Before heading out to our next adventure we had a full day of doing nothing at our disposal. While we loved the tramping so far, a day off is nice for a change, too. We used the time to collect the food parcel we had sent ahead to the Lodge - only to be very disappointed by our poor selection of food way back when we didn't yet know what we would like to eat. So we decided to go and do some additional shopping at the super-expensive Alpine Store, or more like a Gas station, to make the food we sent more enjoyable.
We also wanted some fresh food that we can't get on the trail while we had the chance, and since we had seen a little stall with eggs and vegetables by the road when walking in the day before, we first headed there to see what they had on offer- and how it was priced. Almost at the moment we walked out of the Hostel weather took a turn on us and we got into a torrential downpour. We waited that out under a roof and then continued our way. Dripping we good to the little stall, collected some eggs and paid into the honesty box. We love it, that this kind of system is widely in use here, people offer goods and services and you just throw the money into a little box. It seems that the world is still OK down here.
Afterwards we walked back to the Alpine Store to spend some 50$ on a bit of chocolate, cheese, some bread and juice. Man, the little bit do add up in places like this...
After a little lunch of leftover foods from the last section, we repackaged and prepare everything we'd need for the next stretch over the Traverse Saddle and then Waiau Pass, then did some laundry. Yay for clean clothes! Sooner that we wanted our off day was coming to an end and we sent ourselves to bed to get some rest for the upcoming section.
We weren't really in a hurry for the next section so we were going to start with a slow first day. That left us time for a nice breakfast with scrambled eggs, bread & cheese - just things we lately can't have every day.
Then, by now almost noon, we slowly started on our way out of St. Arnaud, walking along the Rotoiti Lake on the Lakehead Trail.
Our backpacks were super heavy with all the food we had packed for the upcoming eight days plus some leftovers from the last section. That didn't help to motivate us. Especially Tim was having a hard time today - he felt that we could have used another rest day. While the walking was good and the trail very well formed we just dragged ourselves along and didn't really get into a hiking mood.
That didn't really change until we completed the first 10km and arrived at Lakehead Hut. Which was totally crowded, packed with people and all their belongings. We really didn't feel like we wanted to stay there - and after all every step walked today would be one we wouldn't have to walk tomorrow. But the time estimate to the next hut was another four hours. And maybe that Hut would be just as crowded. What finally tipped us over was an entry in the hut book - the German guy that had been helicoptered out of the Richmond Ranges suddenly appeared in the book just today and he had walked on from the hut. We were keen on meeting up with him and asking about all that had happened.
So we started on yet another four hours of trail. Luckily the terrain started out really easy. We walked through wide grassy fields with the trail cut through them, it almost reminded me of the corn field labyrinths they used to have in late summer when I was a kid. That was a new type of trail for us and allowed for pretty good hiking speed. Unfortunately it also meant that there were no trees to give some shade and the sun was burning down like it wanted to turn us to ashes.
Later the trail came through forest sections again and both types kept switching back and forth. Our mood had by now brightened up and we were back in tramping mode. After a bit less than 3 1/2 hours we finally arrived at John Tait Hut.
While there were quite a few people there already, some we knew, like Ryan and Rebecca, a couple from US and UK, we also got to meet many new people. At the end of the day about 14 people stayed at the 27 bunk Hut, which left enough space for everyone to breathe. The atmosphere at the hut was friendly and everyone was interested in how the bunch of us walking the TA felt about the Trail. We on the other hand asked about where the others came from and how they had ended up at John Tait. Quite a few hiking stories were swapped before we all went to bed.
This morning the roles had changed and now I was the one that wasn't motivated to keep on walking. But we had planned only a short day, so we dragged ourselves up to Upper Traverse Hut so that we could walk over the saddle the next day. Only when we arrived there after approx. 2 1/2 hours it was not even 11am yet and just to early to stop walking. The Upper Traverse Hut is a really nice, fairly new Hut though and it was a bit of a shame to only stay there for lunch.
Nevertheless we packed up our things again after we had had some wraps with peanut butter and jam (yay!). The path up to the Traverse Saddle started with a DOC Sign asking us "Are you ready for Traverse Saddle?" - that gave us all sorts of worries but we continued on. Once again the sun was shining and in the higher altitudes with no shade from trees it was really, really hot. But going over the Traverse Saddle really wasn't all that hard. The path was very steep, but that way at least the ascent wasn't too long.
From the saddle we had some really great views across the still snow-patched adjacent mountain ranges and of course of Mt. Traverse itself. We enjoyed the views so much that we sat down for a 30 minute break, just to be able to take it all in.
But while the going had been super fast and even enjoyable, the way down once again was much harder. To get to the next hut, we had to walk down more than 1000m of altitude. And the path was very steep in most places, and therefore hard on our knees. We could almost hear them creaking and groaning.
The beginning of the descent led through rocky terrain, but soon we came into a steep beech forest where the ground slid around under our feet a few times. Perfect to renew the bruises on our butts, as we slid, stumbled and fell on our behinds a few times.
We felt so slow that we thought we would probably never get to the hut but in the end we arrived there about an hour earlier than the trail notes had predicted - had the way down not been so steep we would have probably been even faster.
West Sabine Hut was already pretty full by the time we arrived there, and more people came in after us. Most of them with the same plan and route tomorrow.
We spent dinnertime talking to a German couple, and another German girl all traveling through New Zealand doing a lot of tramping. They all had quite a few stories to tell and we enjoyed the insights on other trails and tramping experiences in New Zealand. After all we still don't know if we'll really be following the TA for much longer or instead focus on multi day tramps in other areas.
Since we had walked more than expected the last two days and our knees felt like they needed some time to recover after the descent from Traverse Saddle, we decided to do a short day today and only walk to Blue Lake Hut today. That's only a three hours walk, but it had a surprise for us.
To avoid getting wet shoes we cross streams by stepping from rock to rock - only today that didn't work out at one point and I suddenly sat in a cold mountain stream up to my chest. While I was mostly surprised in the first moment, I guess I was pretty lucky. For such a small stream the thing had quite a bit of current, but I had fallen right into a little pool. Otherwise the current might have pulled me, or at least some of my loose items like the trekking poles, right down into the bigger river just a few meters to our left.
After the first shock I then crawled onto the next rock and pulled my phone out of my pant pocket to pass it to Tim. Oops. I usually put that in a watertight bag for crossings but since this had just been a stream, and not a river, I hadn't taken that precaution this time. So now it was turning off the phone and waiting if it would later turn back on.
The rest of the days walk passed without incidents, but I was a bit more miserable than normal because I was wet all over. Luckily it was yet another hot, sunny day so I wasn't cold and later my clothes dried fast once hung up.
Once we got to the hut and we saw that it had only 16 bunks we already expected a full house tonight, but it ended up being more than full. By the end of the day the bunks were all filled, five people were camping outside and two sleeping on mattresses on the ground. That made us just a tiny bit worried about the 6 bunk Hut at the end of the section tomorrow, but after a bit of conversation we realized that most people would head back out across the Traverse-Sabine Circuit, while only the 9 TA hikers would continue on to the Waiau Pass Track.
Resources for planning this section of the trail. We highly recommend the Department of Conservation Website and Te Araroa Trail Website.
The Traverse Sabine Circuit is an Alpine Track that should only be hiked well prepared. The Mountain Safety Council have made a great video giving a general overview of the track and a lof of information on things to consider as well as safety precautions to take before embarking on the journey.