Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Travers Sabine Circuit, March 2018: Days 5-7

...continuing on the Travers Sabine Circuit...

Day five: A sojourn at Upper Travers Hut

Day five of my tramp was a forced zero day....the climb up to Travers Saddle had left me with blisters on both of my heals. Bit of a rookie mistake, I had recently replaced my existing inner soles with new ones which were too thick. I had taped the back of my heals but it had little effect.

The view of Mt Travers from inside Upper Travers Hut

I decided to have a rest day so that I didn't cripple myself for the rest of the trip. I spent the day sleeping, cleaning the hut, chopping firewood, drinking tea and interacting with all the people passing through on their way to/from Travers Pass.

My pile of wood splits, Upper Travers Hut, Nelson Lakes NP

Upper Travers Hut is very is one of the newer huts on the Travers Sabine Circuit and remained warm even when it was cold outside. It is certainly a step up from West Sabine and John Tait Huts that is for sure. 

Plenty of space as well, the hut was quite busy with trampers both nights but even though we had over 20 people in the hut at times it didn't seem to be that full.

Upper Travers Hut, Nelson Lakes NP: the cooking benches

The two bunk-rooms in Upper Travers Hut, Nelson Lakes NP

DOC sign, Upper Travers Hut, Nelson Lakes NP

Below is the only clear view I had of Mt Travers in the nearly 40 hours I spent at Upper Travers Hut. The top third of the mountain was constantly covered in misty cloud for all of the rest of the time, Mt Travers is obviously on the inversion line for cloud formation. 

I wouldn't want to be in this hut in a big earthquake, there is a LOT of loose 'weetbix' rock up there.....

Mt Travers from Upper Travers Hut, Nelson Lakes NP

Upper Travers Hut to John Tait Hut

Day Six: Upper Travers Hut to John Tait Hut

Everyone was gone from the hut by 8am, I was the last to leave with two other people heading down valley while the rest headed off to climb over Travers Saddle. 

It was a short day for me, only 9 km's or three hours from the Upper Travers Valley to John Tait Hut. I took my time to give my heals time to recover. I had them heavily bandaged and taped to add a bit of extra protection

Starting out on the Upper Travers Track, from near Upper Travers Hut

Last view of Upper Travers Hut, Upper Travers Track

Upper Travers River, Upper Travers Track

Pole beech in the Upper Travers Valley

Upper Travers Valley one hour from the hut

There are three bridges to cross as the track meanders from side to side of the valley in an attempt to avoid avalanche chutes. It is fairly pleasant walking, the track is well marked with plenty of obvious trail sign and there are bridges over all the major side-streams. 

Bridge number one, Upper Travers Track

Goblin forest on the Upper Travers Track

Mt Hopeless Massif from the Upper Travers Track
There are a couple of possible camp sites down in the valley, there are a series of river flats about half way between the huts with easy access to the river. I saw a threesome of happy looking hikers at breakfast at one of these spots.

Possible camp-site in the Upper Travers Valley

Bridge number two, Upper Travers Track

Back into the beech forest, Upper Travers Track

If you like waterfalls make sure you take the short 10 minute sidetrack to Travers Falls, they are not that high but have a goodly amount of water going over them.

Turn off to Travers Falls, Upper Travers Track

The open beech forest around Travers Falls

Alpine bog, Upper Travers Track

The bridge spanning Cupola Creek on the Upper Travers Valley Track, just past the alpine bog

River flat travel on the approach to John Tait Hut, Upper Travers Track

John Tait Hut is about 2.5-3.5 hours down the valley from Upper Travers Hut. It is one of the older huts on this track but still a great spot to stop. It was occupied by two dope smoking totally non communicative Frenchmen when I arrived but they soon packed up and headed for the Upper Travers Valley.

Avalanche advisory for John Tait Hut, 50 metres to go.....

Finally arrive at John Tait Hut, Upper Travers Track

So, I finally arrived at John Tait Hut after about 3 hours of walking. 

John Tait Hut in November 2016

Just a point of interest, if you are walking the Te Araroa in the 2018/2019 season you will no longer be able to stay at John Tait Hut. The hut is due to be removed some time this year as it sits about 20 metres away from an avalanche chute and is regularly hit by avalanche debris during the winter. 

