Poukirikiri/Travers Saddle: Alpine Tramping (Hiking) Series | New Zealand


Nelson Lakes National Park was once a
land of giant glaciers dominating the northern South Island. They have slowly
retreated over time carving out a spectacular landscape made up of alpine
lakes that lead up into the rugged mountain peaks of the Southern Alps. The park offers exploration opportunities for people of all fitness levels. One of the more advanced routes will take you deep into the park and over a
challenging Alpine pass. Crossing Travers Saddle is a challenging
bit of track that links Upper Travers hut to West Sabine hut. This section of
track will take you approximately 6-9 hours to complete and it is a part
of the greater Travers-Sabine circuit which is an 80 km 4-7 day loop that starts and ends in St Arnaud. Reaching the saddle means you
will already be a couple of days into your tramp, so make sure you know what you are committing to and are prepared for what’s to come. The best time of year to attempt this pass is from December through to April. It isn’t recommended to
walk outside of this period as snow covers the landscape forming complex
avalanche terrain, so avalanche skills and equipment are essential from May to
November. The average summer temperature sits around 2-8 degrees (C) and Travers Saddle sees approximately 179 days of rain per year. It’s important to remember that you will be in an Alpine environment, which means there is a good chance you will experience heavy rain, strong winds, snow and freezing
temperatures even in the height of summer. So you’ll need warm and
waterproof clothing as well as a good pair of tramping (hiking) boots. You’ll be a long way from civilization so a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is recommended as an emergency communication device. As with all walks and tramps in New Zealand, make sure you ‘Leave Your Intentions’ with a trusted contact and inform them when
you’ve finished your tramp (hike). You can find out more about ‘leaving your intentions’ at the Mountain Safety Council website The crossing of Travers Saddle starts
at Upper Travers Hut. From here you will gradually climb through an open alpine
field. This is a relatively easy start to the day but there will be a few boulders
and the constant uphill climb to navigate. Remember, the weather down here is not representative of what it will be like on the saddle so make sure you have
warm and waterproof clothing easily accessible at the top of your bag.
Towards the end of the valley the track takes a right-hand turn and the steepest
part of the climb to the saddle begins. Make sure you follow the orange marker
poles to stay on track as a wrong turn could easily put you in dangerous terrain. Pace yourself as it is physically
challenging and use your hands to help you. Some rocks scrambling will be
required. After navigating a few boulder fields
you’ll find yourself on top of the saddle. This is where you’ll be most
exposed to wind and rain, and visibility can be low, so only move forward if you
have the next track marker in sight. Make sure you take a break up here if
the weather is nice as you’ll have some of the best views in the park looking
back at Mt Travers. The descent begins with a scramble down a short steep section of the route. Immediately after this it’s easy to take a wrong turn in low visibility or if the route is covered in snow. Although the route may seem to head straight down, it actually bends to the
right as you descend so make sure you follow the orange marker poles to stay
on the right track. Don’t try to take a shortcut at this point as you can get
stuck very easily. The Southwest face of Mount Travers is dominated by avalanche
paths. This isn’t a problem when there’s no snow, but even if snow isn’t present
on the track there could still be a considerable amount in the upper parts
of the mountain which could avalanche under the right conditions down onto
the track. Keep to the route which follows the treeline to the left-hand
side of the avalanche path. This is a basic route that requires you to step
over rocks and tree roots. These can be slippery when wet, so take care not to
slip and twist your ankle. From this point onwards you’ll be out of the
alpine environment and will follow the valley all the way down to West Sabine
hut. Although Travers Saddle is a relatively
short section of the Travers Sabine circuit, it is a hazardous pass that
requires advanced tramping (hiking) experience. Only attempt to cross the saddle from
December through to April, but be aware that snow can still hang around during
the shoulder months. Talk to DOC staff at the Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre in
St Arnaud about your trip. To get the latest information on track conditions
make sure you check the official Nelson Lakes Mountain Weather forecast at MetService.com. Finally, if the weather is poor or this track doesn’t look right for you try the Lake Rotoiti circuit or Speargrass Track as alternatives. Now get out there, be safe and enjoy your alpine adventure! #MakeItHomeNZ


4 Responses

  1. Mike Cooney

    November 12, 2018 11:59 pm

    Hi NZ safety council….great informative vid…well done….shared and promoted you on my travel site https://wanderlust-adventurer.com/pages/what-will-i-need-to-take cheers Mike

  2. Shannon McAleer

    July 7, 2019 7:53 am

    The narrators lazy pronunciation of St Arnaud and Sabine is disappointing. Please make the effort to learn how to pronounce these culturally significant names correctly.

  3. Matt Williams

    September 18, 2019 11:17 am

    I think this series is fantastic in general, and the Great Walk Series is a really good educational resource for anyone tourists or new trampers thinking about them, but I'm a little confused about this video, it follows the same format with lots of little 'tips' and safety advice that anyone even remotely capable of attempting this tramp should know.

    Like seriously, if you're considering the Travers/Sabine and you don't know that you need a waterproof jacket and sturdy footwear, then this video can't help you…I actually feel that these 'dummy tips' serve to understate how serious a tramp this is.


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