Nelson Lakes circuit | Nelson Lakes National Park, April/May 2013

Rather than ambling the well trod four or five day Travers-Sabine loop this trip was the full 14 day circuit of the park, from St Arnaud to D’Urville Hut, hopping into the Mataki, basically moving west, then up the Mataki to Bobs Hut, ie, just a day and a half from the Lewis Pass, then heading back via David Saddle in the fog, Moss Pass, Travers Saddle in the snow, back to St Arnaud.

The Nelson Lakes were well populated at the start due to the Anzac Day long weekend but once in the more remote parts, ie, Day 3, people seemed to find other places they would rather be for the next 11 days.

If you want to get away from fellow trampers, have the huts to yourself at night the upper Mataki and D’Urville valleys provide plenty of personal space, those long autumn nights give bulk time for introspection.

My story is …

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Day 1 | Speargrass Hut: that's enough, getting in from Nelson

 Beech forest in the clouds, near Mt Robert carpark, Nelson Lakes National Park

I haven’t tried the pack on for weight since I loaded it up with what I think, hope, might be a couple of weeks food and fuel, plus I’ve thrown in some crampons and an ice axe for additional ballast.

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Day 2 | D'Urville Hut: back again, I first came here, umm, a long time ago

The Sabine River near the lower bridge, Nelson Lakes National Park

Three shooters—one deer and one pig shot—full of stories, one trout fisherman working out the last days of the season, it ends at the end of the month, ie, less than a week, and a few more I’m not certain of their reason to be here, guess they’d just happened in.

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Day 3 | Tiraumea Hut: on my lonesome once again, bliss

The boys returning the second half of the pig shot yesterday | near D'Urville Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park

The climb up to the Tiraumea Saddle is the shortest of those around but even the 250m had me struggling, one of it’s features, brevity, is made up for with the steepness of the incline.

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Day 4 | Mole Hut: and not a mole to be seen

Up amongst the clouds towards Mole Saddle, Nelson Lakes National Park

With the 14 day time frame, may be a day or two less, I must admit I’m on a restricted diet: porridge and coffee for breakfast; some dates counted out for morning tea; a cube of cheese, another of high density fruit cake, I found some at a bakers in Nelson, you find it in any supermarket or country store in Australia, but this Nelson stuff is the most bullet-proof; for dinner an entree of a packet of soup, then I cook up a ⅓rd of a box of Barilla spaghetti as the main.

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Day 5 | Downie Hut: Matakitaki River, a big day but I made it

The Mataki Valley looks a bit like Shangri La, Nelson Lakes National Park

after a while I decided to take a short cut, maybe half an hour saving, by crashing through the bush then getting into electric fence territory. A new farming track led me down past the Mataki milking sheds, the green poultice smearing the road getting deeper as I approached, ankle deep at the shed, cows vaguely wandering past, not every day a tall shaven headed bloke in full tramping regalia walks on by.

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Day 6 | Bobs Hut: under the shadow of Gloriana

three wire bridge trick | East Mataki River, Nelson Lakes National Park

Rather than do the easy crossing of the Mataki immediately below the join of the East and West branches, I chose the wire walking experience instead, probably adding an hour to the trip but worth it for the thrill of hanging onto the three wire bridges, two of them, the rope wire tied to trees, me swaying wildly when attempting one handed photography.

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Day 7 | Bobs Hut: if you are in Paradise, why move on?

1ºC inside Bobs Hut, maybe much less outside, Nelson Lakes National Park

Not seeking to find myself, I’m after all pretty knowing of my condition and my place in the world. If it’s a midlife crisis it’s been going on way too long.

Self obsessed? Nah, not really.

It’s none of the above.

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Day 8 | East Mataki Hut: and the rain comes down

East Mataki Hut, just like every other photographer, Nelson Lakes National Park

The walking today was just fantastic. It’s obviously damp up here with the lichen on the bark of the trees, the club mosses and small ferns and small bursts of sphagnum moss to add to the vibrant tones of green.

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Day 9 | Upper D'Urville Bivvy: a tiny hut makes Mole Hut seem a palace

GJ Coop, one happy tramper, climbing up the almost steep slope to David Saddle, Nelson Lakes National Park

Just a hop, step, on the recently marked track to this tiniest of huts: two bunks, bench 600mm square, no dunny, a shovel is provided, just as darkness was crashing in.

A big, fun, crashing around day, but I guess that’s why I’m here.

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Day 10 | Blue Lake Hut: the clearest freshwater in the world

Moss Pass, Nelson Lakes National Park

It’s cloudy, misty, but always moving, glimpses, then for a short while it opens out, man, I’m way up here, that landscape is mighty spectacular. No big opening up of the view, just teases, but I get the picture.

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Day 11 | West Sabine Hut: with a raging fire, getting the socks dry, finally

Two Blue ducks, (Whio), on a very blue Blue Lake, Nelson Lakes National Park

They’ve taken the avalanche thing seriously in the upper West Branch, there’s considerably more devastation since the last time I was tootling around here 10 years ago. The hills are massively steep and there’s plenty of loose stuff from glacial days just holding on up there, down in the valley is occasional car sized boulders devoid of lichen or vegetation, clearly a new intruder just happily settled at the bottom of the cliffs now.

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Day 12 | Upper Travers Hut: 24 bunks, double glazing and just me

snow near Travers Saddle, Nelson Lakes National Park

There’s two ways to go tramping in NZ, corral up some best friends, or singular friend, become totally organised, and take off. Shared adversity builds lifelong friendships and you can enjoy excellent companionship out here.

If you don’t have friends, or it’s not quite the right timing for them, you can avoid being hostage to other people’s needs and just take off by yourself.

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Day 13 | Lakehead Hut: this hut's feeling tired, I'm feeling tired

Upper Travers Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park

Overall an intense, thrilling Little Adventure.

Tough, but not tough.

Today was walking almost 20km down the Travers Valley.

Not tough, but tough.

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Day 14 | Back in Nelson: and what about all those people?

Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park

The biggest difference is that there is so much sound: birdsong. That’s been almost absent in the desert of earlier travels. A Weka has just been released from one of the cat traps, they are a diminishing breed elsewhere, and Kiwi have been re-released here and are flourishing in the conditions.

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Later | Nelson: the wrap-up

Tiraumea Saddle | Nelson Lakes National Park

Highlights: the first 100m of the trip in the fog, or was it low cloud, in the red beech forest just past the Mt Robert carpark; those two fun three wire bridges at the Mataki Forks, although not quite as fun as the two wire bridge that one replaces; climbing David Saddle and finding the immense white void on the other side, like, where’s the track; Blue Lake revealing itself through the cloud on the descent from Moss Pass; the pair of Blue ducks on the extraordinarily blue Blue Lake, any wonder I call my new business venture bluelake ; the whiteout conditions on Travers Saddle; and these mountains with a first winter sprinkling of snow.