Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ

A classic walk to the Lewis Tops, climbing at first through attractive beech forest, then up onto the tarn strewn tops for wonderful views in all directions.

Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ

The popular Lewis Tops walk had been on my hit list for some time. I’d walked the nearby Nina Valley Track when staying in Hanmer Springs in winter, but had been waiting for clear weather to get onto high ground for the first time in this region. It was very much worth the wait, with wonderful views in all directions once above the bushline. Before then there is an hour-long climb through attractive beech forest, and there are also a number of tarns on the tops that made for nice photographic subjects.

It seems to rain a lot in the Lewis Pass region, so I couldn’t resist a rare weather window forecast on my midweek day off, and decided to make the 2 hour 20 minute drive one way from Christchurch. That drive makes it a tiring day out, but it’s worth doing this classic walk in fine weather and with less people. Track notes at the end.

Lewis Tops Route: The Scenery

Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
The walk starts off in attractive beech forest. This section was actually on the short unofficial track that starts at the summit of the pass.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Very nice beech forest on the lower slopes.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Very green.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
The first of the views a few metres off track next to a bench. Probably just 10 minutes into the walk here.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Views from clearings on the lower slopes. Something went wrong with the focus of my camera here, but you can still see the beauty of the area.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
An interesting tree on the way up.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Views here just above the bushline.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
My wife on the first peak (1568m) with Mt Technical (1870m) behind. We met a guy later on who was going to climb Mt Technical, and we’ll aim to return to do that one day, probably when we are staying closer to the area.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Looking over the Libretto Range.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
The first of the tarns and the Libretto Range.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Mt Technical at the back.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Looking west down the Maruia River.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
This may have been the biggest tarn.

Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ

Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Looking back along the tops. The snow covered mountain at the back was quite impressive although I’m unsure which one it was.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Deer Valley
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
The Spencer Mountains at the back.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
I liked this aesthetic. I would like to know what the mountain at the back was. Being covered in snow possibly exaggerated its apparent height.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
We took a slightly different route on the way back.

Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ

Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Not the most realistic portrayal (lots of zoom and hence compression), but this does portray the drama of the landscape. The Spencer Mountains are the grand backdrop, reaching about 2300m.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
The Libretto Range at the back.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Another angle on the big tarn and Mt Technical.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Sophia backed by the Spencer Mountains and Cannibal Gorge/ Maruia River Right Branch.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
On our way down here.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Another look at the panorama north, this one in clearer weather.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
The Maruia River Left Branch and Mt Freyberg (1817m) on the left.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
Zampa (1710m) centre right.
Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
The Lewis River Valley, with the road down there. The Libretto Range runs alongside.


Track Notes

Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ
On a track to the bushline, then a poled route for a while to the tops. It’s then easy wandering on the tops. I suggest going at least as far as the tarns, if not the very end. Note that we actually started at an old car park at the bend in the road and summit of the pass. The official route (marked in red) starts further down the road. You’ll need a 4wd to get into that car park, although I saw that somebody had parked at the side of the road on the very bend.

We actually started this walk at a car park of sorts on the bend in the road, and summit of the pass. There is 4wd only access to this clearing, and from here a short unmaintained track soon meets up with the main Lewis Tops Track, (after perhaps 5 minutes walking). The official route (marked on the topographic map above), starts at the St James Walkway car park. You can see both spots in the Google Map below.

The initial climb is through attractive beech forest, with a couple of clearings affording the first of the views quite early on in the walk. This could be a short walk for people wanting to stretch their legs. It took us about an hour to get above the bushline, and from there there are views in all directions for the rest of the walk. The route is poled at first, but once these run out you can walk freely on mostly flat ground as far as you like. I recommend going at least as far as the tarns. The whole walk is of just moderate difficulty, and you can get more information on the DOC website, (but its pretty straightforward).

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

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