Avalanche debris field right next to John Tait Hut in 2017

A new hut is due to be built somewhere between the Travers River swing-bridge and John Tait Hut, the exact location is still not decided...

John Tait Hut: view from the hut veranda

I washed my clothes and had a bit of a sleep as I had the hut to myself until about 3 pm in the afternoon. I love John Tait Hut, it is one of my favourites but it is starting to look a bit grubby and uncared for. DOC are obviously not maintaining it as it is going to be removed.

John Tait Hut: avalanche advisory and DOC hut sign

John Tait Hut: interior of the hut

John Tait Hut: view of the sleeping platforms

I slept in my customary spot over by the fire escape door closest to the river, I've stayed in this hut three times now always in the same spot. There is nice light there for reading your book, in this case a book about cannibal sailors eating the cabin boy which I found in the hut. 

Nice reading material but it was all I had....

John Tait Hut: some interesting folk art from fellow trampers

I shared the hut that night with a group from the Whanganui Tramping Club and bloody nice people they were. They were in the South Island for the classic summer trip as well, doing the Travers-Sabine with a side trip to Blue Lake.

We cooked up the idea of writing a bodice ripper 'Mills and Boon' type book featuring a young and slightly naive female tramper and a trio of good looking young German hikers.

The working title is "A Mountain Sojourn"

Hilarious laughs were had by all...

Thanks for the tomato-salami pasta and dessert folks it was delicious, I'm going to try that idea out on my next tramp. 

We also had a couple of anglers and a bevy of assorted Te Araroa hikers (including a trio of attractive German guys....ho ho ho..)

..all roads lead to Rome and all that....

Day seven: John Tait Hut to Lakehead hut/Lake Rotoiti

I was on familiar ground walking from John Tait to Lakehead Hut the next morning, I've been up this part of the valley four times now so everything seems really familiar. Travel in the lower reaches of the Travers Valley is simple as the tracks are of a good quality and mostly flat.

Setting out for Lakehead Hut near John Tait Hut, Travers Valley Track

Entering the forest on the edge of the John Tait Hut clearing, Travers Valley Track

Bridge on the Travers Valley Track

A cascade along the Travers Valley Track

More open beech forest in the Travers Valley

Walking next to the Travers River, Travers Valley Track

You walk beside the river for most of the way down to the Travers swing bridge, the Travers River is more gentle than its cousin the Sabine on the other side of the ranges. The valley is much wider with extensive river flats on both sides so it can spread out a bit.

There are a lot of really excellent camp-sites by the river, the sand-flies are not too bad in these locales...

Possible camp-site along the Travers Valley Track

Another grassy river flat in the Travers River...camping anyone?

You reach the Hopeless Creek bridge after an hour or so, there is a very nice hut up this valley and it is well worth the effort to visit. Hopeless Hut is a modified NZFS70 six bunk hut, one of the few accessible in the front country areas of Nelson Lakes NP.

 The track takes 1.5 hours and is flat except for a slight climb right at the end.

Hopeless Hut, Nelson Lakes NP (photo from

Interior of Hopeless Hut, Nelson Lakes NP (photo from

Just like John Tait, Hopeless Hut is due to be removed sometime this year for safety reasons so if you have ever wanted to visit get on up there as soon as possible.

The Hopeless Creek swing bridge, Travers Valley Track

There is an active erosion zone just past the Hopeless Creek bridge, supposedly there is an alternate flood track but I have never been able to find it. I just walk close to the river and watch out for falling rocks and debris.

I noticed a lot of gravel around the edge of the river here so it obviously gives way from time to time so take care.

Erosion zone on the Travers Valley Track

Travel in the Travers Valley alternates between beech forest and river flats but is always very easy tramping.

Red Beech forest in the mid reaches of the Travers Valley Track

Nice easy travel in the mid Travers Valley

One of the alternate ways to reach Lake Angelus Hut is via the Cascade (990) Track up Hukere/Cascade Creek. It is a rough and steep climb to the hut best used in fine weather as the track crosses the creek a number of times. It takes about 3-4 hours to climb from the Travers swing bridge to Angelus Lake.

