Press Photographer and Photojournalist

Travers Sabine Circuit Nelson Lakes National Park

Towards the end of November last year, Simin (my partner) and I completed our first multi-day tramping trip on the Travers Sabine circuit in Nelson Lakes National Park. This was by no means an easy task. Well,  for me at least. Simin is built for stamina. I’m built for small bursts of energy with plenty of rest stops in between! The Travers Sabine circuit is an 80 Km alpine tramp which navigates the Travers and Sabine rivers and head waters of lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa. The track winds its way from the village of St. Arnaud around lake Rotoiti, through tussock, alpine grasses, and mossy beech forests and climbs from the 600m starting point to 1787m on the Travers Saddle, taking in vistas of 2000 meter plus snow-capped mountain peaks.

We planned the trip to cover the full 8 days to allow for side trips, bad weather and possible rest days (which turned out to be a necessity). Being the committed photographer I am, and having managed to sell the story and pictures to a Nelson based magazine called Wild Tomato,  I planned to take a couple of different lenses, and an off-camera flash with remote triggers. Once I’d donned the 20 kilo backpack, I soon change my mind, and stuck with just the single lens. I did manage to squeeze in a few filters for good measure.

Here’s a link for those interested in more information about this tramp, including route maps and route profile:

Simin navigates her way through tussock en route to John Tait hut from Lakehead hut on the second day of the tramp. Mount Hopeless rests in the background as we follow the Travers river valley into the mountains.

Simin crossing the Travers river on a swing bridge between Lakehead and John Tait huts.

This was one of the many rest stops (not to mention all the photo stops) during that long and painful journey from Lakehead to John Tait hut. The distance on the DOC sign post say's 14.6 Km. I have to say, that doesn't sound very far. The 20 Kilo pack combined with walking a trail that's more obstacle course than footpath, certainly left me feeling seriously exhausted by the time we arrived at the hut. My memory is somewhat hazy here, and I think for good reason, but I do recollect stumbling along for the final few kilometers in a kind of trance. My body running on autopilot, as my mind struggles to deal with the aches, pains, and general mental trauma. Luckily my body (and more importantly, my mind) gradually got used to the aches, pains and tiredness that was my constant companion through out the trip.

Water filtered straight from a mountain stream. This was the first and last day that we used the water filter on the tramp. The mountain water was cold, crisp and fresh. It was the cleanest, most refreshing water I have ever tasted.

Another picturesque rest stop by the Travers river a few kilometers from John Tait hut. Mount Cupola rises in the background.

No comment required.

We arrive at John Tait hut exhausted and euphoric (for we can finally stop moving woohoo!) nine and a half hours after leaving Lakehead hut. A recent avalanche (one of many on the Travers Sabine circuit) leaves its debris of freshly felled tress and mountainous ruble close to John Tait hut.

Simin writes a journal entry after a long day at John Tait hut.

A DOC sign warns of the many avalanche risks which occur all along the Travers Sabine circuit. Avalanche debris fields criss-cross the tramping route at regular intervals and can become significant obstacles to negotiate, especially with tired and shaking limbs.

Mosses hang from beech trees shrouded in fog as they cling to the steep banks of the Travers river on the route to Upper Travers hut from John Tait hut.

Simin crosses an avalanche chute on the way to Upper Travers hut, which has carved its way through the forested, lower mountain slopes, destroying everything in its path, until it reaches the river below.

At a height of 1370 meters, Upper Travers hut is reached after a relatively short climb of 400 meters from John Tait hut taking approximately 3.5 hours. It rained consistently during the walk, which wound its way through beech forests scattered with moss-covered boulders, snared by webs of interwoven tree roots. With the heavy cascade of the Travers river pounding over huge boulders, and the drifting tendrils of fog, this could be the land of Hobbits and Elves, albeit a little less accessible for Peter Jackson.

After a wet and rainy 3.3 hour tramp, our boots, along with those of other trampers, dry by the warmth of a wood fire at Upper Travers hut. We sit in the hut with a warm cup of tea and watch the curtains of low cloud flow across the mountainsides.

