Sabine-Waiau-Thompson-D’Urville

Easter/ANZAC weekend 2014

It was a successful tramp where nothing went according to plan. The original plan was to tramp from Lake Rotoroa up the Sabine, over Waiau and Thompson passes then back down the D’Urville to Lake Rotoroa. Here we would reach our food drop and then spend 3 more days on the Mole Tops circuit. Easter rain was the first problem.

However by postponing the tramp a few days and dropping the Mole Tops part we could catch a 3-4 day fine weather window, although this reduced our group from 5 to 3.

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Driving to Rotoroa on Easter Sunday we realised that we could have an issue with windfall. After a short “tramp” of 20 metres from water taxi to hut we enjoyed a nice meal with wine and cheese at Sabine Hut where other trampers reported that while some tracks were badly affected by windfall the Sabine at least was OK.

Monday, we headed up the Sabine valley to East Sabine Hut where we decided to go on to Blue Lake Hut in one long day so we could take advantage of the good weather for the two passes. We pushed on but my lack of speed and the short days caught up with us and we arrived at Blue Lake Hut having walked the last half hour by torch light. The hut was empty and cold and the small fire barely took the chill off.

Tuesday was fine but cold and the views were superb as we climbed above Blue Lake and traversed above and around Lake Constance. Had we taken two days over this section it would have been easy to fill in the free afternoon exploring the area or camping at the head of Lake Constance. The climb over Waiau Pass began with a reasonable zig zag up tussock slopes, then on scree—all good until the last little bit where it headed more steeply uphill in soft scree, one step back for every two forward. These last few metres were more tiring than all the rest of the climb. We stopped for lunch a bit below the top. The cloud closed in and there was even a light scattering of hail as we reached the top of the pass. Heading down the other side we unexpectedly found a small section where we were climbing down rocks and thought that this would surprise many people walking the Te Araroa Trail. I think it would be easier climbing Waiau Pass from the Canterbury side—up rocks and down scree.

With the time getting on and cloud closing in, our plan to camp at Lake Thompson was changed to a low level camp in the valley. Even this wasn’t to be after I sprained my ankle about 40 minutes from the bottom. We elected to stop and camp at a tarn we’d just passed—a good decision as it rained as we started putting up the tents and we got to cook under the minaret fly—unclip the odd corner bit and it works well. There was quite a lot of discussion concerning my ability to tackle the unknown terrain of Thompson Pass with a sprained ankle. In the morning I tried it out heading downhill and as I managed surprisingly well, thanks to Kevin and Keith who took some of my pack weight, so we continued as planned.

In the night the rain cleared and the wind came up (to dry our tents) and the next morning was fine but very cold with our little tarn frozen on top. An unanticipated bonus was the clear view of Thompson Pass from our campsite which allowed us to select a route we couldn’t see in the previous afternoon’s cloud. Instead of heading up the main stream, we headed up a gully above this. This took us across scree, over boulders, up a small stream. Then it was a short scramble out to just below Lake Thompson—actually a really good route. There are plenty of good campsites beside the stream just below the lake. There was decent scree down the other side of the pass but when that ran out there were thigh-high tussocks to deal to. We reached the stream and instead of an easy walk down-valley we found ourselves scrambling over rocky, lumpy tussock country or bush-bashing until we finally reached the beginning of the track. Perhaps we should have stayed high. We reached the bivy just before dark and were gutted to find it already occupied—another night camping but at least the rain held off until after dinner.

The next day we reached Ella Hut for a late lunch and decided to stay rather push on for yet another long day. We had a day up our sleeves and enough food so we decided to enjoy a relaxing afternoon washing and resting—a good decision as rain set in that afternoon. The next day we also only walked 3.5 hours to Morgan Hut, in rain all the way.The trampers at the biv had warned us that the last section from Morgan to D’Urville Hut took them an extra 2–3 hours due to extensive windfall.

We tried to avoid it. The river route didn’t work and we ended up spending 2 hours travelling 1km through continuous massive windfall on a steep slope. We tried crossing to the other side of the river but encountered more windfall and bush. The four hour tramp took us nearly 8 hours but when we reached the hut we retrieved the barrel of goodies we had dropped there by water taxi on the way in. The beer was especially appreciated.

I don’t think any days tramping actually matched the original plan but some tramps just require flexibility. My special thanks again to Kevin and Keith for helping carry extra weight after I sprained my ankle.

Kevin and Heather Hughes, Keith McQuillan. (HH)