Seven amazing days of sunshine up in the mountains (Travers-Sabine Trek, South Island, New Zealand)

Published: February 10th 2010
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(Day 669 on the road)"Go big or go home". That was Lilia's motto when we sat down and studied the map of Nelson Lakes National Park. I had initially planned to do a four-day loop (up the Travers valley, over the saddle, and back via the Sabine valley). In the end, we opted for an additional two-day side trip and to take it a bit easier on the last two days, which pushed the total number of days to seven. So a week it was. And off we went.

After the rather unspectacular Abel Tasman walk, we were in for a real treat: Wide valleys with mountains on both sides, grand vistas, empty huts in beautiful spots, crystal-clear rivers, blue lakes, easy to follow tracks, and, best of all, sunshine for the entire week. How lucky could we be? And as it takes a few days to get into "hiking-mode" for me, spending seven full days in the mountains, far away from civilisation, is always amazing.

After a pretty busy hut on night one (due to many people doing a two-day loop and staying there for the night), we soon left the crowds behind. In fact, we hardly saw anybody for the next four days and were the only people staying at the huts we chose for the next three nights.

After the first two days basically followed first Lake Rotoiti and later the valley right to the end, day three was going over the Travers saddle, leaving the Travers valley behind and entering the Sabine valley. Whilst it was the hardest of the seven days, it was also the most spectacular, with great views from the top. Once up, the actual saddle was amazingly flat and the going was easy on the grassy track. Grasshoppers were jumping out of our way in a kamikaze-fashion, the views were stunning, and the sun was shining. We were happy as anything. Or "happy as", as a Kiwi would say. I haven't met a New Zealander yet that knows what "sweet as" or similar expressions actually mean (I did ask quite a few people - maybe someone reading this blog can enlighten me), but that doesn't seem to stop anybody from using them. Strange as....

The next few days saw us walking up to gorgeous Blue Lake and Lake Constance, then down the Sabine valley to Sabine Hut, further down the valley to Speargrass Hut, and out back to the village of St. Arnaud on day seven. The only annoying thing the whole seven days were the abundant sandflies. Sabine Hut for instance was situated right by a beautiful lake, but unless you were in the water (great!) there was no way we could stay outside for longer than five minutes. What a shame, being in such wonderful scenery and then forced to stay inside the hut.

At this point, I have to finally compliment the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) for their outstanding work. I intended to do that a few blogs ago already, but somehow never managed to do it. The DOC not only manage all of the country's national parks, they also operate countless visitor centres manned by experienced and knowledgeable staff, have a website with up-to-date information on all the hiking tracks, and provide over 900 (!) backcountry huts all over the country. Thank you DOC!

The fabulous network of tracks and huts also allows me to do more hiking and trekking in a couple of months here than in the last ten years or so combined back home. I can't think of any other country that even comes close in terms of beauty, diversity, national parks and facilities offered for trampers.

On the way back into civilisation, Lilia and I stopped at the tiniest of villages for a well deserved, generous helping of ice cream. As I stepped into the courtyard of the small cafe I heard someone calling my name. It was Chris, whom I travelled with in Australia for a good three weeks back in November last year! Yes, I know by now through many such encounters that it is indeed a small world (and that the probability to bump into someone you know is not that low considering how many people I meet on my trip), but it was pretty amazing nevertheless, especially in this remote village in the middle of nowehere.

Back in the next biggest town (where Lilia and I parted as she has less time than me), namely in the "dispiriting" (quote from the guide book) town of Westport, I was soon reminded why I like the mountains and why we try to avoid the towns here as much as possible (save for stocking up on food for the next hike, a hot shower and Internet access). It is a strange phenomena: In a country of such sheer natural beauty as New Zealand, the towns are, albeit with a exceptions, ugly affairs. If you have been here you know what I am talking about. If you haven't been to New Zealand yet, you might have noticed a notable absence of any town-pictures (on my blog or my Flickr page). Well, there is a good reason for that, as there isn't much to show really. Unless you like ugly, unimaginative towns without any atmosphere that is.

I particularly enjoyed what Monty Python's John Cleese said about his visit to the city of Palmerston North some time ago: "If you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick". The city took revenge by naming a rubbish dump after him. Haha, well done my dear Kiwis! But in any case, whilst the cities here might not quite make you want to kill yourself, Mr. Cleese certainly has a point here. Or as Lilia commented dryly: "Corrugated iron - the architecture of New Zealand". I might simply say: "Ugly as."

Next stop: Arthur's Pass (South Island, New Zealand).

To view my photos, have a look at And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


10th February 2010

Ugly cities....
Say it like it is Ben ;) - but watch out for the vicious comments that follow - maybe some Kiwi will name a trash can after you or something :)
10th February 2010

Looks beautiful
Loved the pics of this hike on your flickr site. I'll have to remember this one for my trip there next year. Reminds me quite a bit of the Rees-Dart hike (although I would think the lakes are a big plus compared to Rees-Dart). How were the sand flys on this track?
10th February 2010

Rees-Dart Trek & Trash Bin
@ Kevin: Thanks! The Rees-Dart is my next big one - I am thinking of combining it with the Routeburn and the Caples to make one big loop. @ Ali: Nice idea with the trash can. :-) Let's see what happens. I got quite a bit of criticism already for my recent thoughts on Kiwi pride. They can be a tat too easily offended I find. No harm intended my dear Kiwi friends!
10th February 2010

Totally agree
Hey Ben... I totally agree with the cities, most are just nasty. However, you will love Christchurch... make sure to visit the botanical gardens and the old university (art market). Great to hear that you finally had a good time in NZ (and some sun :).
10th February 2010

Wow, wow, wow! I can't say anything more... I wish I was there too!! Definitely need to go there soon, it is so amazingly beautiful. I will avoid the towns, no worries :) About the 'as' addition, I met some ozzies who really laugh there asses off when they hear that 'extension'. Apparantly, it is something they make fun off and the NZs hate the ozzies because of that! I guess something we dutch have with the Flemmish, and the germans with the austrians and swiss??? Back to the 'as' thing... I think I like the 'as' from the NZs better than the 'totally' of the americans!! ha ha
27th October 2010

What amazing scenery. I've just stumbled across your blog - you must be having a fantastic time, I'm very jealous!! One day I hope to do the same as you, travel the world with my camera :)
12th February 2011
The quintessential New Zealand picture (taken at Lake Rotoroa)

So serene - a lovely photo.

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