1. Travers-Sabine circuit, Nelson Lakes
Time: 3–5 days
Altitude: 1787m (Travers Saddle)
Start: St Arnaud, Lake Rotoiti
End: Lake Rotoroa
Opposite St Arnaud’s alpine store, follow the Black Valley Walk, through beech forest to DOC’s Kerr Bay campground on the shore of Lake Rotoiti. Join up with the Travers/Sabine Circuit along the shoreline to locate Lakehead Hut, some 15 minutes beyond the jetty. A well-graded track continues up river flats through open and forested sections to John Tait Hut, sited in a clearing with views of the rugged mountains above.
Beyond here the track continues up Travers Valley, passing turn-offs to Cupola Hut and Travers Falls – a short and worthwhile detour. After about three hours’ walking, Upper Travers Hut is reached on the edge of a large flat immediately below Mt Travers. From here a defined ground trail follows snow poles up to Travers Saddle (1787m) – a steady 450m climb.
Poles continue down the western face to the tree line, then down the eastern branch of the Sabine River. From the Forks, you will find West Sabine Hut a short distance upstream.
Te Araroa leaves the Travers-Sabine Circuit from West Sabine Hut and continues up towards Blue Lake and Waiau Pass. However, to complete the circuit, travel downstream on the true left of the Sabine River for about five hours, crossing just before Lake Rotoroa. Inside Sabine Hut there’s a radio set so you can call the local boat operator to pick up your party.
2. St James Walkway, Lewis Pass region
Time: 4–5 days
Start: Lewis Pass car park, SH7
End: Boyle River, SH7
The official Trail connects with the St James Conservation Area further north-east, as it clears Waiau Pass and ambles south to the environs of Ada homestead. That is an arduous 113km expedition and less experienced trampers can taste Te Araroa by walking the classic St James Walkway. Five large huts are spaced at even intervals, each about 15km apart.
Beginning at a tarn on Lewis Pass, a well-worn track descends steeply into Cannibal Gorge, then sidles along the bubbling Maruia River. The spacious Cannibal Gorge Hut squats in a grassy clearing. Past this, the easily graded track ambles alongside the Maruia, through delightfully lush beech forest and open fields to reach Ada Pass Hut, set into a picturesque alpine setting.
Ada Pass is shortly reached from the hut and beech forest gives way to open areas of tussock with tongues of mountain beech. Follow the banks of the Ada River until the confluence with Christopher River, where the track passes an historic cullers hut.
From Christopher Hut the TA Trail continues along the open flats of Ada River and swings south beneath Mt Federation to enter the Henry River Valley. A vehicle track passes through matagouri thickets and open, rolling cattle flats to the new Anne River Hut.
Walk up lush, green fields to cross a footbridge over Anne River. The track continues over Anne Saddle to access the Boyle Valley. Some parties prefer to stay at the rustic Rokeby Hut rather than share another big barn at Boyle Flats, an hour further on.
The trail follows the Boyle River downstream onto a vehicle track which meanders down-valley to the shelter and car park at SH7. Here, the Boyle Outdoor Education Centre provides accommodation, car storage and shuttles to/from the track-heads.
3. Harper Pass, Lewis Pass to Arthurs Pass
Time: 4–6 days
Start: Windy Point – Lewis Pass Rd SH7
End: SH73 near Otira
Altitude: Harper Pass (962m).
Harper Pass is named after Leonard Harper who at only 20 became the first European to cross the pass and reach the West Coast in 1857. Prior to this, Maori used the route to access pounamu. Later, in the 1860s, European settlers used it to reach the gold fields.
In the 1930s, the track was reopened and four substantial huts constructed by the Physical Welfare Division of the Department of Internal Affairs in an attempt to recreate the Milford Track’s model for tourism success.
On the West Coast side of Harper Pass, the route requires numerous crossings of the Taramakau and Otehake Rivers. Trampers with river crossing experience and skills will find these rivers passable in normal flows. Locke Stream Hut has a radio link to DOC’s visitor centre in Arthur’s Pass to obtain weather information. Extra food should be carried to enable trampers to wait until river levels subside.
