Waiau Pass track

Day 132 (Wed 31 March): Anne hut to Waiau hut 

Started 8.20am, finished 2.45pm, 26k.

Pain in the head status: No head pain. Also sleeping exceptionally well – the insomnia disappeared as mysteriously as it arrived.

Word of the day: Dubeity, doubtfulness.

There was definitely some improvement on the gastric front this morning with no aches and pains overnight, although I still needed to take anti-nausea tablets. At least I was able to think about food without revulsion. Fortunately it was another easy hike, mostly flat and following a 4WD track for two thirds of the way.

We soon diverged from the St James walkway onto a virgin track again, the Waiau Pass track. This way our boots have never trod, these vistas we’ve never seen, these sandflies we’ve never fed, this grass we’ve never watered. It was stunning, a fitting introduction to the beauties of Nelson Lakes National Park.

Where did that rock come from?

Once again, the weather we experienced cast dubeity onto the forecast, as it was supposed to rain but we had to crack open the sunscreen at lunchtime. We did get a shower just before dinner but by then we were safely ensconced in the 6-bunk very new (officially opened 2018) Waiau hut, undertaking an eradication of the sandflies inside so we could eat unharrassed.

Waiau hut

I have to say that although the sandflies are annoying, I do seem to have become partially immune to them. When they bite, it might itch and burn for 10 minutes or so (or it might not bother me much at all) but then it fades away. I might be left with a small red dot on the skin but more often no mark at all. At the beginning of the trip, I would develop welty lumps after being bitten which would itch for days. I kind of thought sandfly immunity was a myth but I’m losing my scepticism. That doesn’t stop me squashing them at every opportunity though. There aren’t enough native birds to keep them in check so I have to do my part.

A few of the thousands of geese around here

Note on Waiau hut: This was built due to a donation from retired Timaru farmer Robert Birks, who wanted to give something back after years of excellent hiking experiences in these parts. It cost $155,000 which seems like a bargain given its stellar location and million dollar views. I suppose the river crossings to get here might put some people off. And the sandflies. And the long drop. And the lack of Wi-Fi. No Netflix, no internet, only the hut book and an Ernest Hemingway novel to read. It’s awesome.

Day 133 (Thurs 1 April): Waiau hut to Blue Lake hut

Started 8.25am, finished 4.30pm, 15k.

Pain in the head status: Woke up around 6.30am with a stabbing pain in the neck. I thought it might be pillow related but then I suddenly remembered I had forgotten to take my hormone replacement pill last night- the pill that I take to prevent hormonal migraines. After kicking myself, I took the hormone pill then took a migraine pill, after twigging that the neck pain was a migraine. I’m not sure how this habit I’ve been keeping for months (taking a pill in the evening) suddenly drops out of mind one night. But fortunately, the pain disappeared by the time we started walking and the rest of the day was pain-free.

Word of the day: Pusillanimous, timid, cowardly or irresolute.

Where we would have stayed without the new Waiau hut – thanks Mr Birks!

It was misty and overcast in the morning, but not raining, not windy and not too cold so we set off to tackle Waiau Pass (1870m). Waiau Pass has the reputation of being one of the hardest days of the trail – for us, 1000m up with rock scrambling and climbing to get to the top, then a steep drop down scree and boulders to Lake Constance. The weather forecast predicted the clouds would clear so we hoped this would hold true and not turn out to be an April fool day joke.

Happily, the forecast was spot on. We walked up the noisy boisterous Waiau river, wetting our feet in it far too many times, until we reached the upper forks of the river. This trip has severely diminished any pusillanimous attitudes towards river crossings.

We sidled up beside a waterfall and had lunch before tackling the steep climb. As we climbed, the clouds lifted and the sun appeared, fully illuminating the rugged toothy peaks in all directions. Waterfalls gushed off the slopes wherever we looked. The worst part of the climb was having feet frozen from the icy river crossings, so I couldn’t feel my toes. Otherwise, the rock climbing was kind of fun.

On the other side of the pass, we looked down on the green-blue jewel of Lake Constance, in a bowl of spectacular mountains. Then past this, the crystal clear Blue Lake, embraced by mountain beech forest. Blue Lake has some of the clearest water in the world, transparent to a depth of 70-80m, as if it had been distilled. The challenge is to keep it from being tainted by hikers who pretend to be unable to understand the signs asking people not to wash themselves or anything else in the water.

Lake Constance

Blue Lake hut was quieter and pleasanter than the last time we had visited on a trip over Moss Pass. At that time, it had been raining and the hut was full to capacity, mostly with annoying ultralight SOBO TA walkers who were waiting at Blue Lake hut for the weather to improve, not having any wet weather gear to go over Waiau Pass because of their ultralight ethos. There were only three other hikers this time – two Kiwi TA section walkers and a French through hiker, none of them annoying or ultralight, happily. The hut warden that was supposed to be patrolling the hut apparently got airlifted out by a rescue helicopter this morning with her child so we had no new weather update. But we know what’s ahead- we’re back on a track we’ve done before so it feels safe and known.

Blue lake/Rotomairewhenua

Astronomical highlight: The night sky was so clear that before the moon rose i could see hundreds of stars. The last thing I saw before closing my eyes was Orion’s belt from the window beside my bunk. Priceless.

Blue lake hut

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