Every successful undertaking starts with good planning. In the case of a ten night tramping trip this means that on day nine I still have enough food for at least three or four days. You know, enough for the planned eleven days and then some spare in case of that emergency that luckily normally doesn’t happen.
Planning means that I don’t forget that woolly hat and super warm cosy jumper for when it gets cold at night. Planning is having all those practical things in place: pocket knife, matches, cooker, gas, pot, rain jacket and pants. In other words good planning is all the boring things coming together that ensure that every project runs just fine. And what more could I want, right?
Well there is one more factor in everything and that is luck.
Luck is what I can’t plan, but what makes everything just that much better. It is the icing on the cake. Luck is what turns a smile on my face into a full-on big fat grin.
And luck on this trip mainly came in the shape of absolutely mint conditions. While I can obviously plan not to walk right into a storm or any other major weather disaster I can’t really know what the weather will do eleven days in advance. This time I could not have had it more stunning if I could have ordered the weather. Eleven days of blue sky, sunshine and almost no wind. Perfect conditions - luck!!!
Every morning I woke up to a clear sky. I watched the sun climb over the surrounding mountains. And often I stood still for a moment in awe of the transformation of a dark forest into a sea of light where the moss covered trees seemed to glow in goldy green colour. Or the endless little glitzy reflections of the world around me in the dew drops hanging in spider webs in wind twisted trees and the pastel colours in the sky that slowly change as the sun rises higher.
I find it very easy to get up before dawn when I am away to be part of that wonder of the day starting. And that is special for me because at home I am not a morning person to say the least.
My track led me from St. Arnaud up the Travers Valley which first leads along the lake Rotoiti and then follows the Travers River upstream. It is a track that leads through the forest a lot, with plenty of slippery roots to trip over, but it also has nice grassy clearings with good views of the surrounding mountains.
Half way up the valley I did a little detour and went up a side valley to Capola hut. A very rewarding climb. The valley itself seems to be covered in twice as much moss than everywhere else and given that it is off the beaten track I had the whole pristine valley to myself. The hut is just on the bush line and gives glorious views into the Mount Hopeless basin. And a little bit of exploring around the hut reveals a 360 degree view that is truly breathtaking. The fact that I had the whole hut to myself for the night just topped it off.
Back into the main valley and up river to the next hut is more walking through magical forest. Upper Travers Hut is on a clearing with a sign outside reading: “Are you prepared for Travers saddle?”.
Yes I felt ready and the climb up to the saddle was great. Wonderful landscape above the bush line, little streams and small tarns along the way and some honest steep climbing.
And here was my luck again. I was able to sit on the saddle for an hour admiring the view in the sun and still conditions which I was told is rather unusual.
Those moments make me very happy. I like to have to put some effort in to reach those vantage points and then be rewarded many times over with stunning views. The world seems very easy to me in those moments; everything seems possible. It is a great feeling to literally be on top of the world. I admit I like to go up so I can look down and the view there is truly worth it.
The descent on the other side into the Sabine valley is something my knees remembered for a few days after as it is relentlessly steep.
And then I did another detour up to the Blue Lake and a little further to Lake Constance. What gems! The Blue Lake claims to be the clearest lake in the world and I have to say that I have never in my life anywhere else seen such a clear body of water. The water is filtered through a big range of rocks and even from way above it one can see the bottom of the lake. Absolutely phenomenal.
Even in the middle of a moonless night when you shine a torch into the lake you can see to the bottom. This is something I have never seen before.
The view from Lake Constance is marvelous and I regretted that when I went on my little extra tour up to the lake I didn’t bring my full pack. I should have, because then I could have walked a little bit further on and spent a night camping. But I didn’t and to be honest Blue Lake Hut is a nice hut and slightly warmer than camping.
After a whole morning hanging out at the Blue Lake basking in the sun, breathing in and out, reminding myself that days like this are precious and needed from time to time to refuel and re-energize, I set off down the Sabine Valley. The Sabine River runs through both Lake Constance and the Blue Lake and is therefore very clear and has the most amazing turquoise colour.
