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Section 5 (Jan 2023): Arthur’s Pass to St Arnaud

Day 1: Arthur’s Pass to Locke Stream Hut. 20k, 6 hours

Got into AP last night and stayed again at The Sanctuary in my familiar ‘hobbit hole’. The C2C runners were here again training, so grabbed a ride down to them (thanks Bill) to Morrison’s Bridge and on to Aicken’s Corner, where Bill pointed me in the right direction and passed on a few final tips. The man is a legend – he even maintains the flood track all the way out along the Taramakau.

First challenge would be whether the Otira was passable, as otherwise it would be a long detour back to the bridge and down the far side. Despite rain all night, it was fine (just over knee depth and slow moving). The bigger challenge was finding that damn track on the other bank! Bill had advised me to ‘head for the burnt gorse’ but ALL the gorse I could see was burnt. Hmmm. Finally located a 4WD track heading out of the riverbed and stuck to that until it started going the wrong way. Bit of the usual standing in a meadow looking for orange signs, and some abortive following of deer tracks, but eventually located elusive triangles and then the flood track sign in the beech trees off on the right. (If you get to a stream crossing you’ve gone too far). Easy walking for once, in cool woodland and then out on a 4WD track alongside the river.

Track on far side of Otira – you need to bear off to the right as it starts to head left.
Taramakau river – pretty low and friendly!

Met a (French?) tramper coming SOBO along this stretch – he was cursing the TA route on the south bank, so I took previous advice and crossed to the other side when the 4WD track branched that way. Easy to follow the north (true right) bank on the grass or pebbles all the way to where the TA rejoins after the river forks. Lovely meadow walking all the way up to Kiwi Hut, which is set back a bit in the beech forest on a small rise (says 15 mins from track bit more like 5). It was only lunchtime though, so cracked on upstream for Locke Hut, with fingers crossed that it stayed fine!

Kiwi hut – cute but a bit dark and small (6 bunks?)

6 hours total walking brought me out of a patch of woodland into the clearing of Locke Stream hut – be aware that the section between these huts NOBO has some of those invisible orange markers, so keep your eyes peeled when the track seems to disappear into the stream/trees! 2 Kiwi trampers already there, but we managed to cope with 2 bunkrooms and 18 beds (triple tiers) between us…

Just got settled in when the heavens opened and the serious rain started. The cute little cascade into the stream by the hut became a churning torrent and I was suddenly glad I was heading upstream and not down tomorrow.

Inside the roomy Locke Stream hut. Plenty of bunks but not much seating.

Day 2: Locke Stream hut over Harper Pass to Huruniu hut (25k, 7h30)

Woke to persistent but lighter rain. My hutmates were sensibly taking a zero but I was on a schedule so out into it I went, up progressively rougher paths (ignore slip detours and stay in the riverbed if possible) to the start of the serious climb. This was about half an hour of shingly steep narrow chutes and the occasional short sidle over a slip. Lots of stopping for breath but no views – just clag. Huh! Even the vaunted stunner from the top was absent, choked in low cloud and mizzle. Just lots of wet toitoi and speargrass to get me sodden, and the occasional dracophylum for interest. Bit of routefinding up on the top and a Hello to a sudden influx of SOBOs coming up, then down the MUCH nicer Hurunui side into beech woodland.

Swingbridge just up from hut
Most of the top of the route up Harper Pass looks like this. Rather up than down!
Top of the pass – apparently the views are sublime…
Coming down the upper Hurunui

The rest of the day was mostly grassy river flats, as I took the straight line option rather than stay on the undulating forest track. It did mean I missed the hot pool between Huranui 3 and Huranui hut, but I also missed the three wire bridge and a lots of PUDs (pointless ups and downs) so I was happy to make the switch. Lunch inside the VERY basic Cameron’s hut (broken hammock bunks, dirt floor, leaky roof) and it was waterproof on/off all the way to Hurunui, up on a hill with a sneaky glimpse of Lake Sumner. Had the rest of the arvo to myself before a wet SOBO blew in mid-evening. Nice spacious hut again, and a rainbow just to finish the day off.

