Travers Sabine Angelus Circuit, Nelson Lakes – New Zealand – Part 1

After walking the 4-day Abel Tasman Coastal Great Walk, I took a break and caught a transport 86km south of Nelson to the Nelson Lakes Region looking for more of an alpine hike.

Initially, I was due to arrive late afternoon and camp the night in St Arnaud. But due to a change in timing for the transport, I would be in the region several hours early, so chose to start the hike immediately with a short first day.

Day 1 – St Arnaud to Lakehead Hut – 3hr – 10 km

I arrived in St Arnaud, bought a coke from the Petrol Station/General Store, and with the lunch I’d brought with me, sat on the beach of Lake Rotoiti to enjoy them.

My big mistake was not to not know there aren’t any rubbish bins in St Arnaud. I’d have to carry an empty coke bottle for the entire hike. You live and you learn. After lunch, and a bit of harassment by a duck, I headed off around the edge of the lake climbing a little as I went on a thin non-manicured trail.

The 10km of today was entirely in the forest, and it would not sink in until later in day two that the vast majority of the hike would be this way.
Lake Rotoiti looks somewhat like an angry sperm, with two large nobs at one end and and a thin tail at the other. Near this table end, I stopped and boots off, dunked my feet in the water. Around me wasps crawled everywhere, attracted to the Beech trees most of the forests in this region contain. None bothered me, and neither did the sandflies, as for this hike I had bought some DEET insect repellant.

It didn’t take me long to reach the hut and I settled into hut life, chatting to the people who were already there including some Te Awaroa walkers and a girl who had arrived via water taxi. I talked to her into the evening and once everyone else had gone bed, we too decided to slip off to our respective sleeping bags.

Day 2 – Lakehead Hut to Upper Travers Hut – 19.6km – 7.5 hours

The first part of today was walking through the long grass at the end of the lake, before I disappeared into the forest once more.

I left last from the hut, but within 30 minutes I ran into the girl I’d been talking to the night before, who was reorganising her bags, of which she had brought too much.

Once she was ready to move on, I walked with her through the forest for the first half of the day, talking about everything and anything. Even as the sole of her boot fell apart before me, we continued walking and talking, and before we knew it, we arrived at the John Tait Hut, where we stopped for a coffee and lunch.

After our coffee break, my new friend and I continued on, beginning the climb towards the Upper Travers hut. About 30 minutes in, she took a break, but told me to push on. I bid her farewell, that I would see her at the hut, and set off up the trail. Not long after, I came to the Travers Falls. I dropped my pack and climbed down the steep bank to get a better look.

I ran into my friend again while I was putting on my pack. She seemed to like the idea of not carrying her pack for a while, so I left her to enjoy the waterfall. The climb continued at a fair pace, although within the trees I really couldn’t tell how far I was climbing except when I came out to cross the occasional stream. I’d been alerted to one of the bridges in this area having been washed out, and I located it, or what was left of it, as I crossed the rocky stream.

Then after three hours of climbing since the John Tait hut, I came over a rise to a tussocky field with great mountain views and the hut nestled in a small copse of trees. I crossed the field and set my pack down, preparing for the evening. For the next couple of hours I kept an eye out for my friend, who did eventually arrive, having left one of her bags behind. That evening I discovered much of the rest of the hike would be through trees, except for 2 hours crossing the saddle the next day.

Day 3 – Upper Travers Hut to West Sabine Hut – 8km – 6 hours

My walking friend from the day before made the choice to stay another night in the hut and return down the same track we’d climbed the previous day. While chatting over breakfast, she suggested a more alpine route, which I decided to ponder on the way to the next hut. I bid farewell and began climbing straight into forest, but only for 10 minutes before it opened out into an alpine landscape including a crown of mountains.

The trail plodded up towards the crown for several hundred metres before beginning a steep climb up the side of Mt Travers before slowly rounding out to the saddle, a 90 minute climb total.

I dropped pack and took a break with the view of Mt Travers behind me.

At the advice of another walker, I climbed to see small tarn a little further up, and also got a great view back down the valley I’d climbed from.

On the other side of the saddle, I got a view of where I would be going. With no sight of other walkers, I took up my pack again, and began the climb down. Half an hour later, and near where the trail dove back into the forest, I stopped for lunch in the sun.

Back in the forest, the trail led steeply down and seemed endless. Very occasionally, I could see the mountains around to judge how far I’d descended. But again, it felt never-ending and my knees didn’t thank me for the effort. Finally, after what seemed like hours, I began to hear a river ahead and followed the noise along a gully until I came out at the bottom where a stream met the raging East Branch Sabine River.

Thankful for the break, I took off my books and dipped my feet in the water. Afterwards, I headed along what I thought was a flat rest of the trail, but I was wrong. It was for the first several hundred metres before it crossed a bridge where deep below, the wide river raged even harder through a thin channel. The trail climbed around the side of Mount Franklin, still deep in the forest, with often muddy areas, until after a handful of kilometres, began yet another steep decent leading down to where the east and west branch of the rivers met. Then it was a 500m flat walk to the hut where I found two ladies from the previous hut, and no-one else. That night, I did some research on my way forward.

I’d originally planned to do a return day walk to the Blue Lake, then on to Sabine hut, the following day, with a long day out to St Arnaud for my last day. But this would see me walking predominantly in the forest, which I was honestly sick of at this point. The other option was to skip Blue Lake, head straight to Sabine Hut and then climb into the alpine region to Lake Angelus Hut instead. This sounded much more my style.

Next, part 2 of my Travers Sabine Angelus Circuit.
The Lone Trail Wanderer

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