Cascade Creek and Pt 1885 near Angelus Lake

Map: Cascade (990) Track from Travers Valley to Lake Angelus

The saddle leading to Lake Angelus at the top of the Cascade 990 Track

When you get to the Travers swing bridge you can continue down river to Coldwater Hut  or cross and head for Lakehead Hut. Personally I hate the track to Coldwater Hut so I went for the easier option of heading for Lakehead. Both tracks take 1.5-2 hours to complete.

Travers River bridge, Travers Valley Track

About 5 km's to go to Lakehead hut.......

Once over the Travers River it is mostly easy travel over river flats, though I lost the track a couple of times as it is not very well marked. After the first half hour you can see the hut in the distance so you can just head out through the Matagouri if you like...the track is quicker.

Travers Valley Track: downriver from the swing bridge

Travers River near the swing bridge

On the last grass flats before Lakehead Hut, Nelson Lakes NP

If you look closely you can just make out Lakehead Hut in the middle of the photo below. It is still 1.5 km's or 35 minutes walk from this point but at least you can see the progress you are making.

Old pre 2014 bed of the Travers River, Travers Valley Track

I passed an area where pigs have been rooting for food, I've never seen this here before so some wild pigs must have moved into the area. Not the smartest choice as it would be very easy for a hunter to get to this spot for a nice bit of wild poaka!

Pig rooting along the lower Travers Valley Track

Finally after 4.5 hours Lakehead hut came into view. It was only 12.30 so I thought about continuing on to St Arnaud so I could get home to my partner Karen but in the end decided to take it easy and spend the night.

I was mostly worried about my heal blisters which had started to hurt as I got to the hut. 

Lakehead Hut from the Travers Valley Track

DOC hut sign for Lakehead Hut, Nelson Lakes NP

The veranda and boot room at Lakehead Hut

Lakehead Hut 2017: the cooking benches and indoor water tap

Lakehead Hut 2017: wood burner and bunk platforms

There were only seven of us in the hut that night which was surprising as it was a Friday. I expected a full hut with trampers coming in for a weekend trip but the foul weather coming in on the Sunday obviously put them off the idea. 

Lakehead Hut 2017: inside the boot room

I played cards with another trio of Israeli trampers who were playing their version of 500, a game I played a lot while in the military. The rules swiftly came back to me although I got whipped by all three of them in the end...

I had to eat my emergency meal that night as I was out for an extra day...mac n' cheese with freeze dried mushrooms added...yummy!

Day eight: Lakehead Hut to St Arnaud

I was up and out the door before 7.30 on the last day, I was keen to get down to St Arnaud and head off home. I was also on the dregs of my food so breakfast was a packet of toaster pastries, a bar of chocolate and an apple herbal tea.

Heading out to St Arnaud on the Lakehead Track on the last morning

I encountered a cheeky fantail about 5 minutes down the track, it followed me for a couple of hundred meters flitting about and eating the bugs my passage had kicked up.

A bush robin on the Lakehead Track

Another shot of the Robin, Lakehead Track

The weather was beautiful, sunny with zero would have been an awesome day for a kayak trip up Lake Rotoiti. I had found out the previous day that the 'Round the Lake' mountain run was on that day so I was keen to get as far down track as possible before the first runners arrived. 

In the event I was well finished before the first people made it out to Kerr's Reach

Lake Rotoiti from the Lakehead Hut Jetty

Looking back towards the mouth of Travers River from the Lakehead Track

Here is a photo of: Poles, trekking, wooden, mark II...mark I snapped just before the bridge near Upper Travers Hut so I had to fashion a new one. This one gave good service as well, I passed it on to a father and his kids I encountered just short of Kerr's Bay camp site...I hope it served them well. 

My Volt pack and Poles, wooden, trekking Mark II, Lakehead Track

Jon looking slightly more rugged on the last day of the Travers-Sabine Circuit

The sun only made it over the St Arnaud Ranges when I was about an hour from St Arnaud, prior to that I was waking in semi gloom. 

You can just make out the tops of the distant Hope Range beyond the hill at the end of Lake Rotoiti. They are part of Kahurangi National Park which encompasses most of the upper north western corner of the South Island.

