Day One: Red Hills Hut to Lakehead Hut
We woke up early at Red Hills Hut to head into St Arnaud so we could make the most of our quick stop in town. First up, we all had food drop boxes being held at the lodge. St Arnaud doesn’t have a supermarket, just a couple of cafés and one dairy, which is why we planned ahead. In Wellington, we buckled down for one of our rest days and did about 30 days worth of food shopping to be divided into 3 food drops, the first being in St Arnaud. This stretch would lead us to the second one in Boyle Village which would then lead us to our third in Arthur’s Pass. We knew roughly what was packed away for us, but it has been a few weeks so we were excited to see a couple of goodies we had snuck in (dried shiitake mushrooms! Lindor chocolate! Coconut cream powder!). After emptying our box into our backpacks, we spent most of the day in The Clinger Café, using wifi and eating real food! I had eggs and toast for breakfast, pumpkin pesto and boccochini on baguette for lunch and veggie pizza for dinner. All the veggies! Yum!
After all that food, it was time to walk, but only for three hours to Lakehead Hut on the opposite side of Lake Rotoiti. This was at the start of our Waiau Pass Track and seeing as it was close to town, it allowed us to save on accommodation while still spending a decent amount of time straight chilling in a café. On the very relaxed trail to Lakehead Hut, we ducked through the bush to the shore to take a swim (shower). Thank god we didn’t notice the eel swimming along the shore until we were out. At the hut, we decided to pitch our tents. Seeing as it is so accessible (some families even water taxied to the hut), the hut was hot and crowded. To be honest, I was starting to miss the privacy of our tent a little bit too. Sandflies weren’t the most fun but that’s why I love our tent. Its perfect little mesh walls that protect us from the suck of the sandflies. Look for the million little black specks!
Day 2: Lakehead Hut to Upper Travers Hut
Starting at an elevation of 600m, our morning “climb” to our lunch hut was a breeze at 800m. Afterwards, it was a bit longer to get to nearly 1400m where our home for the night sat, just under the Travers Saddle. We arrived reasonably early in the afternoon so we ate lots, read and relaxed. There were not too many of us there however at 6pm, everyone seemed to show up and the Hut ended up full to the brim with hikers sprawled anywhere they could be. We decided to make it a 7am walking start the next day to avoid the rush up the mountain so off to bed we went.
Day 3: Upper Travers Hut to Upper Waiau Forks informal Campground
Our morning climb from 1400m to 1800m was misty and didn’t allow for many views but it was a quick and painless climb and we were all still half asleep when we reached the Travers Saddle anyways.
So down we went continuing the track to first, West Sabine Hut and then Blue Lake Hut where we initially anticipated spending the night. When we arrived at West Sabine, we were informed by a fellow tramper that people were dropping like flies from a supposed stomach virus so we quickly decided to bypass the hut and push to Blue Lake for lunch.
After crushing DOC [Department of Conservation] estimated times all morning (turning a 6 hour stretch into 3 hours), when we arrived at Blue Lake, we decided we would eat lunch and then push on. For reasons of bad weather rumoured to be coming in, we would climb Waiau Pass and camp on the other side while the weather was still crystal clear blue skies all around.
Waiau Pass is the highest point on this stretch at 1800m so it was important to not have wind and bad weather. In the trail notes, it is described as a steep scree climb and long descent so we curled up on lunch beside Blue Lake, deemed to be the clearest freshwater in the world. If only the wind didn’t ripple the surface for us.
An hour climb took us up to Lake Constance where the trail took us on a test run for Waiau Pass: UP. The views were worth the scree scramble. We sidled around Lake Constance before dropping to the Lakehead where Brad and Matt had a quick chilly wash.
I was front of the pack as we followed our orange pole markers deeper into the valley. All I could see were walls of mountains and everyone behind me was waiting to see where I would lead them. Every time I thought I saw our ascent, another pole would appear further down the valley. Finally, we crossed a river and saw our orange poles heading straight up and over the scree wall on our left.
It’s funny because three months ago if you had showed me this route, I would’ve cried. It was a fantastic route. At the top we were rewarded with the best views, patches of snow and a just as pretty descent on the other side into another sun kissed valley.
We ended our night at an informal but fairly established campground right next to the river where a possum stole one of my shoes. At least that’s what I thought. Turns out it was just me being dumb but that’s a story you’ll only hear in person.
Day Four: Upper Waiau Forks to Anne Hut
A long walk through a valley took us to Anne Hut where we joined onto a popular NZ walking track, the St James Walkway. There were some nice views in the valley but for the most part, the weather was pretty overcast.
After that, we spent New Years in Anne hut. I spent it, probably more accurately, dying in the main room where I slept away from everyone on one of the kitchen benches. That stomach virus back at West Sabine.. I got it and all I’ll say is I haven’t felt like that since I drank absinthe in grade 12.
Day Five: Anne Hut to Boyle Flats Hut
The next morning, Brad, Jess and Francis took off to collect their next food box at Boyle Village while Matt and I stuck behind. I felt infinitely better but still overall pretty crummy. I spent most of the morning laying in bed while Matt played nurse taking very good care of me. Hydration, hydration, hydration. We knew we had 30km left to our food box and enough food for one more night on the trail. The thought of a 30km day did not sit well with me so we decided to split it up into two days of 15km. We left at 2pm and walked for 4 hours to Boyle Flats Hut where B,J&F had set up a little scavenger hunt for us! Along the way we climbed Anne Saddle which gave us a good laugh. For such a low elevation, they really gave it a grand sign.
You can see Boyle Flats Hut in the background- it was located across the river via a swing bridge.
Day Six: Boyle Flats Hut to Boyle Village
The next day we walked 3 hours into Boyle Village where a fellow tramper offered us a ride into the closest town, Hanmer Springs. We weren’t sure where B,J&F were but we knew we needed proper food and I needed a full days rest.
As fate would have it, we walked down the street for not more than five minutes before hearing Brad yell my name. We spent two nights camped at the Holiday Park. Seeing as it was New Years and NZ’s summer holidays, all indoor accommodation was booked up. We managed to lounge for the most part in the TV room watching movies nonstop so it worked out pretty well. Our first zero day on the South Island much needed.
The next day it was back to Boyle Village to get back on trail.