On a previous trip to New Zealand in 2014, Jonno and I hiked (with some packrafting by Jonno) the Travers-Sabine circuit near St Anaud in the Nelson Region, at the northern end of the South Island.
It was one of the best hikes we’d ever done. Epic views, ridgeline walking, some hefty uphills and a little scrambling, beautiful river valleys… it really had it all. And best of all, the surrounding area was dotted with little huts, offering countless opportunities to explore and create a new itinerary. In particular, Angelus Hut – perched up high near a long ridgeline, sitting astride the beautiful Lake Angelus – was absolutely stunning, and Jonno immediately saw the potential for a winter snowshoeing trip there for a whole new kind of adventure.
So, when Jen and Todd invited us to their wedding in Kairoura, New Zealand in September – and mentioned that they were keen for a hiking trip with the crew of adventurous buddies who would be in attendance, we knew just the hike to suggest!
We were indeed a honeymooning bunch! Jen and Todd were still glowing from their wonderful wedding a few days ago, Tim and Martina were fresh from their Croatian nuptials a week earlier, and we were in the middle of our year-long extended honeymoon travels! We hoped all the love vibes might convince Jon and Jude to finally throw a big bash of their own (although they’ve held out for around ten years so far!), and Mike is as always insightful and generous with his reflections on love and life!
Day 1 – Up to Angelus Hut
We were finally parked at trailhead to Robert Ridge by 11:00am just outside St Anaud, after a detour past the DOC office to leave bags in safe storage and pick up hut tickets. Jude had broken her toe at Jen and Todd’s wedding, so they had headed off a little ahead of us all to get a headstart, and we planned to all meet for lunch at the shelter on Robert Ridge.
The climb up from the carpark is a steady set up of uphill switchbacks, and we were all feeling the indulgences of the last week! After an hour or so, we spotted Jon and Jude, who’d already broken for lunch. They were happy to pack up and keep going with us all a little further, and we soon reached the shelter. After windy lunch, we continued along the ridgeline with eyes on the clouds around us.
Robert Ridge was a little scrambly at times, with the snow covering the path in places and we alternated between picking our way through the rocks and walking on the firm snow.
Before we knew it, the sky began to turn pink, and we became surrounded by the most majestic sunset over the mountains around us.
By this stage, everyone had realised that Jonno’s predictions of how far the hut was weren’t to be trusted, so we kept walking with headlights as it grew dark around us, paying careful attention to the trail markers around us.
After controlled slides down a steep, snowed over hill, we arrived at Angelus Hut to find the fire going and another couple keeping Mike (who had beaten us there) company. It was Jude’s birthday, so as soon as we had changed clothes and gotten warm, we set to the business of celebrations, dinner, birthday cake and dutch stroopwafels – and a beautiful evening of laughing and swapping stories and philosophies of life, love and adventures.
Day 2 – Exploring the surrounds
We woke up leisurely to some yoga and coffee, before strapping on our snowshoes and heading out to explore the area around Angelus Hut. Jon and Jude opted to stay behind to give Jude’s toe a rest, and waved us off as we headed southwards, up onto the ridge in front of the Hut.
We ascended and then traversed along below the ridgeline with ease, however some very steep – and sketchy – sections were required in order to reach the ridgeline proper above us – with Jonno and Todd out ahead cutting steps while the rest of us watched and followed.
We had an early lunch admiring the views, and Todd and Martina’s acro-yoga, before realising that we would actually have time to scramble up Mt Angelus, which was standing tall just behind us.
Tim and Martina decided to head back to the Hut a little earlier, and as they didn’t have snowshoes, took the fast route down the snow slopes and blazed off into the distance.
The rest of us scrambled around on the rocks to the base of the scree field leading up to the summit. We dropped our packs, and puffed our way up through the slippery scree. After about half an hour, we found ourselves on the snow with just a short burst up to reach the summit. We were well rewarded with panoramic views of the mountains around!
We scree-skiied our way back down to our packs, and then set off in Tim and Martina’s foot (and bum-sliding) prints. It was a relatively easy traverse around to the west and back towards the Hut, where Mike stopped for a swim in an open section of the otherwise frozen in lake – the rest of us watched and shivered in amazement (it turned out that Tim had done the same just a short time before!).
Day 3 – down to Sabine Hut
We woke up early keen to make a good start, hoping to reach Speargrass Hut so that our final day would be a short one.
We reached the treeline under the snow by lunchtime, and had a break to eat here fore heading on. Once within the trees, there was a lot of scrambling over fallen trees and wet roots, which slowed progress substantially. The clouds overhead were darkening, and by the time we reached Sabine Hut it was raining. We decided to pull up for the day and brave the notorious sandflies that plagued this particular hut – and all dived into Lake Rotoroa for a swim before hitting the tea and snacks.
Day 4 – fallen trees and missing water taxis
We woke early the next day, as we needed to cover a lot of ground in order to be sure to get back to our cars and to the DOC office before it shut to collect our bags.
We set off in the drizzling rain, and within metres were faced with a thick tangle of fallen trees. As we wove over, under and through the trees and thick undergrowth, slipping on wet roots and mud, we realised that this could take much, much longer than we had anticipated. Jude’s toe was certainly feeling the strain, and she and Jon decided to head back to the Hut to see if they could call a water taxi to come and collect them.
The rest of continued on with our slow progress, losing the trail at times, and were greatly relieved when around 1.5 hours out from the hut, the trail became clearer and we could stretch out our strides.
We continued on and crossed a swollen river with a variety of techniques, reaching Speargrass Hut for lunch. We realised that we were making good time despite the morning’s delay, and powered on in the afternoon to reach the carpark by 3pm. We picked up all the vans, and headed over to the DOC office to collect our bags – expecting to see Jon and Jude waiting there for us… but no luck!
After a few phone calls, the DOC officer informed us that someone had indeed tried to call the water taxi, but hadn’t been able to connect through. We realised then that Jon and Jude would likely try to walk out with Jude’s broken toe. They might make it to Speargrass Hut and stay overnight, or they might get all the way out that same day. With no way to contact them, all we could do was return their van to the trailhead, hike the keys for them, leave a note to let them know where we were and hope that all would work out!
Sure enough, we had all no sooner settled in to the Alpine Lodge and showered, when they walked through the door – having made excellent time with Jude powering on with her usual, indefatigable style! It was a great hike, with wonderful friends, and one we’d certainly recommend!