Tramper on the Travers-Sabine

Image: Ben Beiske | Creative Commons

Introduction

Experience tranquil beech forests, fields of waving tussocks, 2000‑m‑high mountains and clear rushing streams in the heart of the mountains of Nelson Lakes National Park.

Highlights


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Video

Track overview

80 km loop

Walking and tramping

4 - 7 days Advanced: Tramping track

Seasonal restrictions

Late November to 30 April

You must have a booking to stay Lake Angelus Hut and campsite in the peak summer season.

1 May to late November

Bookings are not required for any huts and campsites - pay with a Backcountry Hut Pass or Backcountry Hut Tickets.

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Description

The circuit is best walked as described below because crossing the Poukirikiri/Travers Saddle is easier from the Travers side.

Weather and snow conditions are most favourable between October and May, although in some years winter snow persists into late November on alpine passes. Poukirikiri/Travers Saddle is subject to freezing conditions at any time of the 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 that may not be safe to cross.

St Arnaud to Lakehead Hut/Coldwater Hut

Time: 3 hr

From Kerr Bay: Beginning at the eastern end of the 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 min on from the jetty.

From West Bay: Walk up Mount Robert Road to where the Lakeside Track descends to the lake edge through dense mānuka and kānuka forest. Follow the lake shore to Coldwater Hut, which is perched right on the water’s edge. The short diversion to Whisky Falls is worthwhile. Many trampers take a water taxi to the head of Lake Rotoiti to start their trip.

Lakehead Hut/Coldwater Hut to John Tait Hut

Time: 4 hr 30 min

From Lakehead or Coldwater huts, walk up the Travers River flats through forest and clearings (remnants from the valley’s farming days). The track from Coldwater Hut passes the turn‑off to Rotomaninitua/Lake Angelus. After 1 hr 30 min of easy walking you’ll reach a swing bridge,
beyond which the track continues on the west bank of the Travers River.

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

Cross the creek on a swing bridge. Soon you’ll leave the river and notice the gradient becoming steeper. As it eases, you’ll hear the river 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 to Upper Travers Hut

Time: 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‑m cascade plunging into a deep bowl.

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

Finally the track levels and emerges from the trees onto an extensive tussock‑covered flat, where Upper Travers Hut nestles at the base of the east face of Mount Travers.

Upper Travers Hut to West Sabine Hut

Time: 6–9 hr depending on conditions

Poukirikiri/Travers Saddle is an alpine pass requiring ice axes 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 with 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 track steepens and zigzags up a scree slope before continuing more gently to the saddle with its panoramic views. The saddle is 450 m above the hut, about 1 hr 30 min walking.

From the saddle, the descent is steep – the Sabine forks lie 1000 m below. The track crosses tussock and scree, 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 Branch Sabine River. The track sidles around the edge of this chasm before descending into the West Branch Sabine River valley and heading upstream a short distance to West Sabine Hut.

West Sabine Hut to Sabine Hut

Time: 5 hr

Use the swing bridge upstream of the hut to cross the West Branch Sabine River. The track down the 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 expansive views over Lake Rotoroa.

From Sabine Hut there are two ways to finish the tramp: either by tramping via Speargrass Hut and the Speargrass Valley, or taking the Rotoroa Water Taxi to Rotoroa village.

Note, the track alongside Lake Rotoroa is permently closed.

Sabine Hut to St Arnaud via Speargrass Hut

Time: 8 hr

Follow the track along the lake shore before climbing to Howard Saddle, then begin a long sidle in and out of several small valleys and through delicate wetlands. Here you will notice the distinctively conical kaikawaka, or New Zealand cedar, with its dark foliage, stringy bark and often twisted trunk. After about 5 hr, the track reaches a saddle, from where it descends to a clearing above Speargrass Hut.

Leaving Speargrass Hut, cross the bridge over Te Horowai/Speargrass Creek and enter the forest. A well‑graded track descends to the valley floor and follows the river before climbing gradually for some distance to Mount Robert car park, overlooking Lake Rotoiti. From here, it is 1 hr 30 min
down Mount Robert Road to St Arnaud village.

Side trips

Hukere Stream, 4 hr: From the junction with the Travers Track, it is a steady ascent to Rotomaninitua/Lake Angelus and the lake‑filled basins of the Travers Range. More about Angelus Hut tracks and routes

Hopeless Creek, 1 hr 30 min: Follow the river to Hopeless Hut 

Cupola basin, 2 hr 30 min: A strenuous climb leads to the lofty perch of Cupola Hut with superb views of Mount Hopeless.

Rotomairewhenua/Blue Lake, 7 hr return: This is a worthwhile overnight side‑trip from the main circuit. Head upstream from the West Branch Sabine swing bridge. After 1 hr 30 min, 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. Rotomairewhenua/Blue Lake is thought to be the clearest natural freshwater lake in the world. Please respect this pristine water by refraining from washing or swimming in the lake.

Rotomaninitua/Lake Angelus via Mount Cedric, 6 hr: This is a very exposed route to the 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 Rotomaninitua/Lake Angelus.

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 www.mountainsafety.org.nz.

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.

Snow and avalanches

With snow on the ground, Poukirikiri/Travers Saddle and side trips into the alpine basins should only be attempted by experienced and well‑equipped groups.

Be wary of avalanches. Avalanches occur in the park every year, normally between June and October but sometimes as late as December. Most occur during winter storms or in spring/early summer when warmer temperatures or rain make the snow unstable. The Travers – Sabine Circuit has more than 20 recognised avalanche paths.

To reduce the risk of being caught in an avalanche, do not stop between the avalanche signs. Even if you cannot see snow from the track, there may be enough snow out of sight on the upper slopes to form an avalanche that could reach the track. Avalanche paths are only marked on the Travers – Sabine Circuit and Blue
Lake Track.

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

Wasps

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 carry medication with you.

Sandflies

The presence of biting sandflies can detract from your experience at the lakes, especially during the summer months. Cover up and apply a good quality insect repellent to any exposed skin.

Water quality

Water supplies in the Travers and Sabine valleys are generally of 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.

Beware of catching or spreading norovirus (stomach bugs): good hygiene practices are essential. Always clean hut surfaces after use.

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. 

Contacts

Rotoiti / Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 521 1806
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   nelsonlakesvc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   View Road
St Arnaud
Postal Address:   PO Box 55
St Arnaud 7053
Motueka i-SITE Visitor Information Centre
Phone:   +64 3 528 6543
Email:   info@motuekaisite.co.nz
Address:   20 Wallace Street
Motueka 7120
Postal Address:  
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