Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park/Waiau Pass blog | March/April 2014

What’s better than just walking straight out the door of your permanent accommodation with a mission to complete the Alpine Route late in the summer after having the odd issue that time the previous year, ie, my you-beaut boots turning into the slightly more fashionable, but not at all practical, moccasins?

This time it was the full version, a walk over to the terrific Pelorus River Valley, that’s joining the Te Araroa Trail, then southbound, up and over the Alpine Route, days of walking on ridges undulating around 1500m, taking in a few peaks with as good 360º views that are around, Mt Starveall, Mt Rintoul, Purple Top, etc, and after the Wairoa River getting up into the Red Hills.

In the end when I trudged into St Arnaud 14 days later, and the weather report for continuing a-mazing weather, I just kept on keeping on, three more big passes, Sunset Saddle up near Mt Angelus, Travers Pass, again, this time without snow whipping vigorously across and, finally, having been everywhere around it, Waiau Pass on a great day, eventually ending up on Day 22 at the Lewis Pass.

Yup, a great Little Adventure. 

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Nelson to the Lewis Pass | ebook

This blog has been converted to a 15,000 word ebook, Nelson to the Lewis Pass. There are prunings and additions to the original blog text to make it read more, umm, book-like. You can download it at Amazon.

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Day 1 | Rocks Hut, not quite fine weather, yet

Pelorus River valley from Dun Mountain, almost in Mt Richmond Forest Park

So, as stated, the weather forecast for the next week is as good as you could hope for this time of year, and calm, that’s important.

The reality is this morning is somewhat different, the calm portion is right, but it’s more mizzle than drizzle, and damp cloud obscuring the view of the hills, and, of even the valley.

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Day 2 | Middy Creek Hut, back here again

Pelorus River, Mt Richmond Forest Park

On the way down to the Pelorus I make the acquaintance of another couple of young wekas, that makes the count four in less than 24 hours, are they still on the endangered list?

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Day 3 | Roebuck hut, and plenty of company

Pelorus River, Mt Richmond Forest Park

Roebuck? 4.5 hours says the sign, no worries.

So I had my morning coffee, and then another chatting to the two gals, they left for Rocks at 9 am, I, well, sometime later.

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Day 4 | Hacket Hut, not so far from the roadend

Totara Saddle, Mt Richmond Forest Park

Then the long trudge up to Totara Saddle, is that what I’ve been trying to avoid this morning? It starts steep for a 200 m grunt then just slowly sidles its way along, some bits almost overgrown, a few big trees, windfalls, to get around, DOC seems to have only made a minimal effort on track maintenance here.

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Day 5 | Slaty hut, just above the bushline

Pelorus River from Mt Starveall, Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park

Climbs, yes, a day of it, views, an afternoon of them, mostly of the astounding type.

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Day 6 | Old Man Hut, perfect spot for me

Mt Rintoul from Slaty Peak, Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park


How often do you get a day when it all comes together: location, weather, scenery.

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Day 7 | Old Man hut, on the seventh day he rested

Old Man Hut with tomorrow's Little Mt Rintoul, Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park

Other than that it was me and my goats, occasionally peering out to see if the wind had changed to the south. I’m just about to scoff my dinner and the wind is still powering in directly from the west. No rain, just that full on wind.

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Day 8 | Rintoul hut, on a high up here

top of Mt Rintoul, Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park

Wow. Like, super wow.

That’s about the best day’s tramping ever.

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Day 9 | Mid Wairoa hut, no superb views tonight

from Purple Top, Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park

If yesterday was pure exhilaration today was more about toil.

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Day 10 | Top Wairoa hut, on the border with the Red Hills

Wairoa River near Mid Wairoa hut, Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park

Yes, the sun is shining, the view is just fine sitting perched above the hut, Day 10 of this jaunt, not a worry in the world.

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Day 11 | Hunters Hut | but no gun wielders make an appearance

Top Wairoa hut, Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park

Perhaps a certain complacency has set in, I didn’t leave Top Wairoa Hut until after 10 am, then spent hours just sitting on the ridge contemplating, well, not much.

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Day 12 | Porters Creek Hut, I kinda like this place

Porters Creek hut, Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park

With the rumours of a lack of water proving unfounded, there’s no compelling reason to keep blasting on, so here I am basking in this early autumn afternoon sunlight, ventilating my toes and starting to feel a glow to the cheeks.

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Day 13 | Red Hills hut, last night on the Alpine Route

Right Branch of the Motueka River, Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park

Another beaut day, do I need to say much more?

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Day 14 | St Arnaud, time for some replenishment

Wairau valley near Red Hills hut, Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park

The obligatory welcome back pie, then a banana and an orange.

It’s great to be back in civilisation.

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Day 15 | Angelus Hut, hey, this place is still special

Robert Ridge Track, Nelson Lakes National Park

A great day’s walk, some rock hopping required, with boulders on slopes, not at the level of my recent times on Mt Rintoul but nerve inducing for the unaccustomed I would think. Then, you pop over another ridge and there is the Angelus hut in its picturesque location adjacent to the lake, mountains all around, it really is a fully handsome site.

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Day 16 | Hopeless Hut, but not hopeless by any measure

from Mt Angelus, Nelson Lakes National Park

The morning is cloudless, of course, I’m well used to this, the early morning light leaving some rocks to the east beautifully silhouetted, then when someone gets up they ask, where has the lake gone, the reflection is perfect, looks like rock.

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Day 17 | Upper Travers Hut, look, fellow trampers

Travers River at John Tait Hut, Travers-Sabine circuit, Nelson Lakes National Park

For all the luxury and expansive views of Angelus Hut, I have to say I prefer the immediacy and confinement of the views here, and as for the hut, yup, she’s my favourite to date on this trip . . .

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Day 18 | Blue Lake Hut, hey, I recognise a name in the hut book

Travers Saddle, Travers-Sabine circuit, Nelson Lakes National Park

Then you throw yourself into the East Sabine valley with a 1000 m drop in quite a hurry, at the river is a bridge at the start of the gorge, possibly not required, you could hop across, the river is 20 m below in a cleft, churning and mostly unseen.

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Day 19 | Caroline Creek Bivvy, who would think I'd be back here so soon

Waiau Pass, Nelson Lakes National Park

Gee, that word “steep” is getting a workout today. Maybe I’d better remind readers that the word steep is defined in NZ tramper’s vocabulary as “a slope of sufficient angle as to require squeezing the juice out of the tussock” but today there was scant tussock to grab, for the most part those scree slopes had nothing fixed with which to cling.

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Day 20 | Christopher Hut, more gloom

Waiau River valley

Farewell sunny Nelson, hello gloom.

Oh, and Canterbury.

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Day 21 | Cannibal Gorge Hut, last night on the trail

near Christopher Cullers Hut, St James Walkway

6 am.

Yup, that’s rain.

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Day 22 | Back in Nelson, not quite so easy

upper Maruia River, St James Walkway

Okay, so the walking is over, except for that last section up the hill in town, the hardest part is about to start, getting a lift back to Nelson.