The Travers - Sabine circuit is an undisputed New Zealand classic. Venturing through the beautiful Nelson lakes national park the track travels through lush forested valleys, over an alpine saddle and with a short side trip visits the clearest freshwater lake in the world - the stunning Blue Lake.
This 4-6 day tramp is on a well marked trail and is a very achievable goal for anyone with a moderate level of fitness.
We parked our car up at the Robert Ridge car park at about 10am and shouldered packs for what I knew would be our biggest day. We were intending to complete our circuit in just 4 days so as to make it back to a family celebration. This deadline meant that on our first day we needed to push well up the Travers valley in order to be able to make it over Travers saddle the following morning. We also had a slightly dodgy looking front coming in over the next couple of days so were eager to make it past the saddle before the weather packed it in.
We started out and headed down the Robert Ridge access road towards the start of the lakeside track car park. This involved backtracking where we had just driven but would save us having to walk the same stretch of road a few days from now. Reaching the track it was a short wander around the lake edge to Coldwater Hut where we slapped on the insect repellent and grabbed a bite to eat. We had passed a steady stream of people on their way out from Coldwater Hut, many of whom appeared to have stayed overnight. The sandflies were out in force and it didn't take long before we were all ready to get moving again.
From here the track climbs slowly up the valley passing both the Cascade Track (to Lake Angelus) and the Hopeless Track (to Hopeless Hut). The legs were definitely starting to feel the miles by the time we sauntered in to John Tait Hut for a well earned rest. John Tait Hut has ample room for tents should you be camping but our goal was to be further up the valley for the night.
After a short break we continued our relentless forward progress up the valley. I had picked out a small clearing on google earth just above the turnoff to Travers Falls that looked like a perfect camping spot. As we started getting closer to the campsite I started getting a bit anxious as to just what it would look like. I have to say I was pretty relieved to find it was a beautiful soft patch of grass at the rivers edge, plenty big enough for our two tents.
27km - 750m elevation gain - 9.5 hours
The next morning dawned clear and we set out early to make the most of the weather. The occupants of Upper Travers Hut were just getting ready to head out for the day as we filled our water bottles at the tank and started the climb up towards Travers Saddle. Having left the bush behind we headed towards the first small climb which led us up to a plateau at the head of the valley. I made a mental note that there were plenty of great spots to pitch a tent and water around as well should a high camp tickle your fancy. A further short sharp climb ensued before the gradient mellowed out a little for the final push to the saddle itself. Here the wind was starting to pick up so we hightailed it down the other side after just a short break.
The descent to the Sabine Forks is steep and took us more than an hour to lose the 1000m of elevation and get down to the Sabine River. I wouldn't want to be heading up to Travers Saddle from the Sabine side - it would definitely be type 2 fun.
Shortly after gaining the Sabine River we crossed over from the true right to the true left via a bridge over a nifty chasm. Here the river has gouged its way deep into the rock and the river is a good 30m below the bridge itself. From here the track meanders its way downstream before turning to the southwest just prior to West Sabine hut. We refueled at West Sabine then crossed over the swing bridge and continued up to Blue Lake Hut. The track climbs steadily from West Sabine Hut up to Blue Lake Hut, with a short sharp bit of climbing immediately before reaching the hut itself.
19.7km - 1895m elevation gain - 11 hours
Today was our "rest" day as we only had to make it down to Sabine Hut at Lake Rotoroa. The weather in the morning was clear and we were quickly retracing our steps back down towards West Sabine Hut. We soon reached the track junction with the swing bridge back across the river. A lunch stop ensued followed by a cruisey afternoon wandering down the track alternating between the bush at the rivers edge and the odd open river flat before a decent climb up and over a short spur, then a final descent to the bridge crossing the Sabine River. Within half an hour we had reached Sabine Hut and set up our tents on the lake edge. A refreshing swim in the lake off the end of the jetty was the perfect way to unwind after the last couple of days and the lake itself was surprisingly warm! Later that night we returned to the jetty with our head torches and watched with trepidation as dozens of large eels slithered out and around the very same spot....
20.8km - 207m elevation gain - 7.5 hours
On Day Four we awoke to the incessant buzz of bumble bees, wasps, and sand flies that had worked their way under the tent fly overnight. DOC have been running a wasp control operation in the Nelson Lakes national park but from what I saw the wasps had simply been replaced by bumble bees - I have never seen so many in my life! I was less than impressed at the thought of having to pack up the tent surrounded by all of the insects so decided to sleep in a little bit and let the rest of the party head on intending to catch up with them later in the day. After finally getting motivated I packed up camp and started on the track towards Speargrass Hut.
The track starts with a decent uphill grunt and I relished the chance to get the heart rate up and stretch out the legs. The track then passes by a cool tarn and continues to skirt the edge of the range on its way to the hut. I was treated to the sight of a Kaka flying and screeching overhead at this part of the track as well as a number of bush robins and fantails flitting about. Once you break out of the trees the track turns into a short section of boardwalk from which you are offered some magic views in all directions. Speargrass Hut itself is reached shortly thereafter and we met a number of parties heading back from trips to the ever popular Angelus Hut. From here the track descends steadily alongside Speargrass Creek back to the Robert Ridge car park.
16.81km - 950m elevation gain - 7 hours