Last year I fastpacked a beautiful route from Lewis Pass through the Nelson Lakes to St Arnaud over the course of an evening and two days travel.



The first night was a brisk jog through the dark forests of Cannibal Gorge. I arrived late to an empty Ada Pass hut, but the fire brought some warmth.


The next day I crossed Three Tarns Pass with magnificent alpine tarns, and descended into the remote feeling Matakitaki valleys. There was a lot of treefall in the upper valley, but things slightly improved after reaching Bob’s Hut and turning up the East Matakitaki Valley.


After what felt like a long, hot day slogging through bush and river, I reached the upper valley headwaters of the East Matakitaki, looking up to D’Urville Pass. It was about 5pm. There I bumped into a woman who was setting up camp for the evening. She had crossed from Blue Lake Hut that day. It turned out to be Tara Mulvany, who was near the start of her four month Southern Alps Traverse.


I scurried along as I needed to get to Blue Lake Hut by that evening. Through the soft snow of D’Urville Pass, I could see across to Thompson Pass. These mountains had a wild, yet gentle feel to them.


I passed Thompson Lakes in the late afternoon and crossed more stunning views across to Waiau Pass at dusk, while looking over the waters of Lake Constance. I descended to Blue Lake Hut for a late dinner of Radix cooked over the meth-spirit cooker. It was a great 14 hour day covering 48km from Ada Pass Hut to Blue Lake Hut. The 16-bunk hut was completely full, so I had to sleep on the wooden floor! Fortunately, someone lent me a sleeping pad.


The next day after I met some of the hut occupants, I crossed Travers Saddle and ran all the way out the Travers River to St Arnaud. It was much longer than expected, but at least it was flat.


I arrived in St Arnaud around 4pm (a slightly shorter day of eight or so hours) and covered 45 kilometres, thanks to the mostly flat runnable trails.


I enjoyed the contrast of days, starting from the wild and remote Matakitaki region to the well-trafficked and sociable valleys of Nelson Lakes. As the Nelson Lakes area was my first experience of South Island tramping, it will always have a special place in my heart.



As I stumbled into St Arnaud, the Loop the Lake Race had just finished and some race marshals graciously offered me some leftover filled rolls.

I booked into the Backpackers, enjoyed dinner and an All Blacks rugby match at the pub, then hitchhiked back to Lewis Pass the next day with my dorm roommate, John from Christchurch.


But first, John had to tick off a few other Wild Things running club challenges to get extra points for the leaderboard. I was happy enough to sit in the cafe drinking some sweet drinks.

This article originally appeared on Alastair’s ‘Mountain Adventure Blog’ on 8 November 2021 and is reproduced here with permission.