Day 90 | 2095km The Waiau Pass
Having had finished the Richmond Ranges, we felt quite relieved – after all, people say it offers the toughest portion of the Te Araroa trail. So far, we do agree with it, and as we got to the DOC office in St. Arnaud, we were asked if we had seen a missing hiker in the ranges. Unfortunately, we had not, but we hope the person will be found safe and sound.
On the last day of the ranges, we felt rather good, so we made a lunch stop in St. Arnaud and continued to the next part, the Waiau Pass Track. This day we hiked, again, more than 40km. We had been warned that on the South Island it is more difficult to cover distance because of the tougher terrain. For us this was a third time we managed to walk a long distance in one day.
The Waiau Pass is a very lovely track with a couple of harder sections. On the first day, we walked on a beautiful and touristic trail by the Rotoiti Lake. The Lake Headhut was full of both international and local hikers, and no wonder – the area was very beautiful. We went for an evening swim with some black swams and heaps of sandflies. Sandflies are here pretty much everywhere, apart from the mountain tops.
From the hut we had another lovely day walking in a valley upstream a river which eventually took us up to 1334 meters to Upper Travers hut. This path was surrounded by stunning mountains with still some snow on the tops. Slowly the clouds started building up bringing some evening rain. This was welcomed as the temperatures had been very high for several days.
The next morning the weather cleared up and we started heading Mt. Travers Saddle. The climb was steady and we were rewarded with some spectacular views to both valleys from the saddle. Unfortunately, an ascent is always followed by a descent. This time the descent was, as usual for the trail, rather steep down! We took a lunch break at West Sabine hut and continued again on a river track all the way to Blue Lake hut. This hut was located right next to blue lake which was tested in 2011 to be most clearest water in the world, with up to 80 meters visibility. It was a perfect place to rest the afternoon and prepare for the actual Waiau Pass.
We got great weather for the pass, and it happened to be on Hannele’s birthday too! She got a birthday wake-up with a hut candle and some tramping food gifts. This was a great day to climb up the Waiau Pass. On the way, we stopped with other hikers by the Constance lake to enjoy the views and cool down from the early heat. This would be a hot day and we would be the whole time on an exposed area. The Waiau pass contains a very steep climb up a scree slope. We found this tough but still enjoyable as the weather was good and there was no wind. A French hiker Matthieu was ahead of us, and as we got to the top, we discovered a birthday message from him on the path – you really become part of a hiking family on this trail and these friendships will endure for a lifetime.
Luckily, the downhill was not as steep as the ascent was, but it entailed a bit of mountaineering over rocky sections. We pushed all the way to the new Waiau hut, with some big clouds turning darker and darker as we walked down the valley. Not long after, the storm broke and we got soaking wet by the rain. Thunder was persistently in the valley for a couple of hours and at times the rain turned into hails. We were happy to finally reach the hut and light the fire! We could watch the river rise next to the hut and eventually even our trail to the hut had turned into a running stream. This really reminded us, that rivers should always be taken seriously here when they rise.
The following two days the rain was long gone, and we were back in the heat and scrutinizing sun. When we finally got out of the valley and got to Hanmer Springs to resupply, we heard that the temperature was 37,8 degrees, no wonder we felt exhausted and dehydrated. The weather forecast is predicting a tropical cyclone, and we’ll try get into the next section before the biggest part of the storm reaches us. Let’s hope for the best!