At some stage I give a copy of the book ” Classic Tramping in New Zealand” I’ve spent many hours thumbing through this book and it continues to be a bit of wish list of walks for me to complete.
When I was living in Wellington I joined the local branch on the NZ Alpine club and it was with friends I made in the club that the idea to complete this walk originated. It seemed all the more inviting when one of the group told us she was close friends with Simon Barnett, a co-authir of the book, and could get “the inside info” on navigating some of the trickier legs of the route.
When we arrived at Lake Rotoroa late in the evening we had expected to setup camp and survive a night amongst the famous Nelson Lakes sandflies. Thankfully our plans were changed by an opportune meeting with the jet boat driver we had booked to take us up to the lake head. Within half an hour we were packed on board and thankfully leaving the sandflies behind.
Talk about “from the fry pan into the fire”! We arrived at the head of the lake, moved into the Sabine hut and found ourselves in the middle of a swarm of native wasps. The beech trees were oozing the nectar the wasps were after and those wasps were rampant, and angry. We spend the night behind the fly screen over the windows hoping there were no wasp sized holes!
Our first day of walking took us through to Emerald Lake. It is a long 21 km walk that starts through the native beech tree forest and then slowly start to gain altitude as you move further intp the head o the Sabine Valley to eventually break out into the alpine grasses and rock slides. Along the way there are sign s on the huge water flow that the valley is subject to during the winter rains and the spring snow melt. Late in the day the incline of track starts to increase and my legs start to fell the effects of carrying a very full load.
Thankfully the Blue Lake hut where we are overnighting eventually comes into view and we are able to drop the weight from our backs and take some time lying on the tussock grass to recover. Blue Lake is exactly that – clear blue water and incredibly cold, the late season snow melt is seeing to that.
Day two presents us with a group challenge to negotiate. One of our group is unwell – do we all turn around and walk him out or do as he suggests and carry on, leaving him to make his own way back to Lake Rotorua? Neither is preferable, and fortunately for us a third option is presented by another party staying in the hut. They are are taking the more frequently used exit from the valley, down Waiau Valley via the St James Walkway. This route avoids all but one of the 2,000 metres climbs that we have in front of us, and it allows us to continue our tramp as planned.
So with goodbyes complete and the promise to meet up at the southern end of the walk we are once again loaded up and moving. From this point on the we are “on route”only, no formed or marked track and it will stay that way for the next 5 days.
The first few hours are spent climbing the incline over a rock mound created by an advancing glacier terminal face . The glacier is long gone and in it’s place is Lake Constance. Going high around to the western side of the lake to avoid the bluffs that drop into the lake, pressing on through the spaniard grass – it’s an exciting walk through to the head of the lake where we stop for some snacks and get a chance to understand the next BIG challenge ahead of us – Waiau Pass.
The notes we had from Simon suggested walking up the river bed for a short distance and then turn left and just go straight up the small ridge line. Straight up! It’s a scree afce with a few grass areas. It’s 3 steps forward and be prepared to slide back 1 or 2, type of terrain. It’s a hard pull up from the valley floor to Waiau Pass, but strangely, exciting to complete. But is worth it – the view from the top is fantastic!
But we don’t have to stop for long, we need to descend into the valley floor on the southern side and then do it all again – climb 1,400 metres back up to Lake Thompsonwhere we are camping for the night.
The descent goes without a hitch, a few slips but nothing catastrophic – you would not want fall out here, rescue would be hours away. As we descend we get long and clear views of the route up the other side of the valley and it doesn’t look easy.
The final leg for the day starts down at the valley floor and it’s just a long slog up the stream bed that’s dropping down from the lake.
Finally we “top out”, the route brings us up to a small waterfall and as you pull up past that you get this most amazing view across the Lake Thompson and through to Thompson Pass. Biut that’s for tomorrow. Fo now it’s time to relax and chill out after a very successful day.
This is my most memorable night in the New Zealand outdoors. The location is stunning.
Day 3 was a daunting prospect. A small altitude gain to make it over Thompson Pass and then heading for the Upper D’rviolle Pass on the opposite side of the valley. Once again we had instruction from Simon – stay high, avoid the obvious (and shorter) route that goes down to the valley floor – it doesn’t go!
But staying high came with some obvious risks.
it was the most unstable scree that I have ever walked on. As you moved across the slope you could feel the rock moving under your feet, like a wave of water you could see the hillside moving down while you were doing all you could to stay balance on it. On one hand it was exhilarating, on the other it was scary – out of control but there were no other obvious choices. For several hours we traversed the scree to move around the to the opposite side of the valley, it was traverse of a natural amphitheatre .
It was another big day, only 13km’s of distance travelled but the continual challenge on the score faces made it mentally challenging for all of us.
And as the scree came to an end we were presented with the next challenge, following the East Matakitai River to the hut. The stream drops down through the valley quickly, starting as a small trickle but growing as the side streams make their contribution. At times there are drops of 1-2 metres over water falls and finding your way through the bush on the river banks or rock popping down the stream was a difficult task.
Walking up tot the door of the East Matakitaki Hutt hut late in the afternoon was a welcome proposition.
Thankfully day 4 was going to be a short days walking, it’s only 8km to Bob’s hut so we took an easy start to the day. We needed to take a rest, our bodies were exhausted from the continual pounding we had been taking. Our loads we reducing as we ate our way through the food provisions but our feet were taking a beating on the rocky ground we had been covering over the previous 2 days.
Starting late and finishing early – that was just what we needed. It was a pleasant, unhurried and flat walk down to the Bob’s hut. Located on the southern end of a very long open grass area the hut blended into the surrounding bush and we almost missed it and overshot.
Once again an early start – day 5 has the potential to be a long day as we have to follow the river from the valley floor up and over 3,000 Foot Pass and then descend to Ada Pass hut. The valley starts of narrow, there’s “sort of” a track for the first hour or two, it zig zags across the river, it’s been washed away in places and the bush (scrub really) is “close” making it difficult to plan a route to far in advance.
But once you get out of the scrub the valley opens up, makes a turn eastward and from here on it’s a walk up the river bed to eventually come across 3 small lakes. Or there should be if the map is correct but for our arrival we were greeted by snow and ice in the small valley leading to the pass, now lakes for us rot see today.
From the 6,000 Foot Pass we can see down into the valley and it’s about now we start to realise we are almost “home”. All that’s left is to complete the descent to Ada Pass hut for the night and then walk out alone the St James Walkway to the road to meet the arranged pick up and return to Wellington for work on Monday.
Check out the image gallery for this adventure