Princess Bath

Princess Bath

Princess Bath is a North Canterbury lake situated below Mt Princess in St James Conservation Area. Bordering one of New Zealand’s largest farming stations it is a jewel in a barren countryside. The hike into Princess Bath is an alpine adventure, climbing through tussock laden mountains and scrambling over scree-scarred ridges. With incredible views over Lake Tennyson and up the Clarence River, the journey is almost as good as the destination itself. Camping out on a small outcrop surrounded by water, it’s almost a lost world.


6.5 km


5.5 hours







Looking down to Princess Bath from the South-Eastern ridge of Mt Princess
Richard climbing the scree slope back up to the South-Western Ridge leading up to Mt Princess | @adventuresftsouth

In Detail

The route to Princess Bath that I have detailed follows the West Ridge over Mt McCabe to the alpine lake. It is a steady climb which requires route finding skills for the entirety of the journey. We returned via the same route on the second day. There are alternative routes that I have briefly mentioned at the end.

heading down the south-eastern ridge of Mt Princess towards Mt McCabe
Mark, Benno and Richard descend the south-western ridge of Mt Princess | @adventuresftsouth

Getting There

The Route to Princess Bath

The route up to Princess Bath is an unmarked route. It requires a good level of route finding and backcountry experience. The route travels through a variety of different alpine terrain, giving you panoramic views right the way across the St James Conservation Area. I have also described an alternative route that I have discovered from word of mouth and reading other trip reports. I have marked on the map below our route, the ascent in red and descent in blue.



Our Journey

When driving into Lake Tennyson make sure you take Clarence Valley Road, not Jollie’s Pass Road. Google Maps directed us up Jollie’s Pass Road which was an experience, to say the least. Clarence Valley Road is much more like a highway when compared to Jollie’s Pass Road. Eventually, you will reach Top House Road. Take a left and follow the road for approximately 30km before turning off to Lake Tennyson.

Looking over Lake Tennyson from Mt McCabe
Looking out over Lake Tennyson nearing the summit of Mt McCabe | @markxmemto

Lake Tennyson

Our hike started at the Lake Tennyson car park. This is a popular spot for campers, although it is a long way from the beaten trail. We saw a number of cars putting up rooftop tents or taking down camping tents while we saddled up. The wind seemed to be the biggest issue for the campers as they wrestled to get their tents down. Toilet facilities are present at this campsite.

Lake Tennyson Carpark and camping ground
Looking over Lake Tennyson towards the centre the Clarence River
Top: Lake Tennyson Carpark | @adventuresftsouth
Bottom: Looking out over Lake Tennyson, Mt Princess centre left of the lake | @adventuresftsouth

The lake is an incredible swimming spot. The water is clear and clean and refreshing, especially on a hot summers day. Our hike began with crossing the outlet of Lake Tennyson. We didn’t bother putting our boots on until we had crossed the river as it is the only river crossing on the trip. We then followed the edge of the lake towards the base of Mt McCabe.

Walking around the edge of Lake Tennyson
Walking lakeside around Lake Tennyson making our way to the base of Mt McCabe | @adventuresftsouth

Mt McCabe

We began the climb after sighting a fence line to follow, which headed up in the direction of a clump of trees that we had identified as a way-point. From the trees, we followed a rough goat’s track and our instincts up onto the ridge. Once on the ridge, we made our way towards a group of trees for some shade.

Top: Mark and Benno at the start of the climb, Lake Tennyson in the background | @adventuresftsouth
Middle: Benno and Mark granny gearing it up towards our first waypoint | @adventuresftsouth
Bottom: Nathan (Author) shooting a photo of Richard looking back at our first waypoint | @markxmemento

A way-point of Trees

The trees were where we rested, recovering, taking on plenty of water and plenty of snacks. We continued to make our way up towards the ridge. The ground underneath our feet transitioned from marsh to long tussock. It wasn’t long before we were tripping and stumbling over our own feet as we tried to find our footing on the hike up.

