By Andy Carruthers (December 2018)

When I first visited Nelson Lakes in 2012, I was amazed by the beauty of the lakes and mountains. I knew I would be back but didn’t expect it to take so long. This circuit had been on my list for 3 years. After a Tararua mission in September I received some encouragement to arrange a trip. I referred to my trusty Classic Tramping book to kick off the planning. We booked flights to Blenheim for the Friday afternoon and planned to do the first leg to Angelus Hut on Friday evening. Hopefully we would get a starry clear night.

The route we were taking was the same route Tim had run a couple of summers ago with the addition of a side trip to Blue Lake (the clearest fresh water lake in the world). Tim had smashed this trip out in a day 14.5 hours!!!!! The tramping times said it was about 35 hours, I estimated we would take about 22 hours given we were travelling light and able to jog some sections.

Friday night was the leg on Robert ridge to Angelus, Saturday dropping down to the Sabine Valley, up to Blue Lake then back to and over Travers Saddle to the Upper Travers Hut. Sunday would be down the Travers Valley and out to the Robert Ridge car park. I saw the legendary Danny G (the holder of many of Tararua’s fastest known times) who recommended an alternative route for the Saturday of going up the D’Uvillie Valley and over Moss Pass to Blue Lake. Danny has spent a lot of time in Nelson and knows his stuff. I shared the suggestion with Ant and Marta and went searching for more info. I found a recount with some epic photos of Moss Pass. Wow, the passes in this part of the world are huge and very steep! I quickly emailed the crew to say cancel the upsizing plan — Danny G is a legend and I’m not. Stick to the plan.

The forecast was looking a little wet and a cold front early in the week was going to dump snow on the tops. We packed our micro spikes and walking poles to manage the white stuff. Squeezing one’s gear for a two night trip into a 20 litre running pack requires some good packing and only taking the basics. We wanted hot food so needed the cooker.

We got a snow update on the way to the airport from the DOC visitor centre — no need for micro spikes, which would lighten our loads. Friday night was clear and calm, Robert Ridge deserves its reputation as a fine trail run, lots of great run able sections. We run out of light for the last half an hour and arrived at the hut under lights. Angelus Hut is world famous for its incredible location and we woke to a beautiful morning. The section running down to the Sabine was one of those pinch yourself moments. We live in an extraordinary country!

We meet a couple of dads at Sabine Hut who had boated in with their kids for a weekend of water skiing. Cool spot to stay for a water ski weekend. We saw a few trampers and fishermen in the Sabine Valley, as the valley made for good travel and some nice run able bits. We dropped our overnight gear at West Sabine Hut and headed up to Blue Lake.

Not long into this bit I lost my footing and face planted into a bolder. My tooth punctured my lip and there was lots of blood. After some expert first aid from Marta, I was ready to keep heading to Blue Lake.

Blue Lake is spectacular and a must visit spot. I was getting tired by this point and after getting back to West Sabine, we had the big climb of the day — 1100m with most of it over 4km, so 31%. This is steep! The pass was misty and cold and rough going on the Travers side, we got to the lovely, empty Upper Travers Hut a bit before 8pm. Hanging out in these parts of the mountains is what makes these adventures for me.

What a huge day in the hills with a feast on the best nature has to offer, followed by hot food, warm hut and comfy bed for the night! On Sunday we ran out down the Travers. The day got clearer and hotter as we descended the valley. There were lots of folks out running around Lake Rotoito. After a nice cold swim we cleaned up before a cold beer and burger. Good times.


FMC thanks Andy Carruthers for his permission to reproduce this article, first published on his ‘Great Walk Adventures’ blog.