Travers-Sabine Circuit

Just in case I have written a boring trip report and you don’t get to the end, let me put one of the concluding points at the beginning: this was Dmitry’s first time to lead a trip – and he’s a great trip leader! I admit that my opinion may have been influenced by the fact that the sun shone three out of four days, Blue Lake was blue, and Dmitry seemed to be carrying most of the club gear himself. But as far as I can tell, he seems to have only one weak point, in relation to capsicums, so go on Dmitry’s trips (but count your capsicums first!).

Our route was typically easy-medium, i.e. we elected to take water taxis where we could and skipped boring, long trudges from St Arnaud to the track and return. So our trip was:

  • Day 0 – 6 pm ferry to Picton and drive to St Arnaud, arriving 11 pm and stay at backpackers
  • Day 1 – water taxi from St Arnaud to Lakehead Hut; up Travers Valley to Upper Travers Hut (±7.5 hours)
  • Day 2 – over the Travers saddle to West Sabine Hut (±7 hours)
  • Day 3 – sleep in, day trip from West Sabine Hut to Blue Lake return (±6 hours)
  • Day 4 – down to Sabine Hut at the edge of Lake Rotoroa (±5 hours), water taxi to top of lake and shuttle back to club van, arriving approx. 2pm, then on to Picton for 6:30 pm ferry.

On day 1 we decided to check out three different bays where a water taxi could possibly pick us up…eventually finding the boat in a bay about 100 m from where we started. We had to split the group at that point as we couldn’t all fit in the water taxi, so Dmitry and Mike M waited for the boat to return half an hour later. But on the gentle terrain they easily caught the rest of us up at the first swing bridge. We got to John Tait Hut at a good time for a lunch stop.

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Interesting to note that in the Nelson Lakes area the hill and track names are pretty daunting: Mt Hopeless, Mt. Misery, Hopeless Track. However, our track heading up the valley alongside the Travers River had a gentle uphill gradient, and we had superb weather. It’s stunning tramping: waterfalls, peaks encrusted with snow, and gorgeous bush. On the downside, there are a few wasps to contend with, as both Fiona and Tatiana discovered.

travers-sabine-025The last hour or so was not quite so easy-going…so much so that two of us actually hallucinated that we’d seen the hut (actually a giant rock). There were concerns about our cognitive function…had we in fact developed hypothermia? No – just wishful thinking that we weren’t far from the hut! However, we eventually arrived and at the optimal time; just before it really filled up.

Dinner time neared. Thankfully Mike T was happy to wrangle the MSR stove for the whole trip. As we started preparing the veges, the three-day game of capsicum-musical-chairs got underway. To explain: there were capsicums listed in Dmitry’s instructions for what we had to bring for all the dinners; three of us were keen to offload – Murray in particular as he had been asked to bring no less than 6 capsicums (the others 3 each). In case you are wondering none of the recipes required 6 capsicums. Dinner 1 result – Tatiana and Murray still had capsicums to carry.

Day 2 was also lovely for going over Travers saddle. As we got to the top, we started to layer up, having just been in shorts and t-shirts pretty much for the sweaty climb. But I preferred that to the other side; it seemed pretty steep for a good part of the 1100 m descent! Some of us discovered our downhill legs could use some training. I put holes in my posterior landing on some spear grass and also executed a (not-so-teenage) mutant ninja turtle impression slipping down instead of stepping down something, ending up on my pack but with my upper body continuing to head downhill.

I was very glad to see West Sabine Hut. It also got quite full, but is larger than Upper Travers. It was nice to know that we’d be staying here the next night too. That night, Tatiana got her capsicums in the billy. The one left standing, Murray, wasn’t too worried, knowing he wasn’t carrying his the next day, and that they’d be eaten the next night – so he thought. New players were inducted into 500…I think I would want to be playing with Emily rather than against her if there was a choice! I swear I quite enjoy it, despite trying to wreck Dmitry’s cards by tipping water all over them!

On day 3 some of us enjoyed a sleep in, and we had a cruisy start to our day trip up to Blue Lake and back. This day we had our worst weather of the trip, and even then it was only a bit of drizzly rain. It’s a great day trip, and the lake is worth the effort: even on an overcast day it was beautiful. Mike M modelled a bit of a different daypack for the trip – part of his pack unzipped into a bum bag. He said it was very comfortable…the jury’s out on the style factor though.

So we got back, and it wasn’t long before we needed to get dinner underway. It was at this point we discovered that that night’s recipe had no capsicums listed. Of course we didn’t let that stop us, and we used a couple, but then the billy reached capacity, and we still had 4 to get rid of! You’d think that giving fresh food to other trampers would not be too hard, but most of them had brought their own capsicums! So out they came with us. Fresh food taken tramping and not eaten; that surely is the definition of a luxury trip!

On day 4 we needed to head off around 7 am so we were in time for our 12:30 pm water taxi pick-up. After breakfast we were gathering up our gear, and I found a pair of black merino knickers on the floor by Murray’s pack. I didn’t want these to be left behind – they’re very comfortable items, and generally speaking not cheap. So I thought I’d better ask Murray if he’d dropped them. The answer was so much more interesting that I thought it might be…In fact they weren’t Murray’s, but he had found them in his pack where Fiona had “mistakenly” put them, she told us. Interesting tactics I thought!

Day 4 was another gorgeous day, and the terrain very easy heading down beside the Sabine River to Sabine Hut at the southern tip of Lake Rotoroa. All went to plan: water taxi pick-up, then shuttle back to St Arnaud to the van. Dmitry suggested a yoga competition, but no-one was keen when we saw him stretching (he would have won I think!). We enjoyed coffee/cake at St Arnaud before heading to Picton and an early dinner at the Toot N Whistle Inn (best fish and chips ever!).

The ferry was a bit delayed unfortunately, but no-one really noticed. I think we all slept on the way back. We arrived at the railway station about 10:15 pm. Thanks everyone for a great trip!

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