The Vegetable Sheep. One of the many rock dwelling carpet plants, resembling cell cultures, which grow in the alpine areas above the tree line.

Simin sits by a tarn on the Travers Saddle, the primary source of the Travers river. I have to admit, the part I like most about tramping was, when I wasn't actually tramping. The opportunity to sit and be still, and to appreciate the sights, sounds and smells of the environment you are in isn't possible when you are constantly looking at your feet, negotiating the next mass of rocks and roots. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the physical and to a greater extent, the mental challenge that tramping poses.

Mountain ranges of the Sabine valley as seen from Travers Saddle.

Simin poses on the Travers Saddle.

I similarly pose on the Travers Saddle.

After our rest day hiking up the 400 meter climb to Travers Saddle (minus backpacks), we retreat back to Upper Travers hut for a sip of Nelson's Blood rum which helps to soothe and relax aching bones and prepares us for the next day's trip over the Saddle, fully laden!.

Are you prepared for Travers Saddle? From Upper Travers hut, Travers Saddle is a mountain pass which sits at a height of 1787 meters, a climb of 450 meters. A different story with a full pack!

Resting for a day at Upper Travers hut was certainly worth the wait, as we woke to clear blue skies and golden sunshine, and the full 2300m peak of Mount Travers, naked and fully visible, hidden by a blanket of fog the previous day. The walk up to Travers Saddle from Upper Travers hut meanders through alpine grasses and scrub, before ascending up a 45 degree boulder field (to the right of picture). Travers Saddle is reached after about two hours of rock hopping and scrambling.

Mount Travers basks in the sunshine above an ice-covered tarn.

The highlight of our journey. Sitting on a small rocky outcrop shouldering Mount Travers, a 180 degree panorama is visible of the Sabine and Travers valleys. Here I was absorbed in the serene stillness and silence of this place. It was deathly quite, except for the odd scream from circling Kea, a form of mountain parrot. The polarising filter causing a distortion in the rendering of the sky in the 10 image stitched panorama.

On the high altitude pass of Travers Saddle, tiny rock-dwelling carpet plants dominate, blanketing rocks and crevices.

Having just experienced the highlight of the trip a few hours earlier, the low point was soon to follow. The torturous decent to West Sabine hut, 1000 meters below. This route navigates alpine scrub, steep 50 degree descents dropping over steps of loose rock and roots, rock-hopping across broad boulder fields and, just when you think your trembling knees couldn't take anymore......... 800 meter long river of scree. The decent took Simin and I approximately three and a half hours. When we finally reached the bottom, exhausted, we happily collapsed on the trail for a desperately needed cuppa and replacement knee joints.

When we first started the tramp, the DOC officers at St Arnaud warned us that the swing bridge crossing the Sabine river, linking West Sabine hut to Sabine hut had been destroyed in a recent flood. Having planned the trip in advance, and adamantly not wanting to backtrack up the hideous climb we had descended the previous day, we were glad to find that Mother Nature had kindly provided for us a bridge she had previously destroyed.

Simin demonstrates the many root and rock "staircases", one of the many natural obstacles we had to navigate on the tramping route.

Tree roots capture the remnants of an ancient avalanche.

Boulders carpeted with water-loving ferns and mosses litter mountain streams. The remnants of ancient avalanches now frozen in time, entwined and trapped by the roots of large trees.

The early morning sun filters through the dense canopy of beech forest on route to Sabine hut. A warm gentle breeze meanders through the trees, and a pleasant bird song drifts on its currents. The pleasantries of not tramping.

Roots and moss.

An ideal picnic spot is formed by a break in the forest canopy and a fallen tree, making the perfect time for snacks and a cup of tea, before we arrive at Speargrass hut. The final hut of the circuit.

Flowers like small explosions dot the alpine floor during a side trip to Lake Angelus.

On the eighth and final day of our tramp we leave Speargrass hut for the final three hour walk through beech forest to Mount Robert carpark, where we are picked up by Nelson Lakes shuttles.

2 responses

  1. Thanks for the report and great pics. It is good to see a bit of the valley before I head in there.


    October 2, 2016 at 3:06 am

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