The St-James Cycle Track offers visitors with a challenging, but stunning, remote cycling experience. The 64 kilometre track passes through what was once one of New Zealand’s largest cattle and sheep farms when it was established in 1862.
However, in 2008, the area was purchased by the New Zealand government, which subsequently designated it the St.
James Conservation Area. The area can be explored on the journey along the track. In addition to passing through the conservation area, visitors will pass through patches of mountain beech forest, huge grassland valleys dotted with quaint, rustic farmhouses, and be treated to stunning alpine views.
While the trail does offer a mix of riding grades, it is best suited for experienced, fit mountain bikers.
If you are especially fit, you can expect to finish the whole 64 kilometres in one, 6-9 hour day. However, most people take around two days to complete the whole track.
The track is lined with campsites as well as three huts for those who want to make completing the ride a multiday event.
The best place to start the track is at the Maling car park.
This direction allows for more downhill travel overall and the winds are usually more favorable as well.
From here, visitors start with a climb up to Maling Pass. The pass is the highest point on the track at 1,308m. From Maling Pass, it is a steep descent through breathtaking alpine meadows and beech forest to the Waiau Valley floor.
From this point, riders can take a scenic detour to the beautiful Lake Guyon should they want where they can enjoy a refreshing swim in the crystal clear waters of the lake.
Lake Guyon is also home to a Department of Conservation hut, making it a great place to stop for a night.
After the turnoff to Lake Guyon, the trail continues past the spectacular Saddle Spur Bridge before becoming much more challenging and rocky.
This portion of the trail is filled with uneven sections, steep climbs, tricky descents, and a variety of thorny bushes to dodge.
At around the mid-way point of the trail, there is the Pool Hut, which is a good option for visitors travelling the track over multiple days.
The last section of the trail is much easier and much smoother.
There is a gradual climb up to Peters Pass, but from there on out, it is a leisurely downhill through the Peters Valley to the trail end at the historic St. James Homestead.
St-James Cycle Track: Be Prepared!!
The trail really is only suitable for fit and experienced riders. While the first and final thirds of the track are grade 2-3 (easy – intermediate), the middle third is very difficult and has grade 4 (advanced) terrain that requires river crossing and bike carrying in areas.
St-James Cycle Track – A ship-shape mountain bike is essential.
It is also recommended that a personal locator beacon (PLB) be carried should riders find themselves in some sort of emergency.
St-James Cycle Track Mobile phone coverage is spotty through the trail.
Riders need to bring enough food to sustain their time on the trail as there will be none available during their ride. Water is readily available, but it must be boiled, filtered, or treated prior to drinking.
The ideal time to ride the trail is from November to April. However, regardless of the season, it is recommended that riders check with the local Department of Conservation for track conditions and the weather forecast prior to setting out on their journey. They should also inform someone of their intended return date.
Temperatures can fluctuate and rivers can rise very quickly around the track so riders should come prepared for a longer stay than originally anticipated.
St-James Cycle Track – Travelling from Abroad
The start of the trail is a 3-hour and 30-minute drive from Christchurch, which is home to a large international airport.