or the WOW factor.
There is no word to describe this section of the Te Araroa. Or actually, there are too many.
so I’ll just say one word: WOW
ok, I’ll try to be more eloquent.
I start back on the Trail from St Arnaud the afternoon of Tuesday 10th, after taking the morning as a half day off to rest and relax. I catch up with Rebecca who is waiting for her partner to join her for the rest of the Trail, and Rob and Joss who were not far behind me in the Richmond Range section.
That first day is an easy one, and I head out on my own on the Trail following the east shore of Lake Rotoiti. It’s another stunning summer day and I’m very tempted by a swim, but I enjoy the walk just as much and keep on going. I walk passed Lakehead Hut around 3.45pm. It is a popular and easy to get to place, and most likely will be crowded tonight, so I walk on and find a nice spot to pitch my tent next to the Travers River, right after the swinbridge.
The next day is an easy and gradual climb up on a well maintained track along the Travers River. Perfect blue sky, beautiful forest and the high peaks towering above the valley, I very much enjoy walking alone in these lovely surroundings. I take my lunch break at John Tait Hut, and a long break at the magnificent Travers Falls. Slowly I can see the valley narrowing down as I climb up, and the mountains getting closer… and suddenly here’s Upper Travers Hut, tucked in some trees on the edge of a big flat at the foot of Mt Travers. What a stunning place to spend the afternoon at, and in good company. I meet Ana, a lawyer from Spain, who only feels at home in the mountains, and Rob, from Wanaka, climber and mountain lover who escaped from a job in business to do what he truly loves. Rob and Joss arrive later after a big day from St Arnaud.
Ana becomes my hiking partner for the next day. The trail leads up in a beautiful large cirque and it is a steady 450m climb to Travers Saddle (1787m). It is absolutely stunning up there, with the dominating Mt Travers behind us and the East Branch Sabine valley ahead. It is a long and steep downhill to reach the river and, further on, the West Sabine Hut. The second half of the day is a more gentle 500m climb up the West Branch of the Sabine River. This section is particularly gorgeous with high mountain top all around and the clear river rushing by the trail.
And then there’s Blue Lake.
A pure gem…
At 1200m, this small lake is the clearest natural body of freshwater in the world, with a visibility up to 80m. It is absolutely breathtaking. You can perfectly see all the way to the bottom, and as I walk again and again along its shore, it looks like an optical illusion and I can’t help staring at this pristine and sacred water, as if hypnotized by its beauty.
I share dinner with Ana and Rob by the lake, looking at the sunlight illuminating the nearby mountain tops, and retreat into my tent at the end of the lake, away from the crowded hut.
The next morning, two blue ducks are swimming around on the lake and come very close to me as I stand still on the shore and watch them… what an enchanted sight, two rare blue ducks on the clearest lake of the world!! It lifts my spirits high up, and I must admit it is much needed… I feel very anxious.
this day (Friday 13th!) is the day I go over the second highest point of the Trail, and most likely the most challenging.
The mighty Waiau Pass…
But the perfect blue sky and the fact that I couldn’t be better prepared after 3 months of intensive hiking are very much encouraging. The trail starts by climbing up the moraine dam caused by a gigantic landslide from the Franklin Ridge, which dammed the Sabine River and formed the pretty Lake Constance. After saying goodbye to Ana there, I walk on, climbing the steep rocky track above some bluffs which takes me the the head of the lake. From there it’s a short walk across the open upper valley floor, crossing the river a few times.
and then I stop, take a deep breath and start climbing.
I am still nervous but also quite excited… Waiau Pass… I’m on my way.
The track climbs strait up (in a very Kiwi only fashion, they don’t know what switchbacks are over here) on the edge of a scree slope, then sidles along a high terrace. I meet Wanaka Rob here and say farewell to him as he is heading back down to Blue Lake, doing Waiau Pass just as a day trip. The view from here is the best of all. Looking back, Lake Constance seems small, a dazzling blue patch amongst the rugged peaks.
Then It’s up a scree slope, following poles to the top. Five keas fly way over the summit.
and Here I am, at the top of Waiau Pass. Wow. What a inspiring place, what a exalting feeling to be up here…
There’s nothing more thrilling than overcoming your fear to climb up to such a magical and stunning place.
I have lunch, sitting behind a rock to get shelter from the strong wind, and watching Rob and Joss working their way up.
I stay there a long time, taking it in.
I stick with the guys for the way down, it’s safer to be with others. The tracks first sidles to the right, offering nice views of the Waiau Valley on one side and Lake Thompson on the other, then drops steeply down in a very rocky section… Two chamois run down the slope below us, moving in this rugged landscape with ease and grace…
Despite the rough track, I very much enjoy where I am… it is absolutely magnificent.
Finally we reach the headwaters of the Waiau River and it is easier walking from here. I camp at a camspot near Waiau Forks, tired but so happy. The guys walk on further down the valley. By the end of the afternoon, the peaks disappear into a layer of low grey clouds. We were lucky to make it over the pass in good conditions earlier!
The next two days are down in the valley. First over some rock fields and along the river, and as I walk down the valley opens up into a vaste expanse of grassland scattered with prickly shrubs. The overcast weather makes a perfect hiking temperature, and I walk 35km on the easy track to Anne River Hut, passing the 2000km mark of the Trail (woohoo!!!) within these surreal savannah-like landscapes. The last day is pretty similar, as the track takes the St James Walkway over Anne Saddle and then follows the beautiful Boyle River into a narrower valley out to Boyle Village.
From there I hitchhike to Hanmer Springs, my next resupply point, and I take two “zero days” there to rest and get ready for the next leg.
I am absolutely delighted by that section through Nelson Lakes National Park, it is a true highlight of the Te Araroa.
Hiking through such breathtaking landscapes with rugged peaks, pristine lakes, clear rivers and rich forests,
I feel Alive…
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness” John Muir