The track starts at Windy Point with a spectacular swingbridge crossing of the Boyle River. It then sidles above the Hope River to the basic six-bunk Hope Shelter. Beyond here, the trail eventually breaks out onto grassy flats as it meanders to Kiwi Saddle (677m) and down to the shore of Lake Sumner.
Skirt the water’s edge and head up the Hurunui River’s true left, where the track slowly gains height to Hurunui Hut, with elevated views over the valley below.
Wander through manuka forest to the open flats of the valley floor and the Hurunui hot pools for an indulgent soak for weary bodies. Beyond this spring is No. 3 Hut – one of the 1930’s originals.
Other huts in the area include the rustic Cameron Hut and the cramped, double-bunk box Harper Pass Bivvy. Kiwis are present in the area in reasonable numbers and can be heard at night.
On the West Coast side of Harper Pass, the route drops steeply to cross the upper Taramakau River. Locke Stream Hut is another Physical Welfare classic. It was built in 1940 with hand-hewn timber by 65-year-old packman Sam Burrows and restored in 1993.
Further downstream, travel is easy through bush and open river terraces. There are, however, numerous crossings that become impassable after heavy rain. If the Otira River can be forded, trampers usually exit at the Aickens car park on SH73.
4. Cass-Lagoon Saddle, Craigieburn Forest Park
Time: 2–3 days
Start: Cora Lynn Rd off SH73
End: SH73 near Cass River Bridge
Transport: Mountain House at Arthurs Pass. Tel: (027) 4192354.
Easily accessible from Christchurch, this is a popular weekend trip for Cantabrian trampers and can be completed in less than eight hours by the fast and fit.
The route takes in a mixture of sub-alpine tussock, river flats and beech forest, and can be tackled by trampers with moderate experience. The Te Araroa website names this section the Harper River Track, which utilises part of this classic circuit. The road ends are 12km apart and require a car shuttle.
Near the car park is Bealey Hut, a basic six-bunker. From here the track climbs through beech and exotic forest before traversing the broad north face of Mt Bruce, topping out onto the open tussock country of Lagoon Saddle.
Board-walked sections drop down to the bushline. Lagoon Saddle A-Frame Shelter is a short distance further. Descend to the Harper River where numerous river crossings are straightforward in normal conditions.
West Harper Hut, with its dirt floor and canvas bunks, provides historical interest and welcome shelter. Beyond the hut the all-weather route follows Harper River to Hamilton Hut, a modern 20-bunker complete with wood stove and radio link to Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre.
From Hamilton Hut the 16km route climbs steeply to Cass Saddle, which can be avalanche-prone after snow-fall. The route out initially drops through beech forest then becomes a gravel bash, fording the Cass River a few times until the track leads across empty flats to the road.
5. Mavora Walkway, Southland
Time: 3–4 days
Start: Greenstone Station Rd, 40km from Glenorchy
End: Mavora Lakes Camping Area, via Mavora Lakes Rd and SH94
This trip is off the tourist radar, traversing a diverse landscape of lakes, beech forest and tussock country. While some sections lie within the World Heritage Area, much of the landscape has been modified over the years for farming. The track usually enjoys a relatively easy gradient – its highest point is 728m on the saddle at the southern end of Passburn Valley, where the track leaves Otago and enters Southland.
From the car park the track climbs above the Greenstone River and then descends to a swingbridge near the Caples River confluence. Cross here and continue on the track above a gorged section towards Slip Flat and then the spacious Greenstone Hut which gets busy during summer.
Departing the popular Greenstone Track, Te Araroa turns away and climbs to the Passburn Valley. Marker poles lead to Taipo Hut (eight bunks), near the Mararoa River.
From a footbridge over the Mararoa River, a poled route cuts across open country. Another swing-bridge leads to Boundary Hut (eight bunks) and a 4WD track which leads to North Mavora Lake. Careys Hut (seven bunks) is found at the north end of the lake, exposed to the elements and accessible by vehicle. The bonus of staying over at Carey’s is the wood-fired hot water shower.
The undulating 4WD track follows the lake edge, reaching the proper road at the lake’s southern end. Camping is permitted here for a small fee paid via a self registration system.