Looking West towards Kerr's Bay and the far end of Lake Rotoiti, Lakehead Track

Lake Rotoiti as spied through the trees, Lakehead Track

When you are about 30 minutes from the end of the track the quality once again improves...these are the short day walks around Kerr's Bay. The turn off to the St Arnaud Track is just ahead on the right, I went up there on my base camp trip in 2016.

End of the tramping track and start of the walking track, Lakehead Track

Map: The walking tracks around Kerr Bay, St Arnaud

The sign says 30 minutes to Kerr Bay car park..... Lakehead Track

Board walk on the Lakehead Track, Lake Rotoiti

You know you are close to the end when the smooth as a billiard table 'great walk style' track starts....

Back on the great walk quality track, Lakehead Track, Lake Rotoiti

Lake Rotoiti and Mt Robert from near Kerr's Bay, St Arnaud

Coming off the Lakehead Track at Kerr Bay St Arnaud

I walked off the end of the Lakehead Track at around 10.00 so it was a little over 2 hours since setting out that morning. There were  lot of cars parked up, obviously people here for the Round the Lake race. 

You can see what a beautiful day it was...the weather had been improving every day since I started and turned on a real cracker for the last day of my eight day trip. 

Classic view of Mt Robert, and the Lake Rotoiti jetty at Kerr Bay

Mt Robert from near the Lake Rotoiti shoreline, St Arnaud

The DOC workshop car park is up a small side road near the St Arnaud DOC office, it is called Ward Street. You can just make out the Silver Surfer parked up there on the left of the photo. I usually leave my car here as it is fairly safe and the car park is right across the road from a rangers cottage.

Ward Street St Arnaud, location of the DOC workshop in St Arnaud

The Silver Surfer parked outside the DOC workshops in St Arnaud

Summary of the Travers Sabine Circuit

So that was my eight day anti clock wise traverse of the Travers-Sabine Circuit, that is 80+ kilometres and a total of 2400 metres of ascent. I had an awesome time, meet some cool people and got to cross Travers Pass the fools way. 

I really enjoy these multi day tramps, you really get into the rhythm of the work after the second day and it seems a bit easier. I would love to do a really big Te Araroa section now, I think that would be fun.

My favourite vista from this trip, Upper Travers Hut with the mountains behind

My highlights of the trip: three was getting to swim in a 21 degree alpine lake another was finally cresting Travers Pass after 5 hours of climbing and despite blisters on both of my heals.  The third was all of the awesome people I meet and talked to...there are some cool people out there doing trips.

Keer's Bay,  Nelson Lakes NP means good tramping terrain..

Low points: blisters suck.....especially ones that de braid most of your heal. Missing out on Angelus Lake, the terrible track down to Sabine Hut. The crowds of people...I have never seen so many people in Nelson Lakes NP before, I think its inclusion in the latest Lonely Planet is not a positive thing. If the number of people in the park is indicative of the situation in other parts of the country then we have some real problems on the way. I must have seen over 400 people over the 8 days...extrapolate that to cover all of the summer and the numbers are daunting.

I have formulated ideas from this tramp for an exploration of D'Urville Valley and there is still the matter of Lake Angelus to settle.

Access: Track to Travers Valley starts from near the DOC Kerr Bay camp-site, alternately continues on from track over Travers Saddle if heading north to St Arnaud
Track Times:  9 km's or 2.5-3 hours Upper Travers to John Tait Hut, 13 km's or 4-5 hours John Tait to Lakehead/Coldwater Huts, 8 kms or 2-3 hours Lakehead Hut to St Arnaud
Hut Details:  Upper Travers Hut: serviced, 24 bunks, wood burner, water tank, wood shed, toilets; John Tait Hut: serviced, 27 bunks, wood burner, wood shed, toilets, water tank; Lakehead Hut, serviced: 27 bunks, wood burner, wood shed, water tank, toilets; Hopeless Hut, standard, 6 bunks, wood burner, water from stream, toilet
Miscellaneous:The track over Travers Saddle is classed as a route only but is marked with snow-poles the whole way. High alpine pass must be crossed, watch weather in region...also some fall and rock fall hazards. Avalanche zones from May-November in both Travers and Sabine Valleys.