Waiau Pass Track
After 2 rest days in St Arnaud I set off again together with Robert. This time with a heavy pack! The last 3 days of the Richmond Alpine track had been rainy and I decided to get a stove in St Arnaud. I also had way too much food as I had bought rations for 7 days, and then Robert came and gave me another 3 days. He had sent himself way to much food in his resupply box and rather than just leave it, I packed it on top of the rest of my gear.
The packs were heavy as we set off into what looked like a gray and dreary day. First stop was Lakehead Hut were we stopped for lunch. There was a Canadian guy there that Robert had met on the north island, and he told us about staying out in the mountains for 51 days before returning to resupply!
After lunch we headed to John Tait Hut, a 12 km walk but relatively easy. Once there it was time for a big dinner, had to get rid off all the food some way. It was way too heavy to carry.
Next morning was a nice walk to Upper Travers Hut but after that it got a bit harder again. The track to West Sabine Hut starts off with a 450 m climb. Hard in and of itself, but you then have to come down again and the descents can be just as hard as the climbs, especially on the knees.
To add to the misery, it started raining, making all the roots and stones very slippery. Combined with some steep descents, you had to be very careful not to slip, it would be way too easy to twist an ankle or worse. Lets just say that my pace through here was very slow and I arrived wet and tired at West Sabine Hut late in the evening. It was a nice area to walk through, with luscious, almost tropical greenery and lots of moss hanging of the trees. It would have been even better in the dry though!
The hut was quite crowded when I arrived, must have been about 12 hikers there, most of them doing local sections and routes. It was almost a bit intimidating to begin with, but everybody was friendly, helpful and talkative and before long we were all sharing stories. Nice atmosphere.
Another hiker arrived even later than me, Chris from Poland. He is doing the complete TA and had come from Lakehead Hut that day.
Day 3 was meant to be a reasonably easy morning hike to Blue Lake Hut, but I should have realized by now that nothing is easy in NZ, at least on the TA. Brilliant scenery but a rough track with a fair bit of climbing.
A quick lunch at Blue Lake and then it was time to set off on what we knew would be a more difficult section, Waipau Pass. By this time Chris, Robert and I were sort of hiking together. I would set off first and then they would both come tearing past me and I would catch them again when they stopped for a rest or smoke. Then the same thing would happen again…
We walked past Blue Lake and Constance Lake, climbed up above Constance Lake and then descended to it again along some very stony and slippery terrain. But beautiful!
As I walked along Constance Lake, I though I could see a barely defined trail up ahead on the side of the mountain. Surely that is not the trail we are taking, I thought to myself, that looks ridiculous! But the closer we got, to more apparent it was that that was indeed our trail.
After walking along Lake Constance , the trail does a left turn and just goes straight up the mountain to Waiau Pass. No switchbacks here, just straight up… 550 m up…
So I watched as first Chris and then Robert set of while I ate some sweets and drank most of my water. I did not want to carry any extra weight. Then I set of after them, slowly.
But I was actually surprised how well it went. Sure it was tiring, but it was just a matter of taking your time, being careful where you placed your feet, and after a certain amount of time you reached the top. To stunning views, just totally stunning!
As has already often proven to be the case, the descent was almost more difficult. There are 3 or 4 section of the southern descent of the pass where you have to turn around and climb down using both hand and feet. I’m glad I’m not afraid of heights and have done some climbing and scrambling before because it was not super easy.
I had to take it extra slow down the pass as I was being very careful with my “worse” knee which had been complaining ever since the Richmond Ranges. Nothing super bad, just a bit sore and not very stable, so I had to be extra cautious with my foot placements, a lot of the time almost backing down the pass in order to save my knee.
It took a long time and I arrived at an informal campsite down by the river to find that Robert, Chris and and an American girl called Kelly had their tents set up and were starting a fire. I wasn’t all that sociable that evening, I set up the tent, had some dinner and a short talk with everyone and then lay down on my very comfortable mattress to sleep. No problem that night…
The next day was a long day, 36 km to Anne Hut. Anne Hut is a newer hut and sits in a beautiful valley with great views of the surrounding ranges. Along the way, Robert stopped to camp and swim and only Chris and I made it to the hut that day.
Day 5 was just a transportation out of the mountains, down to Boyle River Village, another 32 km. No tracks here are “easy”, but it was nice walk and Chris and I arrived at the road in time to try to hitch to Hanmar Springs. I was planning to have 2 rest days there to enjoy the warm spring water baths and let my knee recover a bit. We were very lucky and got a lift after just 20 minutes and the super kind driver, who had turned around to pick us up, drove us the extra 10 km into Hanmar Springs although he was actually going past it. People are so friendly in NZ!
As I write this, it is at the end of my 2 days in Hanmar Springs and I am going to try to hitch back to the track tomorrow morning. It’s been great to relax, eat a lot of food and visit the thermal springs, but if I’m going to reach Bluff I have to keep going. My knee is still a bit sore and swollen, the backpack is heavy with food again, but I’m looking forward to some great new views.