Walking up and along the scree towards the summit of Mt McCabe
Top: Richard climbing out of the patch of trees we targeted as our first waypoint | @adventuresftsouth
Bottom: Richard grinding out the climb towards the summit of Mt McCabe | @adventuresftsouth

Scree Scrambling

As we continued to climb, the views only continued to impress. We saw the car getting smaller and smaller as we climbed higher and higher. Tussock made way to rocky patches making for easier climbing as we made our way to the top of Mt McCabe. It sometimes felt like an endless slog of sweat as we climbed through the midday sun.

On the summit of Mt McCabe looking towards Princess Bath
Top: Mark journeying over the gravel nearing the summit while Benno gives an Instagram update | @adventuresftsouth
Bottom: Benno soaking up the view of Mt Princess from the summit of Mt McCabe | @markxmemento

A route to Princess Bath

From the summit of Mt McCabe, we studied the next climb up the South-Western ridge of Mt Princess. We were greeted by two fit men and a young boy who had hiked down from Princess Bath. They had taken the approach from the west of the bath turning the hike into a circuit. One of the men explained to us the importance of gaining the ridge until you get a direct line of sight down to Princess Bath.

Hiking the south-eastern ridge Mt Princess, Lake Tennyson in the background
Top: Mark and Richard on the climb up the South-Western Ridge of Mt Princess | @adventuresftsouth
Bottom: Richard taking a breather, the route we have taken behind us | @adventuresftsouth

There was a quick steep descent from Mt McCabe to the saddle and then another granny gear climb to follow.  The Clarence river was an impressive view as we descended to a saddle between the ridge to Mt Princess and Mt McCabe. As the climbing began we would look back to where we had come from, back towards Lake Tennyson.

Grabbing a
Nathan (Author) and Mark taking a snack break after passing the height of Mt McCabe | @bennoschmidt

Final Ascent

There was quite a transition in geology as we ascended. Scruffy bits of tussock and moss soon gave away to bare rock. It’s paramount that you are mindful of your footing as you travel through such exposed terrain. Slow and steady we made our way up the ridge, following only goat’s tracks. We supported each other along the way ensuring we felt safe.

Climbing the south-western ridge of M Princess
Top: Benno getting angles of the boys climbing the ridge| @adventuresftsouth
Bottom: Richard scrambling over a steep ascent on the south-western ridge | @adventuresftsouth

There was a lot of excitement in the air when we were greeted with a clear view of Princess Bath. The bluffs began to part ways and the steep drops looked nasty. What the party heading back had mentioned to us started to make a lot more sense. We continued on climbing and scrambling up the jagged edge of Mt Princess, hopeful there would be a scree slope that would run down directly into the bath.

First view of Princess Bath
Looking towards the summit of Mt Princess
Top: Our first view of Princess Bath | @adventuresftsouth
Bottom: Mt Princess from the start of the scree slope leading down towards the bath | @adventuresftsouth

Princess Bath

It was an exciting feeling being able to see the bath right below us. We had climbed for so many hours and could finally see our destination right in front of us. It was just a scree slide straight down to the bath’s edge. Ensure that you check the map for the point marked to ascend and descend. We wasted no time in descending, stones right throughout boots it couldn’t have mattered less. We picked out a funky campsite on a miniature peninsula jutting out into the lake. Not worrying at all about the lean that our tent would be on.

Looking down the scree slope on the south western ridge of Mt Princess towards Princess Bath
Descending the scree slope to Princess Bath
Top: Looking down the final scree slope to Princess Bath | @markxmemento
Bottom: Nathan (Author) descending the slope towards the bath | @markxmemento

The water was cold. Even under the hot sun, it still felt like freshly melted glacial water that we were dunking our heads under. Each and every one of us lasted about 30 seconds before we came clambering out with numbed feet. As soon as we had dried off we began instantly layering our thermals to bring our body temperatures back up to normal.

Campsite at Princess Bath
Top: Benno and Nathan with gear strewn out around our campsite before a swim | @markxmemento
Middle: Richard, Nathan (Author) and Mark getting the MSR set-up and going | @bennoschmidt
Bottom: Nathan (Author) checking on the pot | @bennoschmidt

Sunset Shooting

With the MSR fired up it wasn’t long before long we had food whilst admiring the sunset and chasing photo opportunities around the area. Night fell shortly after and we attempted to shoot some Astro Photography. Camping out around this massive body of water we were fortunate enough to get some of the slightest reflections from the dipping sun. Still, the night was calm and there were no clues that we were going to be in for a rough morning.

