We woke in the Lake Rotoroa campground to light drizzle and an epic dawn chorus. On the back of crazy weather over Easter the week before, we’d had to ditch our original plan to tramp 1000 Acres and even abandon our backup plan of Flora Saddle due to post-storm road closures. We’d opted instead to walk up the side of Lake Rotoroa to Sabine Hut, over to Speargrass Hut and out to the Mt Robertson carpark.
Despite the forecast being for torrential rain on day one, we set off in good spirits for what seemed to be a fairly basic 5-6 hours walk round the side of the lake. Little did we know that it would turn out to be an 11 hour endurance test. The first two thirds of the track was as easy you would imagine for a round-a-lake hike. We’d read on the water taxi site that it was “the track from hell” – and were laughing about how this must be their way of drumming up business by painting such a dire picture of what seemed to be a sweet jaunt.
Soon after the forecast torrential rain set in, we started hitting the tree fall. Some of it had been around for a while – though much of it was from the recent, dramatic storms. We persevered through the violent looking landscape, having to leave the track frequently to get above the tree fall – though we were comforted by having a sense of the lake edge to guide us. And it just went on and on…
We gave up thinking “it can only be about an hour more” as we threw ourselves under and over trees – often having to remove our packs to squeeze through tight spots. At times we were trunk hopping at up to 6 feet above the track – all the while doing our best to keep the mood light and our snack levels up. Darkness set in after around 9 hours on the track – and to top things off we had to divert into a hip-high stint wading in the lake when the track became impenetrable. By this time we were travelling in a tight bunch as we tested various routes through the devastated landscape. Conversation had somewhat evaporated as we all focused on pushing ahead and maintaining energy for what seemed to be an endless journey.
Finally our first sign of the upcoming hut came in the form of another hiker wandering out towards us who had already set up at the hut and was out looking for friends who were arriving from another direction. He confirmed that the tree fall was also horrific up towards Speargrass – but we were more excited about the thought of peeling off our wet clothes, discarding our weathered packs and settling into the hut. We got our dinner of salmon pasta together pretty quick and crawled into our sleeping bags exhausted.
The next day greeted us with sunshine. On hearing from other folks in the hut about the challenges of reaching Speargrass – and combined feelings about avoiding further tree fall, we decided to take a second night at Sabine and organised for a water taxi out the next day. Most of us set off for a day trip to the jetty close to D’Urville Hut. We were blessed with minimal tree fall, great bird life, waterfalls and much sunshine. We lunched at the jetty – spotting a massive eel casing the joint – and generally made the most of a much more relaxing day than the one before.
Back at the hut, we gathered firewood, took in our drying tents and enjoyed the fantails frolicking in the late afternoon sun. Dinner was a rather fine chilli con carne on quinoa – followed by s’mores made on the hut wood burner.
Next morning we packed up and boarded the water taxi – which was doing a roaring trade around the lake on the back of so much storm damage. We met up with the WTMC medium group, who’d also had to change their plans, at the highly recommended Clinker Cafe tucked around the back of St Arnaud. One of the learnings both groups had made was that when the weather has recently been so bad, to check directly with the local DOC office rather than relying on their website for track warnings and road closures.
Our other affirming reminder was that attitude is the difference between an adventure and an ordeal.