Travers-Sabine Circuit, Nelson Lakes National Park

Seized by a need to go tramping (9 months since the last one!) I again found myself looking for a suitable track.  Most of the tracks in the South Island are one-way, but there are many loop options in the Nelson Lakes National Park.  I headed up and did the Travers-Sabine Circuit.  It’s 80km and takes 4-7 days.

The road in passes the source of the Buller River.

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Ooh rivery

There are several carpark options.  I parked at the end of the Lakeside track.  If you want the car to be immediately available when you finish the tramp then drive up the hill, park at the top, and walk back down to the start of the track.  Personally I found the walk down the hill at the end rather pleasant.

My car all bundled up for a few days

My car all bundled up for a few days

You may wonder about security.  Given that my car is hard enough to start even when I want it to I don’t worry about thieves.  And I take out several vital components before I leave it.

But on to the track!  The Lakeside track is very nice – just flat and well formed.

Look at that view!

Look at that view!

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The start of the track

Some sections break out of the bush

Some sections break out of the bush

and there are some stream crossings

and there are some stream crossings

After 2 hours I made it to Coldwater Hut.

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Sleeps 12

The view from the hut

The view from the hut

Evidently many people take a water taxi from St Arnaud to the hut, and many people use the hut as a base for fishing.  I stayed inside to avoid being smothered by sandflies.

The nest morning I set off up the Travers River.  The track is generally very good – some patches of mud and roots but my feet stayed dry.

There are several patches like this.  If you had a tent there are many options for camping.

There are several open patches like this. If you had a tent there are many options for camping.

There are some pretty subalpine sections

There are some pretty subalpine sections

The section up to John Tait does not rise very much

The section up to John Tait does not rise very much

Muddy conditions

Muddy conditions

John Tait hut

John Tait hut

It’s 15 km from Coldwater hut to John Tait.  It took me 4 hours.  I met a man coming the other way who did it in 2 1/2, but I prefer to take my time.  When I was doing this it was raining a bit, so having the hut was handy for lunch.

I pushed on the Upper Travers Track.  The track starts to ascend, but the gradient is not steep.

Still well formed

Still well formed

But with some bogs

But with some bogs

There is a detour to Travers Falls.  It’s only about 1 min and worth it.

Travers Falls

Travers Falls

The scenery is very pretty.

Look at it!

Look at it!

There’s a bridged crossing of the river, and then the track ascends more steeply.  This section has several unbridged crossings of side streams.  I kept my feet mostly dry with some careful footwork, but if they had been running any higher I wouldn’t have been able to do so.

Side stream

Side stream

And look at that scenery!

And look at that scenery!

When you break out of the bush you’re nearly at the hut.

Nearly there!

Nearly there!

And then there’s a section in tussock.  Be careful where you put your feet – there are many hidden trenches.

Hut is in the distance

Hut is in the distance

Upper Travers Hut

Upper Travers Hut

View from the hut

View from the hut

The hut is quite large and has 2 bunkrooms.  However it’s not the Great Walk style where everyone has a bunk to themselves – there are 2 huge shelves and everyone sleeps together.  No prissiness here!

After 22km I was feeling slightly tired so I had a double serve of freeze-dried beef and vegetable hotpot.  It’s not that good.  I put in the stated amount of water but it’s not nearly enough – put it all in a dixie and leave it for an hour, then boil it up and add more water.  As it turned out it was slightly too much for one person.  But somehow I still had room for pudding.

The next morning I looked out the window and thought snow had come down to hut level, preventing me from doing my crossing of the saddle.  However on waking up properly I realised I was looking at a cloud.  Seeing that the weather was good I started my crossing to the Travers Saddle.

Here is the warning at the start of the track

Here is the warning at the start of the track

It is actually something to take seriously.  I set out with my satellite beacon in my pocket just in case I lost my pack in an avalanche or something.

The start of the track

The start of the track

The first km is not very steep, but then it starts to ascend rapidly.

into the snow

into the snow

For a while one can go up on the rocks.  But then I came to the start of the snow and had to climb with only my hands and feet.

It's steeper than it looks

It’s steeper than it looks

The gradient easier off slightly, but it's still quite a climb

The gradient eases off slightly, but it’s still quite a climb

Looking back down the hill

Looking back down the hill

There are several false crests, so don’t think it’s over until you can see down the other side.

The snow is hardly packed powder so each step sinks about 30cm

The snow is hardly packed powder so each step sinks about 30cm

Trudge trudge trudge trudge

Trudge trudge trudge trudge

And then up to the top!  Note that the snow is up to the top of the snow pole

And then up to the top! Note that the snow is up to the top of the snow pole

Look at the view!

Look at the view!

At the top the sun came out and the clouds started to clear.

Nothing worse than a climb with no scenic payoff

Nothing worse than a climb with no scenic payoff

I would say the gradient is easier to deal with on the Sabine side.  However if you come this way you’ll be starting far lower and have to ascend more than 1000m, whereas starting from the Travers side you only have to climb 400m.  It took me 2 hours to cross the saddle.

The snow continues and there are some rocky patches.

Whee!

Whee!

Looking across to Mt Travers

Looking across to Mt Travers

The track then descends quite steeply back toward the bushline.

Track is well marked

Track is well marked

However there is one section where the track is marked as crossing a stream then continuing down it.  I could NOT find the marker on the other side.

Anyone see it?

Anyone see it?

So after a bit of looking I gave up and just followed the stream downward.

It looks like this is what a lot of people have done.

It looks like this is what a lot of people have done.

There are some cairns to pick up where the track crosses back over.

Cairns

Cairns

And then there’s a giant orange marker to show where the track goes back in to the bush.

Just visible on the left.

Just visible on the left.