Hurunui hut – worth the uphill slog at the end of the day
Nice rainbow to finish the day off

Day 3: Hurunui hut to Hope Kiwi Lodge (20k, 4h40)

Much easier day, and it even stopped raining on me. Downhill to the swingbridge then over a meadow to more beech woodland. Stayed in it this time as it was blowing a hoolie across the flats! Lovely track and a few SOBOs to nod to. Quite a bit of beech regrowth and downed trees at times to navigate, but no major issues, other than a wasp sting that had me imagining every symptom of anaphylactic shock for twenty minutes! Not many pics as it was mostly similar scenery all day. Made it through the open meadows to Hope Kiwi Lodge, which I think is better constructed than my house. Still just me, lounging on the rather odd ‘daybed’ bunks in the sitting area and reading an entire novel left there, until a couple dropped in for dinner around 6. Where is everyone?!

Typical track for the day
Hope Kiwi Lodge
Massive interior, complete with ‘day beds’!

Day 4: Hope Kiwi Lodge to Windy Point and hitch to Boyle (15k, 4h)

Another lovely easy day, in sunshine and with a hot shower at the end. What’s not to like?! Lots more open beech forest, an escarpment with a view, some slightly soggy riverside ambling and then down to the most stunning turquoise gorge and swingbridge at the end. Just a bit to cold (and fast-flowing) for a dip. I even took a ten minute snack stop on the way, which it’s been too wet to do all trip! Very North American/Canadian in places, just minus the bears (a fact which I’m more than happy with…)

Still not exactly sunny on the way out from Hope Kiwi
Another day, another swingbridge
Hope Halfway hut – it would do in a pinch. Good TA mural inside
Escarpment view about halfway along track
Lovely open bit of forest nearer the end
See I do exist! (Snack stop along escarpment track)
View down towards Lewis Pass road near end
Pretty awesome views from bridge to Windy Point
You can follow a signed path/scramble down to the riverbank over the bridge

Was always planning to hitch from Windy Point to Boyle and after swearing at a succession of flash utes that all sped past, I scored a ride with a lovely woman and her pet bantam (yes, honestly – apparently it goes with her everywhere as it gets separation anxiety). Happy to see Boyle Outdoors Centre and my box of food. Their pizza was rather underwhelming ($15 for a $4 McCains cheese and tomato) but the shower and bunk were welcome. Updated social media and checked weather – hmmm, heavy rain/wind forecast for the day I was planning to cross Waiau Pass. Time for a rethink????

Boyle Outdoors Centre. It really ISN’T a village…

Day 5: Change of plan!

After some frantic Googling last night and a couple of texts to friends, decided to bail out to Hanmer until the weather bomb passed. Found a possible route back over to Waiau hut from Hanmer end, using the St James cycleway, so thought I’d check that out. Plus the hot springs were calling. After an abortive and highly embarrassing start (where I stood on the wrong side of the highway and was informed of my error by a VERY sarcastic policeman), I cadged a ride from the awesome Pirate to Hanmer and checked in at Hanmer Backpackers by mid-morning. The DOC office verified that I could head up Clarence/Rainbow Road and over one of two routes to Waiau hut so that was the new plan. Felt slightly wrong to be stopping as it was hot and sunny all day, but I used it to do a run up to a waterfall so that was fine. Was pretty good to take that pack off!

View from Conical Hill, just a short stroll from town
Posing with waterfall!

Day 6/7 – in Hanmer

(Nothing to post as basically spent one day in the pools and the next sitting out the predicted rainstorm in the backpackers, in front of a blazing fire and reading Wilderness mags. VERY good choice!)

Day 8 – Back on the trail! Over Maling Pass to Waiau hut (20k, 4.5h)

Still wet but forecast optimistic so headed off up Clarence Valley Road towards Jack’s Point in the drizzle. The worst-case scenario would be a 30k road walk to old Fowlers homestead/hut, then 2 days over Fowler’s Pass stopping off at Lake Guyon hut. However only about 45mins walk on the road and a conservation volunteer pulled over with a ride offer right the way up to the St James cycleway carpark at Maling Pass, thus shaving two entire days off my route. Awesome!

Still a bit grey and cold at the carpark but cleared as I walked up an easy 4WD track and over the pass to views right down the Waiau. Over the river (low and easy) then up the valley on more in-and-out of the trees track, to reach cute little Waiau hut tucked into the side of a meadow. A few more SOBOs and even a couple of rarely spotted NOBOs at the hut, with more arriving to fill the bunks and spill over to camp outside. It was nice to have a bit more company and also get a preview of Waiau Pass for tomorrow – I was having some serious jitters about that and had nearly pulled out of this section because of it. Oh well, tomorrow would see how it went!

