Tramper on the Travers-Sabine

Image: Ben Beiske | Creative Commons


The Travers-Sabine Circuit is a medium to hard tramp traversing 80 km of river valleys and an alpine pass in Nelson Lakes National Park.


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Tranquil beech forests, fields of waving tussocks, 2000 m high mountains and clear rushing streams are highlights of the journey.

The circuit requires 4-7 days to complete and involves a crossing of Poukirikiri/Travers Saddle, an alpine pass subject to freezing conditions at any time of year.

Most of the track is classified as a tramping track. It is well marked and although most rivers and streams are bridged, after heavy rain there are a number of streams which may not be safe to cross. Sturdy boots and a good standard of fitness are recommended and warm, waterproof clothing is essential.

Angelus is a popular side trip off the Travers-Sabine Circuit. 

St Arnaud is 1 hour 30 minutes by road from Nelson or Blenheim. Lake Rotoroa is a further 30 minutes.

A number of companies offer bus services to St Arnaud. Water taxis operate all year round on both lakes. More information is available at the Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre.

Track overview

80 km loop

Walking and tramping

4 - 7 days Advanced: Tramping track

Seasonal restrictions

Summer season

You must have a booking to stay in the hut or campsite at Lake Angelus in the peak summer season, late November to 30 April. 

Winter season

In the off-peak, winter season, 1 May to late November, bookings are not required and you pay by Backcountry Hut Pass or Backcountry Hut Tickets.

Dog access

No dogs

About this track


About the track

The circuit is best walked as described below because crossing Poukirikiri/Travers Saddle is easier from the Travers side. Walking times are a guide only and will vary with fitness and weather conditions. Weather and snow conditions are most favourable between October and May although in some years winter snow persists into late November on the alpine passes.

Track profile

Travers-Sabine Circuit profile

Print-formatted version of this profile (PDF, 229K)

Places to stay

On the Traver-Sabine Circuit, Hopeless, Cupola and Coldwater Huts are standard huts. All other huts on the circuit are serviced huts. Backcountry Hut Passes or Backcountry Hut Tickets are required to stay in all huts.

No cooking facilities are provided in the huts. All visitors should carry portable cookers.

Lake Rotoiti has a serviced campground open all year at Kerr Bay and a standard campground open during the peak summer months at West Bay. There is a self-registration camping area at Rotoroa. Hotel and backpacker accommodation is available at St Arnaud and Rotoroa.

St Arnaud to Lakehead Hut (28 bunks)/Coldwater Hut (12 bunks), 3 hr

From Kerr Bay: Beginning at the eastern end of bay, the Lakehead Track wanders through forest, crossing several shallow streams and shingle screes. Small beaches along the way offer picnicking opportunities and mountain views. At the head of Lake  Rotoiti, the grassy flats of the lower Travers Valley greet you. Lakehead Hut is 15 minutes from the jetty.

From West Bay: Walk up Mt Robert Road to where the Lakeside Track descends to the lake edge through dense manuka and kanuka trees. Follow the lake shore to Coldwater Hut which is perched right by the water’s edge. The short diversion to Whisky Falls is worthwhile. Many trampers take a water taxi to the head of Lakes Rotoiti or Rotoroa to start their tramp.

Lakehead/Coldwater Huts to John Tait Hut (27 bunks), 4 hr 30 min

From Lakehead or Coldwater Hut, walk up the river flats through forest and clearings left from the valley’s farming days. The track from Coldwater Hut passes the turn off to Lake Angelus. After two hours of easy walking, a swingbridge is reached, beyond which the track continues on the west bank.

Soon the valley narrows and walking becomes more varied, alternating between forested terraces and grassy river flats. Mt Travers can be glimpsed as the track nears Hopeless Creek.

Cross the creek on a swing bridge and soon the river is left behind and the gradient becomes steeper. As it eases you hear the river’s sounds again, cross a few small creeks and suddenly emerge to the welcome sight of John Tait Hut at the head of a small clearing.

