Zampa Tops

Zampa Tops

Zampa Tops is a hike in Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve that follows an unmarked route along the tops of a number of peaks in Lewis Pass to a tarn below the mountain Zampa. Although this is not the traditional route to reach the tarn below Zampa, it covers a lot of beautiful tops travel. Starting from Foley’s Track right opposite Deer Valley Campsite the route described ascends towards Travers Peak before ducking around and descending to the basin of Toravorte. From the summit of Trovatore, you travel along the tops to get to a point where you can descend to Henry Saddle. It is then another and ascent and small descent that then leads you to the tarn below Zampa. It’s a hike with incredible views above the bushline, best done in good weather.


7 hours


10.2 km


1762 m



Looking across a nearby to our campsite on an island

In Detail

From browsing other articles and route descriptions before editing this post I have realised that the route that we took to get to Zampa is possibly a much more difficult and strenuous route to reach the Zampa Tops. I have included under the Route section in this post a description of the alternative route that others have followed to reach this spectacular tarn. This route is an alternative that features a lot more tops travel and could be combined with the alternative route to creating a loop, either descending via the tarn south of Zampa or along the tops to pt1681 descending to Ada Hut and returning via the St James Walkway and Rolleston Pack Track. The post has been named Zampa Tops in hope that it will satisfy those looking for information of routes to reach the tarn below Zampa.

Nathan (the author) getting gear packed up from our campsite in the middle of Zampa tarn | @_camporter6

Getting There

Getting to the start of the hike to Zampa is very straightforward. From Christchurch follow State Highway One to the Waipara turn-off. Turn left onto State Highway Seven and follow it right the way through to Deer Valley Campsite. Here you are able to park up your car off the road and under the trees before setting of on your hike. It is known in Lewis Pass that there are places along State Highway 7 where break-ins can occur. Ensure that you take all your valuables with you from your car and leave nothing visibly behind in your car before setting off.


The route we took to Zampa Tops started from Foley’s track directly opposite Deer Valley Campsite. At an elevation of 800 meters, the track starts winding its way around through the forest before it quickly ascends through the bush between 1000 and 1300 metres. From this point onward the track markers disappear and you must rely on your own navigation skills to locate the tarn. When hiking this route, we veered around Traver’s Peak from 1550m towards Trovatore. We travelled around the two tarns before making an ascent and summit of Trovatore. Following the ridgeline, you should pass pt1723 & pt1724 before descending to Henry Saddle. From Henry Saddle ascend to the point west of 1616. It is from here the iconic Zampa tarn is visible. There is a visible line that leads around the side of the ridge of Zampa leading to the tarn itself.

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Alternative Route

There is a more common alternative route, highlighted in red below that I found after heading out on this hike. Follow the St James Walkway until you reach a horseshoe bend in the Maruia River Right Branch. Follow the unnamed stream that drains from the tarn just below Zampa up to the saddle between pt1610 and Zampa. From Zampa there are a number of peaks that have the unofficial name of ‘Zampa Tops’. Descend on down from the ridge following pt1681 to Ada Pass Hut. It’s then a straightforward walk along the marked St James Walkway back to the St James Walkway Carpark.

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Foleys Track

Foleys track is the very beginning of the hike up Zampa Tops. There’s a large orange triangle right opposite the Deer Valley Campsite with a small DOC sign that marks the start of Foleys Track stating it takes 2 hours. We rather found that it took us approximately an hour and a half to reach the edge of the bush line. The track is well marked throughout the bush. It’s mud clogged at the bottom along the flats as you weave your way around the forest towards the ridge. As you start to get in line with the ridge there is an open view of State Highway Seven. A comforting view for the return journey if you follow the same route.

Top Left: Foleys Track signposted on the edge of State Highway Seven with the large orange triangle
Top Right: Cam dodging the mud puddles among the flat sections of Foley’s Track
Bottom: Looking over State Highway Seven from Foleys Track

Climbing through the forest

The track starts to incline a little more after leaving the view of State Highway Seven. Not majorly but enough to notice. It’s a pleasant part of the walk, however, if you’ve looked at the map you’ll know that there is a monster of a climb through the forest to still be tackled. The real climb through the forest kicks in at 1000m. The track is well marked throughout this area too and there are many tree roots and branches to grab hold of as you climb further. Along the track, there are a number of flat clearings along the way that make for a perfect resting point to before ascending further.

