Saturday, 24 December 2022

Travers-Sabine Circuit 2022

After completing the Paparoa Track on December 14, six of our group were dropped off in St Arnaud to prepare for the Travers-Sabine Circuit. We spent two nights at Nelson Lakes Motel, with a rest day on December 15 to do laundry, buy a few more supplies, pack for the circuit, and generally relax (including watching Morocco vs France in the football World Cup).

On December 16 we got up early and took a boat across Lake Rotoiti to Coldwater Hut where we started the track. That day we marched for several hours up the Travers Valley, all the way to Upper Travers Hut at the head of the valley. It was a long, tiring walk with heavy packs containing supplies for six days, but not especially difficult. As forecast, the weather was foggy and a bit drizzly but not bad and when we reached Upper Travers we had some good views of Mt Travers and surrounding slopes still with patches of snow. The second day we crossed the Travers Saddle — a more difficult walk, starting with a steep 500m-vertical climb to the saddle, followed by a 1km-vertical desent to the East Sabine River and a walk to West Sabine Hut. This day the weather was pretty good and we had some great views from the saddle.

The next day I really wanted to visit Blue Lake because we missed out last time. I had originally planned to stay overnight at Blue Lake Hut but we decided instead to leave our gear at West Sabine Hut and make a day trip to Blue Lake. The main advantage was to shorten our walk on day four, by moving the return from Blue Lake to West Sabine Hut from day four to day three, which hopefully would leave us fresher for day five (see below). Our day trip was excellent; Blue Lake was nice but not stunning given the cloudy weather conditions, but the walk up the valley is beautiful and we visited Lake Constance beyond the head of the valley, which was stunning. (Signs say the Lake Constance viewpoint is one hour from Blue Lake Hut but it's really one hour return.)

On day four, as planned we had a relatively easy walk down to Sabine Hut on Lake Rotoroa, followed by quality rest time at the hut, during which we ate a lot of snacks, played a lot of Bang, and enjoyed Vodafone coverage inside the hut, letting us get up-to-date weather forecasts and let our loved ones know we were alive.

On day five we tackled the hardest part of our planned route: climbing Mt Cedric and then following ridgetops to Angelus Hut. The route up Mt Cedric has over 1000m of elevation gain in the first 3km of horizontal travel. Most of that gain is below the bushline and much of that track is covered in slippery black fungus fed by beech honeydew. It's a tough hike! To beat rain forecast for the afternoon, we got up at 5am and left the hut around 6am. Everything went well and we arrived at Angelus Hut around noon, right on schedule, tired but satisfied. The weather was mixed but we had some sun and good views in the afternoon.

On our last day we just had to walk from Angelus Hut along Robert Ridge and into St Arnaud for lunch and then a shuttle pickup to Nelson Airport. Thankfully we had excellent weather for this, with stunning views in all directions. After the rest of the circuit, Robert Ridge was extremely easy. It was fun to gently rejoin civilization by encountering more and more day-walkers as we made our way down Mt Robert.

Overall it was a challenging but extremely rewarding trip. On both Paparoa and Travers-Sabine the forecast weather was poor but the actual weather was much better. We achieved everything we set out to do. We enjoyed the walking and we had wonderful social times in huts — including many, many games of Bang!, some with people outside our group. I'm incredibly grateful to God for the privilege of being able to do these trips and for the love and friendship of the people whom I am blessed to tramp with.

Friday, 23 December 2022

Paparoa Track

We have a tradition that every year I organise a group tramping trip in the South Island in December, between students finishing exams and Christmas. Typically we do one "easy" tramp and one "hard" tramp, balancing welcoming new trampers with pursuing tougher but more rewarding challenges. This year the "easy" tramp was Paparoa Track and the "hard" tramp was the Travers-Sabine Circuit (which we previously did in 2019).

I completed all the official "Great Walks" some years ago, but recently the Paparoa Track was created as a new Great Walk, and this year seemed like a good time to re-complete the set. We did it over three days (December 12-14) which seemed about right; one could spend an extra day and stay at Ces Clark hut, but that would make it a bit too easy for my taste. So we started at the southern end, Smoke-Ho car park, and walked north, staying at Moonlight Tops Hut on the first night and Pororari Hut on the second night. We hired three rental cars to get all thirteen of us to the track start (staying the night before at Greymouth Top 10 Holiday Park), and hired Buller Adventures to move those cars to the track end while we were walking. These logistics all worked out well.

Everything basically went according to plan. We didn't get many views on the first day due to foggy weather — some of us did the side track up Croesus Knob, which was a waste of time since we basically walked up into a cloud. However the weather on the second and third day was excellent, with stunning views across the Paparoa ranges and down to the ocean on the West Coast. The Pororari River gorge was also a highlight. No-one got injured, though a couple of members of our group were a bit slower than expected. As expected for a Great Walk, the track condition was excellent. It's open to mountain bikers; we met a few but they didn't cause any problems. Parts of the track looked pretty terrifying to bike on but a lot of people are much better at biking than me! Along the track we had a close encounter with one kea and also saw a morepork (native owl), which is unusual since they're usually hidden during the day and impossible to see at night.

Late on the first day we passed a man tramping alone who had stopped to rest after experiencing some kind of heart arrhythmia. He was considering his options — continue or call for help — so I and a couple of other group members waited with him for a while to support him in whatever decision he made. In the end he decided to continue while we walked with him. To be on the safe side we carried his pack too. The next day he felt a lot better and carried on normally to complete the track, thank God. It's the first time we've had to assist someone outside our group in a quasi-emergency and I was pleased to be able to do it. At the hut turned out he was carrying a chess set; my son was delighted to play some games with him, and lost a few, which is great because there are no worthy opponents in the rest of our group.

It was interesting to see that the brand-new huts have USB chargers (powered by the rooftop solar panels). I guess that was inevitable!

Ranking the Great Walks, I rate Paparoa in the lower tier, with fewer interesting elements than most of the other Great Walks. It is extremely popular right now — bookings for the dates we wanted sold out in a few minutes after they opened on May 6 — but I guess that's partly due to completists like me adding it to their collection. On the other hand, it is certainly well worth doing in its own right, especially once you've done the top-tier walks.

After the exiting the track at Punakaiki on the 14th our drivers drove the rental cars back to Nelson, dropping off six of us in St Arnaud along the way to prepare for the Travers-Sabine Circuit, but that's another story...