John Tait Hut

John Tait Hut to Upper Travers Hut (24 bunks), 3 hr

Continue beyond John Tait Hut to Cupola Creek chasm, from where the track climbs steeply, leaving the river in its gorge below. A sign marks a short side-track to Travers Falls, a 20-metre cascade plunging into a deep bowl.

Soon the gradient eases. Cross several screes and eventually the Travers River on a short bridge. From here the forest is noticeably stunted and the track, although steep again, offers occasional views of the now looming mountains.

Finally the track levels and emerges from the trees onto an extensive, tussock-covered flat. Upper Travers Hut nestles there, with the towering east face of Mt Travers above.

Upper Travers Hut

Upper Travers Hut to West Sabine Hut (30 bunks), 6–9 hr, depending on conditions

Travers Saddle is an alpine pass requiring ice axe and crampons in winter and well into spring. Be prepared for sudden weather changes. The Sabine side of the saddle in particular is exposed to avalanches. At Upper Travers Hut the track becomes a route marked by snow poles as far as the bushline on the Sabine side.

Cross the Travers River near the hut and follow the poles through dense alpine shrubs. Leaving the boulder-strewn valley the tracks steepens and zigzags up a scree slope before continuing more gently to the saddle with its panoramic views. The saddle is 450 metres above the hut, about 1 hour 30 minutes walking.

From the saddle the descent is steep — Sabine Forks is 1000 metres below. The track crosses tussock and scree, and then briefly enters stunted beech forest before emerging into a steep gully. Descend by zigzagging to the valley floor where the track begins again and the walking becomes easier.

Ten minutes further on, a bridge crosses the deep chasm of the East Sabine River. The track follows the brink of this chasm before descending into the West Sabine Valley and heading upstream a short distance to West Sabine Hut.

West Sabine Hut

West Sabine Hut to Sabine Hut (32 bunks), 5 hr

Cross the swingbridge near the hut over the West Sabine River. The track down-valley sidles above the river and crosses three long, open flats.

Leave the river where it enters a gorge in the lower valley. Climb steeply, then descend again, rejoining the deep river at a bridge across a narrow cleft. Easy walking leads to Sabine Hut with its wide views of Lake Rotoroa. From Sabine Hut there are two ways to finish the tramp. The tramping option is via Speargrass Hut and the  Speargrass Valley.The alternative option is to take the Rotoroa Water Taxi. The Lake Rotoroa Route along the lakeshore is permanently closed.

Sabine Hut

Lake Rotoroa Campsite

Completing the circuit — Sabine Hut to Rotoroa or St Arnaud

To St Arnaud via Speargrass Hut (12 bunks), 8 hr

Follow the track along the lake shore to a sign. Climb up to Howard Saddle and then begin a long sidle in and out of several small valleys and through delicate wetlands. Here you’ll notice the distinctively conical kaikawaka or New Zealand cedar tree, with its dark foliage, stringy bark and often twisted trunk.

After about five hours, the track reaches Speargrass Saddle, from where it descends to a clearing and Speargrass Hut. Cross the bridge over Speargrass Stream and enter the forest. A well graded track descends to the valley floor and follows the river before climbing gradually for some distanceto the carpark overlooking Lake Rotoiti. From here it is 1 hour 30 minutes down Mt Robert Road to St Arnaud village.

Speargrass Hut

To Lake Rotoroa

The Track alongside Lake Rotoroa is permently closed. You can arrange to be collected by the water taxi.

Side trips

Travers valley side creeks

Hukere Stream: From the junction with the Travers Track it is a steady, four-hour ascent to Angelus Hut (26 bunks) and the lake-filled basins of the Travers Range. See Angelus Hut tracks and routes.

Hopeless Creek: Follow the river for 1 hour 30 minutes to Hopeless Hut (6 bunks).

Cupola Basin: 2 hours 30 minutes of strenuous climbing leads to the lofty perch of Cupola Hut (8 bunks), with superb views of Mt Hopeless.

Angelus Hut
Hopeless Hut
Cupola Hut

Rotomairewhenua/Blue Lake, 7 hr return

This is a worthwhile overnight trip from the main circuit. Head upstream from West Sabine swingbridge. After 1 hour 30 minutes, the valley broadens and the track passes through forest destroyed by an avalanche in 1980. Climb steeply, in two stages to a high basin containing Blue Lake Hut (16 bunks).