Top Left: Light peeping through the trees along the ascent of Foleys Track
Top Right:
Typical terrain along the ascent up Foleys Track
Bottom: Cam pressing on after a short break at one of the few breaks in the incline.

The last few metres of ascent towards the end of Foley’s Track flatten out just a little before you reach the end of the track. It’s a well-earned sight when you reach the opening of the bush. A large orange marker indicates the entrance to the forest. The first poled marker can be seen from the forest starting out along the route across the tops.

Cam exiting the forest an out into the open after a long hard slog through the forest

Travers Peak

From the edge of the forest, there are several markers that mark a trail up towards Travers peak. Shortly after the small hill (as shown below), they fade away. The markers are a great place to start when you begin making your way out of the bush towards the summit keeping an eye out for a point to cross around Travers Peak to reach the tarns that sit below the summit of Trovatore. The poled markers are also a great indicator if you are returning via the same route. Before reaching the bushline they provide you with the assurance that you are on the right stretch before returning to the bush.

Top: Cam making a crack at the route up along the ridge towards Travers Peak
Looking back down towards the bushline after ascending through the tussock following the poled markers

From the poled route onward we decided to follow the route to the best of our ability. From the picture below we attempted to cross around the flatter contours of the Mt Travers towards the basin below Trovatore. Walking around Mt Travers is hard going. Cam and I would constantly battle with trying to find a decent line that would take us around the mountains without destroying our feet. There’s a lot of weight that goes onto your hillside facing legs whilst you navigate this section.

Top: Looking towards the summit of Travers Peak whilst low cloud obscures our view
Bottom: Looking across to Trovatore (centre) where we would eventually summit


Getting onto this scree slope is one of many milestones throughout the hike. It made for an easy traverse across to the next section of tussock and rock that you then must negotiate. Cam and I found that descending the second scree slope was our way down to the basin with the tarns. It was a chance to finally begin walking across more flat ground underfoot and make our way across the basin towards the far ridge which we would later ascend. The area close to the small stream running past the tarn was boggy.

Top: Looking across the first scree slope along
Middle: Low cloud passing over Mt Technical
A panorama taken along the ascent of Trovatore

Ascending from the basin

The ascent route we took from the tarn was up towards a basin nor-west of the main tarn in the basin. It gives you a clear shot at the main south-western ridge of Trovatore which we then made our ascent to the summit on. The terrain was a reasonably straightforward climb. There were plenty of rocks and scrub that make for good grip holds. At times we would be down on all fours trying to ascend towards the ridge of Trovatore.

Top: Scrambling across the rocks towards the ridgeline of Faust
Bottom: Cam making his way along the ridge towards the summit of Trovatore

From the summit of Trovatore there was a good chance for us to rest under the shelter of the nearby weather station on the summit and take the time on working out how we would tackle the next section of the hike. There are good views when the weather is right out towards Anne Saddle and the St James Walkway. It’s always satisfying taking the time to look back on all the distance that you have covered.

Top: The full route across to Trovatore from the ridge we ascended across to the basin across to the bottom tarn
Bottom: From the summit of Trovatore a panorama looking North-East


The route on from Trovatore to pt1724 is a straightforward route along the ridges. After climbing steep ridges, descending into basins this section along the tops is tackled with ease. The ridges have a few steep ascents and descents. More time is spent ensuring that you have your footing right as you find your way around larger boulders. Throughout this section, Cam and I found that we were able to cover much of the distance a lot faster than any other section along the route. If you did find your water was running out now would be the time to fill up from one of the tarns. There are no other decent opportunities between traversing the ridges and Zampa that would provide a reliable water source in the late summer months.

Top: Cam making a move as he negotiates some of the rocky ledges along the ridge
Middle Left:
Looking across to Zampa (the mountain)
Middle Right: A group of young chamois we saw from a distance while following the ridgeline (left of distinctive rock in tussock on image)
Cam making his way towards pt1724 before we made our descent towards Henry Saddle

Henry Saddle

Before summiting pt1724 on the Opera Range, you must descend down to Henry Saddle. Cam and I followed a soft basin of tussock to down towards a chute leading down to Henry Saddle. This eased our way into the descent, which later became a steep gully with a myriad of speargrass plants. Trying to best get a footing amongst the grass and tussock is hard yakka. Constantly we would find ourselves digging our feet in to prevent ourselves from sliding down.

