about an hour or so, we came to the main 'intersection' on the St James Trail and if you're heading to Lake Guyon is where you need to turn left at. If you look at the times on the sign you can get a bit put off-14 hours to the homestead car park? Wow..There's a pretty good section on estimated time here. We jointly decided to spend the night at Lake Guyon hut and head over the Fowlers Pass the following day. Coincidentally, this allowed four hours of fishing time at Lake Guyon ;) The hut is located only a stones throw from the lake, there's a stream right next to it so you can use this for keeping things cold. There's only four beds though so it's a bit of a gamble if you'll get a bed or not. It was very much a wait and see approach as to how many people would be staying. With time to spare it was time to go fishing..Shock and horror my reel handle had fallen off the fishing rod somewhere along the track, rendering the rod absolutely useless.. To rub salt in the wound, the fish were trolling me on the edge of the lake, check out this video below to see the fish at about 2pm in the afternoon.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsUKleDLnko I hadn't ridden 5 hours with a rod to be teased by trout like this. With a piece of wire and one of those tools you find in a puncture repair kit, I was back in business. I cast in a couple of times and sure enough they followed up the lure (which had been suggested by a guy at Hunting and Fishing on Colombo Street in Christchurch). After about 10 casts in a certain spot (100 metres from the hut) I hooked one and away it went with a hiss of the reel. Exciting times! However this is as far as the good news goes..With the fish within a metre of my reach, I threw the rod onto the bank and took the line by my hand. Like Usain Bolt before crossing the line, this was cruise mode when success was seemingly in the bag. Alas, with one big flick of its tail in 10 cm of water, the trout simultaneously jumped in the air and snapped the line at the hook and took off back into the depths of Lake Guyon. I stood there stunned for a minute, wondering what had just happened..It soon sunk in that there would be no trout on the menu, nor for the remainder of the trip, as the trout had taken my one and only lure. By this time it was dark and there were now 6 of us at the hut, all fairly tired from the days ride and need of one of 4 beds. While the mattresses in the DOC huts aren't very wide, they are long s with a bit of improvisation, two of the mattresses were placed next to each other on the ground which comfortably slept four people. One more person and it would've been a case of drawing short straws. We woke at 6.30am and headed off, lacking knowledge about the upcoming Fowlers Pass crossing but making up for in enthusiasm. As the fishing rod was still in working condition, I decided to leave it at the hut, so if you are considering this trip take a lure (or two) and you'll be sorted. Things started out pretty cruisy, as we reached the old homestead and made our way up Fowlers Pass. The track got narrower the further we got into it, and had to walk the bikes most of the way, however seeing other tyre tracks made it look promising. We crossed about 5 or so streams before reaching the start of the climb about 45 minutes later. We were now pushing our bikes 99% of the time up Fowlers Pass, this would remain for the next three hours as we climbed higher and higher. It was at this point where the wind was picking up the higher we climbed and our bodies were screaming for us to stop that the $20 entry fee into the Hanmer Springs Hot Pools wasn't looking all that expensive. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyiaqIyCGII For anyone considering this, it's pretty hard going especially if it's windy. For all but about 100 metres of the 4 or so kms it's pushing your bike..It feels great to have done it, but it's now Monday and I'm in central Christchurch. Twenty four hours ago, I was cursing like a drunk sailor questioning my reasons for giving it a go. I will say that once you hit the top, it's an awesome cruise down to the tophouse road that takes about 20-30 minutes. I would like to say the hard part of the journey ended when we reached the summit of Fowlers Pass. Unfortunately as we reached the road, the wind changed to a gusterly head wind and we still had 10kms to ride to fetch the car. About three cars passed during this time, but none had space for one of us to ditch the bike and get the car. After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the car at the Maling Pass car park and the ride was complete! With pretty shattered bodies and wind blown faces we soaked ourselves for a few hours in Hanmer Springs hot pools which topped off a pretty awesome and eventful weekend which felt a lot longer than 48 hours! * As it turned out, the fishing reel handle was in our car all along and hadn't fallen off on the track. So, if you're reading this, I stashed this reel at the foot of the Maling Pass car park sign right here where the yellow arrow is pointing (12th January, 2014). So, if you're planning on a trip to Lake Guyon and want to do a bit of fishing, grab a couple of lures and the rod will be there ready to use. If you do end up grabbing the handle and taking it to the Lake Guyon Hut to reunite it with the fishing rod there, can you let me know through emailing me (adam[at]campermate.co.nz) and I'll update this post to let others know it's intact there.