St James cycleway over Maling Pass – a good alternative from Hanmer
View down the Waiau from the top of the pass
Just over the Waiau at base of pass and rejoining the TA route
Lovely easy walking up to the hut
View from hut doorway – pretty special!
Friendly robin at the hut

Day 9: Over the Pass – Waiau hut to Blue Lake hut (15k, 7.5h)

Well this was it – the dreaded Waiau Pass. The reason I’d nearly bottled it and run back to Christchurch from Boyle/Hanmer. I figured I might as well at least go and look at it, since I had all the food in the world and nowhere else to be for the next week, so headed out early morning with the other two NOBOs to see how it would go.

Easy walking rapidly turned into one of those ‘up down, repeat’ scrambles through trees as the track tried to stay out of the riverbed. The water levels were so low I could just have waded, but you never know when you might hit a big pool or something, so up and down I went. The upper reaches were bounded by rockfalls, with several sections of rock-hopping and frantic searches for cairns to guide the way. NOT my favourite type of track! Still, I left the other pair behind so I cant be too bad at it. Finally made the base of the pass, with one last slosh through the Waiau river and through the tiny open space of the unofficial Waiau Forks campground (no facilities). Met my first SOBO of the day, who’d got up at 3am for a Blue Lake/Waiau Pass sunrise. Mad!!!!

The trail for the next half hour or so was glorious, following a stream up and up, past a waterfall to the head of the pass itself. I was starting to be glad I set out, no matter how bad it got later!

View back down river towards hut
Upper Waiau
Looking up towards the climb (up and round to right)
A little bit further up – steep section still to come!
Not bad scenery!
Top of the easy part – small plateau then a scramble to come (heading for the pointy bits in the distance)

The first part was anti-climactically easy, just a steep narrow path up some bluffs. Not quite enough to put the poles away, although simpler to use hands on grass tufts or outcrops in a few spots. No real exposure either, although it looked trickier coming down. This went on for about 10-15 minutes until it flattened out for a bit (where I met a huge group of fathers and sons on a challenge weekend). Good spot for a breather and a flask refill as it’s the last stream until the other side.

Now it got noticeably steeper, with some little short sections of rock to haul myself up. Really grippy rock with lots of handholds though, easy to see where others had been (yellowing smooth sections) and again not particularly exposed. There were a couple of ‘shutes’ where SOBOs were passing bags/poles down to make it easier to downclimb, but going up was very straightforward. MUCH easier than I’d expected.

Path and slabby rock sections for reference
Looking back down from upper section – plenty of switchbacks and an obvious route
You can see the path heading up to the gap at the top

Finally reached the top with a short scree climb (again, nice and easy) for views down to Lake Constance. Now for the dreaded scree descent!

The first part was actually simple as the scree was nice and deep so you could just ‘scree run’ it. This takes you to an epic viewpoint over the lake…

View from the top
Upper scree slope – easy!
SOOO pretty! (Lake Constance)

The next part was a little harder as the scree became thinner and easier to slip on. There were grassy hummocks to step down in most places though, so nothing dreadful – just slow and steady until you finally reach the stream at the bottom. I had a relay team of grasshoppers accompany me all the way, which I’m sure helped!

Made it down to the stream!

Unfortunately, getting to the stream doesn’t mean you’re finished for the day (unless you’re camping up here, which apparently is terribly cold and windy). You now have to walk along the shore of Lake Constance and then navigate up, over and down the rocky bluffs at the far end before you get your view of Blue Lake. This for me was the hardest part of the day as I was tired, hot and not up for a series of narrow, steep gritty scrambles up what looked like goat tracks. I may have vented just a little at an unfortunate day hiker out for a wander! However, you finally make it down one last scree slope and over the moraine to see your prize – Blue Lake. It’s (probably) worth it…!!!!

