Te Araroa Trail – Waiau Pass (Blue Lake to Waiau Hut)
I was woken at 5.15 am this morning by a mouse running around inside the fly of my tent around my head. I’d seen him at 10pm last night on my pack in the vestibule, and he continued to make a nuisance of himself for most of the night.
I left Blue Lake hut at 6.45 am. The clouds were low on the mountains. It took an hour to climb up to the top of the landslide/dam, which created Lake Constance.
Lake Constance Te Araroa Trail Waiau Pass
The track headed up a poled route of scree, to a rocky bluff overlooking the lake. Had the sun been out, it would have commanded amazing views of the lake with the Franklin ridge behind. As it was, all I could see was the lake itself and none of the mountains. There was only a slight breeze, which swirled the mist around.
After crossing the bluff the track descended very steeply to the lake bed and continued around the valley floor. I took things VERY carefully as it was pretty slippery.
At the base of the track up to the Waiau Pass a Kiwi chap Kim caught up with me and we looked up at the route as we planned our ascent. The weather wasn’t terrible, but because of the cloud cover, we couldn’t see the pass we were heading over (which might have been a good thing, we knew it was big!!) but we were pleased to see that the route was poled.
I took the lead and we slowly started the ascent. We were looking at about 500m very steep climb – mostly over scree, rocks and boulders. The scree sections weren’t too bad. It was pretty solid, there was a vague path and there was foliage and grassy patches in some places. It got high very quickly!
I was walking in the cloud so couldn’t see anything except the immediate 200m around me. Sometimes I had to wait for the cloud to move before seeing the next pole and the route. I’m not sure if the cloud was a good or bad thing… On the one hand I was missing the epic views (this is section is detailed in the trail notes as a TA highlight) but I wondered if I had been able to see what was around, whether I’d have been a bit scared!! The trail was pretty close to some very steep plunging drop-offs in parts. It was also a bit disconcerting to walk over boulder fields so high up which were essentially ‘hollow’ underfoot.. i.e I knew there wasn’t anything solid under there!
I reached the Waiau Pass (1870m) at 10.15am and had a celebratory peanut butter wrap, while I waited for Kim. We hung around for another 15 minutes because the cloud was breaking, and eventually it cleared enough for us to see the Spenser mountains, St James range and Waiau river to the South through the pass. We looked back to where we’d come from and could just about see Lake Constance.
The Descent off Waiau Pass
The cold forced us off the top. Kim took the lead descending the pass, as he was faster on the downhill than me. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the descent. I’d read other people’s blogs that mentioned the difficult climb-down and had been a little nervous about it, but I really enjoyed it.
I stowed my poles and zoned into climbing mode, easily finding hand & footholds amongst the jagged rocks. There were no really steep drop-offs either side, it was more like climbing between/down the rock.
The rest of the descent was easy enough and at 12.30pm was down.
From there it was a 9km walk along the Waiau River. The trail was pretty flat from here but really varied, through beech forest, over numerous huge boulder/rockfall/scree fields and a little sections of grassland.
There were numerous crossings of the river too, and some were pretty swift. Kim had gone on ahead but as we neared the hut, he waited for me at one crossing point, and we joined up to cross together as I’d been shown in my river course pre-TA. I was really grateful to him for waiting, as it was much easier for me to cross as a two.. one of us being a tall Kiwi chap.
We reached the brand new Waiau hut in the St James Conservation Area around 4.15 pm. This six bunk hut was officially opened just a couple of weeks ago. It was a great little hut, but there were millions of sandflies!! It got full pretty quickly. I was camping as usual and another couple joined me.
Just as I was going to bed local Waikato photographer Lost Kiwi a.k.a Mike Vincent turned up! He’d put in a huge day from the Upper Travers hut.