That night as the Christchurch four work their way through their bladder of wine we learn they intend lugging the inflatable boat they’d dumped unceremoniously on the deck up to the largest tarn in the area for a bit of a paddle. Hmm ... A dare from long ago apparently.
Day 2. The next morning is overcast but the forecast rain still hasn’t come. Has it fizzled out or just been caught in traffic? We reconsider the original plan to go over 3 Tarn Pass into the Matakitaki, decide against it and head off at 9 am just as the last of the quartet exits his sleeping bag. No paddling before morning tea then …
As we follow the track down the Ada valley through bush and tussock clearings the clouds descend and the rain arrives. Around the corner to open flats and we confirm our decision to only go as far as Christopher Hut today, leaving a long day tomorrow with hopefully better weather. A group of nine Otago University Tramping Club students trickle in during the afternoon then two late arrivals, meaning the 20 bunk hut is overflowing. One out camping, two on the veranda and two a kilometre back up the track to the basic cullers’ hut and we’re surprisingly comfortable. Just 3 hours today.
Day 3. We’re away across the flats by 7.45am (goodbye St James Walkway), across the Ada river, and down to the corner in a little over an hour and into the long haul up the Waiau valley. Drizzle, low clouds, rain, rainbows, incessant flats, trudge trudge, lunch in a patch of beech during a bit of a lull, wasps, trudge and trudge again. After 24 hours of rain the Waiau is up and we link up and take the two required crossings carefully. At 1.45pm we reach Caroline Creek Biv, but one look inside and we all agree to continue on. Bush sidles, slippery lichen covered rocks and rough scree slopes slow progress as the track negotiates steeper terrain. Is the rain clearing? Lost count of how many times we’ve thought that today. Finally we arrive at Waiau Forks and see an orange triangle and our camp sites across what is normally a shin deep stream but now a raging torrent. We search upstream, find a safer spot, link up and we’re safely across. The campsites are great, the rain stops long enough to pitch our tents but returns for dinner. A long day - 8 hours, 27 km.
Day 4. This is more like it – no rain! We’re away by 8am, cross the other branch of the Waiau, sidle through scrub past waterfalls into tussock and start up to Waiau pass. The 550 m climb is well marked but steep, with several sections climbing over bare rock, and we’re treated to great views back down the Waiau and across to Thompson Pass. A final easy scree slope and we reach the top at 10.30. There’s no snow or ice, so why am I carrying this ice axe? We linger for photos, then start down the long scree slopes to the valley floor for a break and early lunch amongst the tussock and Spaniards. The track leads us down to Lake Constance and the stiff climb above it to skirt bluffs – where’s that inflatable when you need it? The views over Lake Constance and to the surrounding peaks are majestic and we make the most of an unplanned break. More sidling through tussock, another scree slope descent, across a boulder field and onto the moraine wall for our first views of Blue Lake. Wow! It’s everything we expected, and more. Simply gorgeous. We saunter down the track and arrive at Blue Lake Hut at 2 pm.
Leisurely strolls around the lake take up the rest of the afternoon (did I really take that many photos!?) and at 8pm we huddle around another group’s mountain radio to hear the forecast. Fine with light winds for the next few days. At last! Smiles all round and we resolve to spend a leisurely morning here and head down to West Sabine Hut tomorrow afternoon.
Day 5. We wake to snow on the ground, 2.9°C in the hut and strong winds driving sleety snow. Hmm. Not put off, I don all my storm gear and head up the ridge as planned for a look at Moss Pass. It’s icy and slippery with patches of snow and gale force winds buffeting me about. I get to the top of the ridge where I can see into the valley and the scree slopes leading up to the pass, and call it quits. Back at the hut the others had been down to the lake and were ready to move on so we head out at 11.10 am, the Israelis with the mountain radio bidding us farewell from their sleeping bags.
Once in the trees and out of the wind we soon warm up and steadily shed our layers. The weather also improves and we’re at West Sabine Hut in three hours. There’s time for washing of bodies and clothes and conversation with our hut companions. A group of 3 have food for 2 others who have cancelled and we agree to pack some of it back down to Sabine Hut for them tomorrow. Less than a kilo each we’re assured. Yeah right!
Day 6. We wake to fine weather and take the track downstream through mature beech forest to reach Sabine Hut in 4½ hours. Our food drop is intact and the goodies are devoured, as the sandflies do their best to devour us.
Day 7. It’s a perfect day as we head off at 8.10 and make steady progress up the unrelenting slope of Cascade Track, climbing 900 metres to the bushline in two hours. We take a break in the tussock and savour the stunning views of Lake Rotoroa, the Sabine Valley and across to Mt Misery and the Mahanga Range. Off again over Mt Cedric, along and up the ridge, around the valley at the head of Cedric Stream and its picturesque tarn, and over the scree slope into the spectacular Angelus basin. We have lunch overlooking Hinapouri Tarn then continue down through the boulder fields, scree slopes and tussock to the beautiful setting of Angelus Hut. On a cloudless, warm day with plenty of time to laze on the deck overlooking the lake and tarn, this is as good as it gets. A 4½ hour day.
Day 8. Another perfect day and we’re away at 8.20 am heading for Sunset Saddle and down into Hopeless Creek. We wind our way through tussock around the tarns and climb up through the boulders and scree following cairns and a ground trail to reach the pass in a little over an hour. There we down packs and head up 2075 metre Angelus Peak, following the cairned trail. On the top there’s a stiff breeze and glorious views down to Lake Angelus and to the surrounding peaks and ranges.
Back down to Sunset Saddle and over the edge, following cairns. This is beautiful country – wild, majestic, barren, moonlike and a real surprise. We negotiate the scree, boulders and bluffs in the upper valley with its frozen waterfalls and iced over tarns. A falcon reveals its presence. Down past the first large tarn at the base of a massive scree slope with its eerie cracking ice reverberating in the silence. Further down the ridge and to a picture perfect lunch spot above the second large tarn. More frozen waterfalls, scree and boulders then a 300m descent down loose scree to the valley floor and treeline. 15 minutes later we arrive at Hopeless Hut and another surprise. Originally built by the Alpine Club as a base for climbing Mt Hopeless and recently refurbished by DOC, this 6 bunker is full of character, warm and inviting. After some discussion we cancel our plan to camp down at the Travers with the sand-flies and claim our bunks. The rest of the day is spent enjoying the last of the sun at the river and reading the hut literature. 5½ hours.
Day 9. Our last day and anticipating an 8 hour tramp we’re away at 7.40 at a brisk pace down a very good and easy track through the forest. In an hour 10 minutes we come to a bridge over the Hopeless and are momentarily confused. The track description we have indicates 2 unbridged crossings of the Hopeless and 2½ hours down to the Travers. We realise we’ve reached the Travers and that the info we have is, well, hopeless. Great, one hour less.
Off again and cranking out the kilometres down the picturesque Travers, a detour over a slip, and a welcome refuelling stop on a log in the sun on the flats. On down the river, over the bridge and through the bush and flats to Lakehead Hut. The last leg now, onto the Lakehead Track, a break for lunch, a last encounter with wasps, and the solid pace sees us reach Kerr Bay at 2 pm. Up to the lodge and our tramp is over. Within an hour we’ve showered and are comparing notes with the multi-trip party.
This was a great tramp in superb country. It was challenging but not overly onerous, and one that most trampers could handle. Our huge thanks to Roger for the planning and impeccable organisation. We were: Dennis Brown, Garry Brooks, Alan Spencer.
Thanks Dennis for the report and Garry for the photos.