Just a short descent through trees on an easy path to the lake shore and the hut (the path doesn’t actually go via the lake – you need to turn right before the hut for that). Lovely hut, again pretty much deserted when I got in around 2.30pm. Dropped my stuff and headed to the shore, but the sun was already down over the surrounding peaks and it wasn’t quite as glorious as the pics, so I dodged the sandflies and planned another look in the morning. A very cool place for an evening stroll though, if you can put up with the bites.

Blue Lake, mid afternoon – already in shadow
Evening lake (minus sandflies!)

Day 10: Blue Lake hut to West Sabine hut (8k, 3h)

Pretty much a half day. Decided to take a lie in and wait for the sun to come up over the lake, which it did around 9.30, and it was well worth it. Suddenly the colours transformed from shades of blue to turquoise, lime green and others. It was obvious now just how clear the water was, as the greens were algae meters below on the lake floor. Took far too many pictures but eventually the sandflies won and and I packed up to head off down the valley.

Quite astonishing colours in the morning sun
That’s the bottom, not the top, that looks green
SO clear

Final look back before leaving

Now it was down the Sabine for lunch. This was a truly glorious part, with the tumbling river cascading alongside at the top and slowing to a steady murmur by the time you cross the swingbridge to the hut. Peaceful beech woodland prompted thoughts of Middle Earth, but no elves (or humans) at the hut – just me and the sandflies until mid-afternoon. I bathed naked (possibly not the wisest move in full view of that bridge but it was hot), washed clothes to dry on the deck, and took an afternoon nap on two mattresses. Ahhh, the tramping life at its finest! A few groups trickled in later, including late entry Paul who was doing BIG mile days SOBO. Decided to head down to Sabine tomorrow rather than over Travers Saddle, as I’ve done that side before.

Upper Sabine
Heading down
Idyllic beech forest near hut
West Sabine hut

Day 11: Not the TA! West Sabine hut to Sabine hut (15k, 4h30)

No regrets about choosing this route – it was sublime pretty much all the way. 90% or more beech forest and just a couple of short climbs where it wasn’t possible to follow the river. Another stunning gorge around 30 mins from the hut where a couple were jumping in (too bloody cold for me) and the hut itself has the sort of view from the dining area and front bunkroom that would cost a small fortune in a hotel. I went for a quick dip in the lake (surprisingly warm) but once again the sandflies won. We need bioengineering on this thing folks!

Only a family of boaties in for lunch (blagged the remains of some chips off them) and then a handful of off-route TAs and Travers-Sabine trampers in across the afternoon. Two mattresses again and a lake view. I could get used to this!

Lower Sabine river
More sublime beech forest
View from bridge over Sabine at valley base

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A final scenic surprise just after the bridge
It really is lakefront!
Jetty along from hut – a good swimming spot (if you can avoid the sandflies)
How much would this view cost if it was a hotel?

Day 12: To town – Sabine Hut to St Arnaud along Speargrass Track (17k, 6h)

Final day! TBH I would have stayed another night but I was running out of gas, food and (crucially) toilet paper, so town it was. A steady haul up the easy Speargrass track, past Speargrass hut set on an open hillside for lunch. Pulled into the Mt Roberts carpark just in time to grab a ride down to the main road with a DoC worker, then scored another ride a km further on from (of all people) an old run buddy from Auckland! Small world eh?

Checked into Alpine Lodge, only to find dorm all full. I had to put up with a hotel room instead (the pain!!!) and spent the rest of the day washing self/clothes, lounging in the bar and eating actual food. With wine. It all tastes SO much better after a few days dehydrated meals, but I kinda miss those DOC mattresses and the quiet.

Didn’t really want to leave here – can you blame me?
Morning lake Rotoroa
Wow – boardwalk! Must be approaching civilisation!
Speargrass Hut
View from near Mt Roberts car park. The end of the hike.
Slightly overwhelmed….!!!
Lake Rotoiti
Lakehead track. Basically a scenic highway!
See what I mean?
View from deck of Lakehead hut, your final NOBO hut before St Arnaud. It’s a belter!

Took one final day (in the backpackers though) for a cheeky run up to Lakehead hut and back, then it was a ride from a Trail Angel to Nelson and home. Next year will be the Richmonds, and possibly the end of the trail as I’ve done QCT before. This was a stunning section and I wonder if that will top it. I learnt to be flexible in my plans and that it’s seldom as bad as you think it will be. I asked and the Universe provided. Happy Trails!

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