Blue Lake, known to Ngati Apa iwi as Rotomairewhenua (the land of peaceful waters) is thought to be the clearest fresh water in the world. While only seven metres deep the clarity of the lake water can exceed 80m which is close to the theortically calculated clarity of distilled water.

Respect these waters and do not swim, wash yourself, your clothes or dishes in the lake.

Blue Lake Hut

Rotomaninitua/Lake Angelus via Mt Cedric, 6 hr

This is a very exposed route to Angelus Basin. The track begins behind Sabine Hut and climbs very steeply and steadily to the bushline. Poles and cairns mark the route from here, which eventually drops off the eastern side of a high ridge and descends to Angelus Hut (26 bunks).

See Angelus Hut tracks and routes.

Know before you go

Prepare for your trip

It’s important to plan, prepare and equip yourself well. Make sure your party has a capable leader and that you have plenty of food, warm and waterproof clothing and the right skills and fitness level required for the trip. Always check the latest information about facilities, tracks and local weather conditions.

Essential gear:

  • waterproof raincoat and over-trousers
  • several layers warm clothing
  • spare dry socks
  • strong tramping boots
  • food (enough for the duration plus extra for emergencies)
  • first aid kit
  • sunscreen and sunglasses
  • hat & gloves
  • sleeping bag
  • portable fuel stove & cooking utensils
  • hut tickets or annual hut pass
  • map and compass (and know how to use them!)

Consider carrying:

  • putties (gaiters)
  • personal locator beacon/or mountain radio
  • tent and bed roll in the summer monthsDuring winter and snow conditions you will need an ice axe and crampons, snow gaiters and goggles. You might want to consider carrying an avalanche transceiver, probe and snow shovel.

Freezing conditions and/or heavy rain can occur at any time of year. If you doubt your abilities or the weather, particularly near Travers Saddle or at un-bridged stream crossings after heavy rain, turn back. Fill in the visitor book if you are staying in a hut or at a campsite.

In winter, navigation and alpine skills are essential for your survival. For more information about these visit

It is strongly recommended that you take a personal locator beacon with you. A mountain radio is an optional extra that can be taken for communication.

Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

Your safety and the decisions you make while on the track are your responsibility. Know the outdoor safety code. Check out

Snow and avalanches

The Nelson Lakes National park contains a large amount of avalanche terrain. There are numerous avalanche paths, which may bring avalanche debris to the valley floor– their start zones cannot be seen from the track. There are a number of relatively easily accessible areas that contain challenging avalanche terrain while seasonal snow is present. There are some significant areas of complex terrain.

All visitors should consider carefully the class of avalanche terrain they are getting into and check the avalanche danger advisory prior to undertaking any trip.

If you are going into places avalanches could occur, be sure you:

  • Have checked the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) and the Avalanche Terrain Exposure scale system (ATES) for the area where you want to go.
  • Have the skills for the ATES class you are going into.
  • Have checked what avalanche advisory and alert information is available from the DOC visitor centre nearest the area where you want to go.
  • Take an avalanche transceiver, a snow shovel and a probe. Know how to use these tools!


There are high numbers of wasps particularly between January and April. Consider carrying an antihistamine product and if you are allergic to their stings ensure you take your medication.


Sandflies are tiny black insects which cause itchy bites. Cover up and use insect repellent.

Water quality

Water supplies are generally of a high quality but cannot be guaranteed. You may choose to boil, filter or treat drinking water. Use toilet facilities and help keep water supplies clean.

Nelson Lakes - thefts from vehicles

Isolated carparks are prone to theft. Don't leave any valuables in your vehicle. A bag storage facility is available at the Rotoiti/Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre. 


Rotoiti / Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 521 1806
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Address:   View Road
St Arnaud
Postal Address:   PO Box 55
St Arnaud 7053
Motueka i-SITE Visitor Information Centre
Phone:   +64 3 528 6543
Address:   20 Wallace Street
Motueka 7120
Postal Address:  
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