Top Left: Leading the way down the ridge towards the
Top Right:
Looking back on the most comfortable part of the entire walk, a tussock valley
Cam crossing into the scree slope we descended most of the way down to Henry Saddle

The scree is an absolute saviour on the way down to the saddle. Cam and I traversed across the tussock as soon as we had a clear opportunity to hop onto the scree. The loose shingle provided the braking we needed to allow us to run these scree down one of the longest chutes possibly to then complete a much shorter descent through the tussock and onto the saddle. There was no clear route to get through the bush, just a matter of picking a ling and rolling with it.

Top Left: Scree running took a little practice, eventually with enough effort
Top Right:
The scree slopes descended looking from partway up the ascent of pt1616
Looking out from Henry Saddle over Lewis Pass


From Henry Saddle there is a solid climb ahead towards the summit of pt1616. It begins with a scrub bash up onto the ridge. It was a matter of picking the shortest clear route that would lead us onto the tussock. Even though you are climbing it’s a pleasure having the tussock under your feet. The final section of the walk is around a washout in the mountain. The solid ground gives you a lot more traction right the way to knock off the summit. It’s only once you reach the summit that you finally get a chance to see the Zampa Tops tarn. To top it off, it’s only a small hop, skip and a jump from the top of the hill to the tarn below Zampa.

Top: Cam soldiering on towards the summit
Looking across towards the ridge we would later descend to then make it on to the tarn below Zampa

Zampa Tops

The descent down the ridge can also be classified as a hobbled run, depending on how excited you are about making it down. The ground is soft enough underfoot that it comes as a relief after a long day of digging your feet into the sides of mountains. As you reach the saddle between the ridge towards Zampa with the unmarked summit you’ve just descended, there is a reasonably clear route that leads to the tarn. It’s a matter of keeping your footing and balance before you soon find yourself rolling down to the tarn below Zampa.

Top: Our first full view across the tarn below Zampa
Bottom: A panorama taken from opposite our campsite on the island

Camping below Zampa

The tarn below Zampa is large as far as tarns go. There is an island in the middle of it that we decided to sleep out on. It took just a quick waist-deep wade across the tarn before we could assess the suitability of the land for a campsite. There was only one issue with our campsite. Often a territorial seagull who would circle and swoop down and trying to scare us and put us off, much alike the same seagull I met while climbing Faust.

Top: Our camp set-up o the island in the middle of the Zampa Tops Tarn
Looking out towards the Spenser Mountains

As with other alpine lakes (Princess Bath) that I have stayed at there always seems to be a strong wind that brews during the night and ends with being woken, tying the tent down tighter and moving any mess gear to within the shelter of the tent. This time was no different. The weather changed and the wind and rain prevailed much like my experiences trekking to Lake Mavis and Lake Man.

Top: Late evening cloud brewing around the Spenser Range as we look over our campsite for the night
Bottom: A Halfmoon shining brightly above Zampa, taken before returning to camp at night

Return Journey

We returned back to Deer Valley Campsite via the same route on this trip, removing any new or further navigation from the journey. Although we were more familiar with the route it wase challenging ascending the parts we descended the previous day. With the weather turning worse it did make the navigation more difficult and even retracing our footsteps was a challenge. Ensuring that you have a good weather window for this hike is key.

Top: Cam making a splash as we cross from our campsite on the island to solid ground
Middle: Bracing for the weather as a bad front set it we battled our way back through the tussock towards the way we had come
Bottom: Cam looking across the route laid out in front of us pt1606 to the left of the image

The biggest challenge returning via the same route is ascending the steep slope towards pt1755 from Henry Saddle. There’s a large amount of elevation to get back onto the ridgeline and the scree slopes are no help. Cam and I found ascending alongside the scree was the most efficient way of getting up towards the top. From the ridgeline onwards the walk was reasonably straightforward. The cold wind and vertical wind meant that I had to resort to stowing my camera for the rest of the journey back to the car. It was only the traverse between the basin and the ridge of Mt Travers that proved long and draining on the return journey. The descent down Foley’s Track proved to be slightly faster on the way down. Both to and from Zampa Tops was down in an approximately similar time.

Looking down towards Henry Saddle the scree slopes and gully’s we then had to ascend looming ahead