The sky darkened and we felt the first drips of rain, Heather expressed her dismay and displeasure at hitchhiking in New Zealand, the prolonged volley of expletives was all done all without the pleasant please “give us a ride smile” leaving her face. We had been waiting for 45 minutes for a ride to St Arnaud, hitchhiking in NZ was supposed to be easy, there was no shortage of cars, the problem was that they were all full. It was the Christmas holidays and everyone on the road seemed to have their whole family crammed in the car. We know this because almost without exception they slowed down and with an apologetic smile pointed to the back seat.
“Fuck there was room in that one” Heather muttered through her smile. “We could have packed in around grandma”
Eventually we managed to make our way into town, which was little more than a gas station, a chip shop and a hostel. A short walk out of the “center” we found the trailhead, the sky was still dark and foreboding, but the rain at least was holding off for the time being.
The trail leading to the first hut wasn’t terribly challenging, for the most part we followed a flat graded path with occasional views across the lake.
We were the first to arrive at the large hut, if you didn’t count the sand flies. Soon however we were joined by a large and very friendly tour group who were out doing the Angelus Lake track. Explaining to them which hike we were doing was not so straightforward as I seemed entirely incapable of remembering it’s name, the traverse of Sabine, no that was right, the Sabine Travers, perhaps the Sabine traverse, alternatively it could be the Travers Sabine, I settled for showing them on the map.
The following morning we awoke to clear blue skies, which was perfect as today’s walk was peppered with beautiful mountain vistas. The nights accommodation was the Upper Travers hut, ok so I can eliminate my traverse naming options. We had made it in good time, so decided to drop off our packs and hike up to the saddle. It meant that we would end up doing the climb again in the morning, but according to the weather forecast posted in the hut the morning would be bringing high winds and heavy cloud cover. So this “bonus” climb was the only way we would be able to guarantee views. The hot steep climb was worth it as we were rewarded with mountain panoramas wherever we looked.
The next morning the top was indeed shrouded in dense cloud, which justified the extra effort the day before and our already tired legs. We didn’t waste anytime beginning the decent, tired legs or not we wanted out of that cold wind as soon as possible.
The decent was seemingly endless, I had expected the trail to flatten off a little when we hit the tree line, but if anything it got steeper. With wobbly legs we arrived at the West Sabine hut for a spot of lunch. It was already packed with hikers which was unusual this early in the day, every available surface was covered in drying clothes, including all of the surrounding bushes giving the hut a ‘refugee chic’ look. It looked to be a couple of families that had taken over the entire hut, we were not sad to press on. The afternoon was comparatively flat, the only real challenges coming from the water crossing, but the cold water felt fantastic on my hot feet. The night was spent at Sabine hut, and as seems to be the norm in New Zealand huts there was no shortage fellow trampers to while away the evening with.
The next day was a relatively unspectacular hike, we arrived at the Speargrass hut early in the afternoon. As we sat with our fellow hikers exchanging tails from the trail we were interrupted by the sound of a helicopter. We watched through the window as it landed near hut, all beaming like five year olds. A ranger hopped out and jogged towards the hut. In the hut he enquired how we were feeling, and then explained that there had been an outbreak of the Norovirus and evidently the family at the West Sabine hut were ground zero. Before taking to the sky again he put up a few posters explaining the virus and deposited a brand new bottle of extra strength disinfectant on the kitchen counter and with that he was gone. Universally we agreed that he had a cool job and then all silently began to worry that we had been infected or that the person sat next to us was infected.
Our final day was short and by lunchtime we were trying to hitchhike out of town, again it took the better part of an hour, luckily a couple we met on our hike spotted us at the side of the road and gave us a ride. They dropped us off at a rather uninspiring DOC campsite at the side of a busy road. It was New Year’s Eve. We spent it hiding in our tent trying to avoid the ever present sand flies and later a downpour, we were asleep by 9pm. Happy belated 2017 y’all!