Just before Sabine Hut the river runs into Lake Rotoroa. And if it wasn’t wasn’t for the army of sand-flies I would say Sabine Hut is in the perfect spot, but these little buggers really are annoying. From here there are a few options to go on. The easiest is to ring the water-taxi to pick you up as walking out along the lake is currently, after a slip took out part of the track, not possible. Then there is the track via Speargrass Hut back to St. Arnaud and then there is the option that was explained to me to be the hardest. And yes that’s what I did. Up Mt Cedric track. This really does not go left or right just a little bit, it goes relentlessly straight up for three and a half hours to reach Mt Cedric. From there it climbs further but in a much milder gradient.
But my luck with the weather meant that I was rewarded many times over for the climb by the view from above the bush line. I could see part of the track I had done over the last days as you can look up the Sabine River Valley but the most spectacular thing was that the lake I had just spent hours to climb up from was covered in clouds that were slowly lifting. And all the other valleys around were covered in clouds too that the sun slowly burned off.
When I first got above the bush line the world around me looked like one big lake with the mountains sticking out like islands. And slowly over the course of the next hour all those clouds lifted and disappeared to reveal the view of Lake Rotoroa again and I was just very glad that I had decided to get up very early and start walking right on dawn otherwise I would have missed that spectacle. The rest of the way to Angelus Hut where I stayed that night is just one fantastic view after the other. There were as before mentioned views back onto parts of the track that I had walked days earlier mixed in with views into the distance that you get when walking along a ridge line and the sight of the just ridiculously pretty Hinapouri Tarns made me literally laugh out loud in joy. Angelus Hut itself is on the shore of a lake and sitting out on the deck wrapped up in warm clothes with a cup of tea in one hand and some cookies in the other overlooking the stunning landscape can only do one thing: it makes you love life and appreciate the moment.
I think this very day was the best of the whole eleven day tramp. Because of the hard climb in the morning it is just so much easier to appreciate the rewards that come in perfect views on a still day.
From there the walk back to St. Arnaud via the Mount Robert ridge is, in good weather as I had it, simply great. It leads for the whole day along the top of the ridge with views far and wide. I can understand though why people warned me of it in case there would be bad weather. For hours on end you really have nowhere to hide and if the wind and rain gets you there you will be thoroughly battered.
As the trip was so awesome and my food supplies were still going strong I wasn’t quite ready for the world yet and decided to stay one more night up in the mountains at Bushline hut. The name says it all. It is on the bush line with views to St. Arnaud and Lake Rotoiti, all combined with a fireplace to keep you toasty all evening.
I talked plenty about the element of luck coming to me in the form of good weather but it also came in other forms. One of them was interesting people along the way.
Some of them stood out as they reminded me of my childhood. Two men from a little place in the Czech Republic just 30 kilometers from where I was born. Not only were they good company but they also reminded me of many hiking holidays in my childhood with good family friends in what used to be Czechoslovakia.
And the other ones standing out to me were a couple from Greymouth with their two daughters. They just seemed to be such a great team, working together so well and at 8 and 10 years old their daughters Katie and Libby were an impressive reminder what kids are capable of if you introduce them to an active lifestyle and make that interesting for them. Marjan, Jim, Libby and Katie you guys rock and I wished I would be half as fit as you! And when I talked to other trampers who had met you along the way I realised I wasn’t the only one impressed.
One more thing I want to write about and I would call the an element of surprise. Everyday I walked by myself because that is the nature of solo trips and tracks in New Zealand are not exactly overrun with trampers. There were a lot of fantails around and as they feed on tiny little insects that get disturbed when a tramper walks along you see them a lot. The surprise was they followed me around flying very close and accompanied me often for fifteen minutes or longer. Just delightful.
So to sum the whole trip up in one sentence: Planning, luck and surprise seemed to go effortlessly hand in hand on this trip and made it an absolute blast.