Liam Pyott walking around Princess Bath in the evening light
Top: Liam off for an evening walk around the bath | @adventuresftsouth
Bottom: Looking back out over Princess Bath towards our tent in the evening light | @adventuresftsouth

Windy Nights at Princess Bath

We were woken to the tent thrashing in the wind against our faces while we tried to sleep. The winds had dramatically picked up and were threatening to rip the tent up from the ground underneath us and propel it off the mountain. I made the first move to get out of the tent and inspect the situation. I found pegs that had been holding the tent down lifted and tossed a couple of metres away. The team and I did our best to re-peg out the tent in the dark using large rocks to secure the pegs minimising the chance of them being ripped out of the ground again. It would be safe to say, none of us got much sleep that night.

Top: Our yellow tent illuminated against the night’s sky | @bennoschmidt
Bottom: The nights sky, the stars beginning to show their face | @markxmemento

Later I learned (after the hike) if you extend the tent poles and drop them out to make the tent lower it can make the tent far more stable and resistant to high winds.

After Benno’s tent broke during the night he took the time to capture the nights sky. Legend | @bennoschmidt

Return Journey

That next morning we took our time getting up, taking a few photos and brewing coffee while we prepared for a windy hike back down the mountain. It was essential that we maintained a good grip the whole way down, I didn’t want anyone to get blown off the side of the ridge while we were walking back. It became easier going as we descended further into the scrub. When we reached Mt McCabe it became a lot easier to find our way as we could see the whole route down the hill to our journey’s end.

Walking around the edge of Princess Bath toward the scree slope we descended the day before.
Top: Leaving Princess Bath, making our towards the eastern scree slope | @adventuresftsouth
Middle: Benno treading carefully, Mark and Richard follow holding on during a large gust | @adventuresftsouth
Bottom: Benno descending the South-Western ridge towards Mt McCabe | @adventuresftsouth

As soon as we reached the car it was “drop the pack and head straight to the lake for a swim”. Lake Tennyson was still a little cool but nothing beats a swim after a hard days summer hike in the burning heat.

Top: Descending tussock laden slopes of Mt McCabe | @adventuresftsouth
Bottom: Nathan (Author) wading the final stretch across the outlet of Lake Tennyson to the car | @markxmemento

Alternative Routes

In this blog post, I have talked about one route up to Princess Bath. There are many different approaches to hike up to the Bath. One of these follows the western ridge up over point 1572. This route follows the St James Cycle Trail and can turn the hike into a loop, coming from the west and following a number of tarns along the way up. My initial thoughts were that this route would be a longer more indirect route hence the reason why we climbed up over Mt McCabe to Princess Bath.

Richard soaking up the surrounding landscape of the St James Range | @adventuresftsouth


Princess Bath over a summer weekend was a blast. The views right down the valleys as we made our way out and the descent down the final scree slope into the Bath would have to be my highlights from the trip. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a solid adventure it is worth the drive in. In summer it is perfect, you can get two swims in, one at the carpark and one at the campsite, all in one day. You do however need to be confident with map reading and be well prepared to face any conditions that may come your way. If you are looking for a similar or, slightly easier hike in Canterbury check out my post on Lake Mavis.

Mark looking outs over St James Range while the sun sets, illuminating the clouds | @adventuresftsouth

Finally, make sure you go and check out Benno Schmidt and Mark Pakorn on Instagram, both talented photographers whose work I have shared throughout this post. I’m incredibly grateful to have shared this adventure with all these boys Benno, Mark, and Richard.

Mark, Nathan, Benno and Richard on the summit of Mt McCabe with Princess Bath in the background | @markxmemento


  1. Hi Nathan

    Lovely article. Thanks for sharing. I am planning a trip to NZ and ETA is being introduced. Do you know whether its July or October? There is conflicting advise on websites


    1. Hi Varun,
      Thank you for your kind words on my article. From reading the information on the webpage you sent through on ETA, I think that it means that it will come into effect and be a requirement in October. I’m not 100% sure but from what I can tell they will start to introduce it in July, whether you will need one then I’m not sure.
      Best of luck, hope you can make it out to New Zealand sometime soon!