Back in the bush the track continues its steep descent.  If your knees are worn out you may not like this section.

For some reason this reminds me of the 1960s.

For some reason this reminds me of the 1960s.

The track makes its way down and has some wet and muddy patches.

My feet were wet by this point so I didn't try a dainty crossing.

My feet were wet by this point so I didn’t try a dainty crossing.

Apart from that it’s just a lot of moss and rocks.

Like this.

Like this.

Once at the Sabine River there’s not far to go.

The views really are spectacular.

The views really are spectacular.

If you are looking for the bridge across the Sabine River it is not where it’s marked on the map – it’s moved next to the hut.  It took me 5 1/4 hours to go from Upper Travers to West Sabine.

West Sabine Hut

West Sabine Hut

If you want to do a larger loop you could turn off here down to Blue Lake.  I was on a bit of a schedule so I didn’t.  Since the sun was out I had a wash in the river – actually a mistake because it’s all snow melt and FREEZING!!

There are sandflies here so once again I retreated to the hut and read The Economist.

The next morning I headed north down the Sabine.

Like this for much of the track

Like this for much of the track

There are some undulations but you just go in and out of the bush.

There was some deer sign near here - about 1.5km from the hut.

There was some deer sign near here – about 1.5km from the hut.

The sun came over the hill at 9.30 - isn't it pretty?!

The sun came over the hill at 9.30 – isn’t it pretty?!

Some sections have been re-routed from where the track has fallen in to the river.

Looking back up the river

Looking back up the river

My boots had dried out but then I came to one rather large unbridged stream crossing.  And it was just deep enough to go over the tops of my boots.

Dammit!

Dammit!

There’s a bit of a hill, with some large fallen trees you have to climb over.  At the top there is a track marker with ‘Lookout’ written on it.  Don’t be fooled – there’s nothing to see except trees!

Coming down the hill

Coming down the hill

The track then comes to a junction with the D’Urville track, and from there it took me just over 30 min to Sabine Hut (4 3/4 hours total).

Sabine Hut

Sabine Hut

The lakeside was extremely picturesque.

Pretty!

Pretty!

However when I had settled down on a log, taken off my boots and prepared myself for a lovely lunch in the sun I was covered by one jillion sandflies.  ONE JILLION.
So once again I sat in the hut.  It looks like it has a lot of use from people who boat in.

It was only 1pm so I decided to push on.  I knew it would be tiring, and it was.

There are many fallen trees over the track, and not all have been cut like these.

There are many fallen trees over the track, and not all have been cut like these.

The track then ascends.  It’s not steep, but it does keep going.

Track is in reasonable condition.

Track is in reasonable condition.

View back down to the lake.

View back down to the lake.

You will see some small lakes/ponds marked on you map.  I wouldn’t plan on swimming!

Blurgh

Blurgh

The track is reasonably well marked but in this section there were a few times that I had to stop and have a look for the next track marker.  There are some false trails.

It's like this for most of the way.

It’s like this for most of the way.

There are 3 bridges marked on the map and the first one is a giant wire-rope swingbridge.  I was using these to judge where I was up to and thought the second one was a larger footbridge.  However the 3rd one is no longer present.  So far quite a while I was thinking ‘Where is it?? I must be going SLOW.’

The position of the 3rd marked bridge

The position of the 3rd marked bridge

After this the track ascends again and comes to a very nice viewing area.

Boardwalk means you're close

Boardwalk means you’re close

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Looking south

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Looking northwest

Look at it!

Looking southwest

From here the track is very well benched and travel is quick down to the hut.

Vroom

Vroom

I was very relieved to start descending – 23km had made me rather tired and I was glad to see the hut.

Speargrass hut

Speargrass hut

There isn’t actually any speargrass around here – it’s just a nice alpine tussock paddock.  It took me 4 1/4 hours from Sabine hut.

There were 7 other people staying in the hut and it was stuffy and hot because they insisted on keeping the windows shut and didn’t wash .  You may think I’m being prissy and that real trampers don’t wash but it’s actually very easy to stay clean and not gas out your hut mates, simply by using a bit of soap.  Besides, hygiene is very important.  You can easily develop prickly heat on the skin under your pack if you’re in the bush for a while.

The next morning I couldn’t stand to stay in bed any longer by 7am and was on the track by 7.55.  Only one other person was up.

Most of the track is like this.

Most of the track is like this.

It’s a quick walk out – there’s one section with a flood detour.  Since my boots were dry again I decided to take it.  It’s steep, so it’s up to you whether you want wet feet or more climbing.

The track follows the river for a bit, then climbs back up

The track follows the river for a bit, then climbs back up

Nearly at the end

Nearly at the end

It took me 2 1/4 hours to make it to the track end.  The view is amazing.

Looking down to St Arnaud

Looking down to St Arnaud

This is why I say the walk down the hill is quite nice – you just get to look at the lake.

I found the car was intact and went in to St Arnaud for an icecream.  All very nice.  But on the drive home my car clapped out just before Inangahua Junction.  Fortunately I was able to get a lift to Inangahua.  As it turns out there is no reception there, but there is one of the few remaining payphones!  However the AA operator found it difficult to comprehend that there was such a place that didn’t have reception, and that I couldn’t wait by my car (it was 8km away).  90 min later the tow truck turned up and I spent a night in Murchison while they fixed it (it needed a new ignition coil).  I stayed at the public hotel (single room $40) and it did the job.

Murchison.  One night is more than enough.

Murchison. One night is more than enough.

If you do happen to be stuck here the 2ndhand shop is worth a look in – a whole pile of junk and a bit overpriced but good for browsing.  I bought a can opener and a book of political satire (The Corridors of Paua) so that I had something to read before returning to Greymouth.

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