Travers-Sabine Circuit

Trip Start Jan 11, 2008
Trip End Feb 22, 2008

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Friday, February 8, 2008

See the DOC website for the Travers-Sabine Circuit at:

See a tramper's posting showing the additional loop we did from Blue Lake to St. Arnaud, ie. the D'Urville Valley track.

Good topo maps to have are: St Arnaud N29, Murchison M29, Tarndale N30, Matakitaki M30

We had wanted to hike more remotely in the Nelson Lakes area (ie. Waiau Pass and south) but the DOC people in Christchurch had never hiked in those areas. We hadn't done a lot of research of the Nelson Lakes area in Canada as we had focused on getting our first two hikes in Tongariro National Park and Tasmania (Southcoast/Port Davey) organized. We weren't sure what the weather would be like on the south island, nor whether we would have injuries etc. which cause us to have to change our hiking plans. Thus we decided to hike a more straightforward type of loop, starting in St. Arnaud, hiking south along Lake Rotoiti to the Travers Saddle and up to Blue Lake, crossing Moss Pass and heading north down the d'Urville Valley to D'Urville Hut then Sabine Hut, and then up to Angeles and out via Robert Ridge back to St. Arnaud.

We walked from Ashley's house around 7:30am to catch a city bus to downtown Christchurch to catch the K-bus to Nelson Lakes. There was a boisterous group of six Aussies on the bus, from a hiking club in Melbourne. This bus was a bit of a milk run, stopping at multiple cities, switching buses in Murchison and then finally arriving in St. Arnaud at 2:45pm. The six Aussies had caught a shuttle at Kawatiri Junction to Lake Rotoroa, then a water taxi to D'Urville Hut to start hiking up the valley.

We shuffled a few things in our packs in front of the DOC office, put on some sunscreen and sandfly protection, and about one hour later we were hiking the fairly flat terrain along Lake Rotoiti on the Lakehead track towards the Lakehead hut. The nice part about our late start (4pm) is that there were very few dayhikers along this almost manicured trail.    Theo had brand new boots, so we took our time, arriving around 3hrs to Lakehead Hut. The first tent site we chose had to be abandoned when we found a dead possum hanging in a tree next to it. Yikes. There were traps all over the place, so perhaps it had poisoned itself and hung itself in the tree? Or someone had put it there as a sick joke? Dunno.

We set up our tent (only tent) in a tremendous hurry as the sandflies were absolutely ferocious! Then we ate in the hut (only 6 people staying in the hut) , and pretty much at sunset we were going to bed after killing all the sandflies that had managed to make it into the tent (each time we opened the door, about 4-10 would make it in). We took pictures of the sandflies trying to get through the screen. Yikes.

Next morning we were up very early, and after tearing down the tent and covering ourselves in sandfly protection we quickly used the stove to make our oatmeal. The lake (about 200m away) was covered with a layer of beautiful layer of mist. We set off, and soon had to put on our gaitors as the grasses were wet from the fog. The trail up to Travers proceeded on the eastern side of the Travers river for a fair ways before crossing over and continuing uphill on the other side. Most of the walking was fairly flat -- it would walk a grassy flat for a couple of minutes, maybe do a set track in the woods a bit away from the river, sometimes climb a bit to avoid an incoming creek gully, etc. On the whole this day was fairly boring, but we knew the exciting bits would come later. As Theo said halfway during the day, it felt like we were on an "access trail".

We eventually reached the John Tait hut, with good views of the mountains, where we had a quick snack. The trail following the hut steepened slightly, and Theo's new boots started bugging him. The old boots (Raichle 4's) had been to a lot of countries, and on previous trips there had already been worries that they would not last much longer. And they had died after the South Coast Trail in Tasmania. Anyways, the new Raichle GTX's (purchased in Hobart) were causing some problems because they were brand new.  Some blister pads and a few chunks of closed-cell foam (cut pieces of our bum pads) were thrown on while a little rock wren hopped around us trying to eat things that we might have disturbed.  We actually missed the sign directing us toward the Travers Waterfall, and instead walked directly to it thinking we were on the trail.  The waterfall thunders down impressively into a clear pool with mossy rock all around and is a spectacular sight.  The waterfall was only 3 min off the main trail so definitely something not to pass up if you are hiking in the area.

We continued up the track climbing and dropping a fair bit to avoid various avalanche slopes (all empty of snow).  After hiking in beech forest for quite a while is was nice to be above tree line with views of the Travers and St Arnaud ranges. Upper Travers Hut is a new hut situated on the alpine margin surrounded by scree slopes, and we found a lovely river-side campsite nearby under a gigantic tree. Since it was colder up here, there were almost no sand flies!  A couple was suntanning on the deck of the hut (probably weren't carrying sunscreen either!!). We washed up in the river and were drying washed clothes on bushes and a little bridge when a second couple came up to the hut also via the Sabine Valley. They also wanted to tent, and because we had the only cleared level tenting spot anywhere near the hut they continued further along the trail to find a spot. The poor little tanning couple looked so bored in the hut, peering at us as we busied ourselves with laundry duty and drying damp sleeping bags, cooking our food etc. We had a fantastic sleep with the river roaring right beside us.

The next morning was the big day over Travers pass. We woke up to a slightly cloudy day, but no rain in sight. This side of the pass climbs about 450 meters from treeline into the grassy slopes with speargrass popping out all over the place (saw the spot the other couple were tenting tucked into the tussock, they were not up yet at 8am), then up onto very rocky slopes. The trail zigzagged through boulders and tussock, with mountain flowers and grasshoppers everywhere.  Eventually we reach some small tarns, and a moss called "vegetable sheep" starts appearing.  The views of the pass were 360 degrees with peaks and valleys all around (a strange thing we kept seeing in New Zealand is that passes would climb in the E-W direction, but the final top of a pass would run N-S, thereby placing one out of any wind). We dropped our packs and climbed onto a little outcropping for the view down the other side and close up shots of the veggie sheep.  After a snack we started our way down the > 1000m descent on the other side!

The trail goes down through some loose rock for a little bit, then hits steep grassy slopes with a steep trail through it. Speargrass once again prolifirates amongst the grasses. We eventually reach a short section of beech forest, but after passing through it, we found ourselves faced with a 600 meter descent down a dry mud scree gully, which avalanches fill all winter long. That was a fairly horrid section of trail, and we were very happy that we hike with poles. This section eventually cuts into dry beech trees on the left, and we continued down a zig-zaggy trail for a while, with the forest becoming more moist as we got lower into the upper East Branch of the Sabine river valley. A bridge over the river showed us an extremely steep and deep gorge, and an easy trail after this eventually steepened and put us at a bridge on the West Branch of the Sabine river, near West Sabine hut (which we did not visit). We had a snack and played with another curious rock wren, and then crossed the river via a suspension bridge.

At this point, most people doing the Travers-Sabine loop head down-valley, finishing up at the shores of Lake Rotoroa at the Sabine Hut.  But we were heading up towards Blue Lake, hoping the weather would hold the next day to cross Moss Pass.
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