Clarence-West Sabine-East Sabine-Waiau Pass-Maling Pass

Easter 22-25 April 2011

Three trampers—Chrys Horn, Carl Shawcross and Kerry Moore—were motoring by 0640 in good weather, headed for Lake Tennyson. The Jacks Pass road is not sealed. Nor is Tophouse Road which makes for a slow, pothole-dodging drive. The road goes past the Fowler Pass and Maling Pass tracks which are now part of an intermediate-grade cycle-way.

By 1040 we were walking alongside Lake T. Then it was up the Clarence Valley over easy, low tussock. Near its head the Clarence climbs steeply and turns sharply. We had a choice of sidling and climbing, climbing up a gully, or going further up to avoid bluffs. We chose the gully route and passed close to an interesting waterfall. The all-the-way-up route is worth a try. Soon we were traveling east up a gently sloping valley head. The terrain gets bouldery and then climbs more steeply on scree to reach the 1900m saddle under Belvedere Peak. There was a little snow on south-facing slopes which was easier to climb on than scree. We made a brief stop just short of the saddle to avoid the brisk, chilly wind. Moving on, we were now in the headwaters of the East Sabine River. A sidling descent looks like a good idea but bluffs get in the way. The best way into the valley seems to be down tussock slopes. Further down the valley we didn’t enjoy the lumpy terrain with low scrub and tall tussock, so the going was quite slow. Darkness threatened before we reached the promised campsite in beech forest. By the time we found the excellent site close to the river we had struggled through scrub and dense beech with torches employed. Chrys pitched her eclipse one-person tent. Carl pitched his light-weight Vango Helium 200 two-man tent. Kerry cooked soup-flavoured macaroni and cheese. We ate dinner contentedly, skipped dessert and went to bed in cool, dry conditions.

The predicted rain for Saturday arrived early so we breakfasted in light rain and then packed our wet tents to set off. With no official track the going was slow. Sometimes we found good remnants of track but lost them when they came to areas of windfall. Sometimes the riverbank was navigable but then we’d hit awkward scrub. With steady rain we didn’t stop for more than a few minutes to stoke up. We reached the Travers Track and suddenly we were able to cruise. Soon we were alongside the West Sabine River and got to WS Hut at 2pm for a hot drink and lunch-stop. Knowing we could run out of daylight to reach Blue Lake Hut we were away again by 2:20. Halfway to BL Hut we were stopped in our tracks by a swift side-creek. We bashed a little way up this creek where we found a flatter gradient with a more even, slower flow and crossed. We arrived at the hut as it was getting dark and were surprised to find the PTC Moss Pass team there. They’d decided that Moss Pass would be unpleasant in the rain and planned to retreat back out to Lake Rotoroa. The hut was full and everyone was trying to dry their gear but with very little firewood the only heat came from warm bodies. The hut walls were dripping with condensation.

In the morning the rain was more intermittent. Some of the Moss Pass group went for a walk to Lake Constance. We three set off for Waiau Pass via Lake C. The map shows a route going on the west side of the lake and we found the way well poled for a time but then there seemed to be a gap or we missed a pole. We started to descend and then thought better of it and climbed back up to find the track, well trodden and poled. It took us above bluffs and through some craggy little gullies and dropped us on the lake shore for an easy, flat walk to the foot of the slope leading to Waiau Pass. A steady 400m trudge in light drizzle on a poled route got us to the pass. We’d left the hut at 0830 and we reached the top at 1230. The descending track heads down a SW-facing spur to avoid bluffs below Waiau Pass. For a while we had serious rain and the track became a little river. Soon we were on flat tussock and heading to a scrubby section of track alongside some impressive Waiau River cataracts. We were relieved to find that recent track work had tamed the scrub. We had to team up to cross a vigorous side creek and then onto the first patch of mature beech which revealed an excellent campsite. After discussion we decided to push on to give ourselves a shorter final day. Here we had a dilemma. If we played it safe and stayed on the left bank of the river we’d have to make our own track through dense vegetation. Across the river was an excellent, well-maintained track and a useful biv—Caroline Creek Biv—but we’d need to find a way across the Waiau the next day. If the rain persisted crossing may have been impossible. We tried the first option and made minimal progress pushing though dense phyllocladus, so we took the easy way and crossed to the track. Sections on bouldery scree proved slippery but the track was mostly very good. Carl’s high-spec GPS told us it was 4km to the biv. People we met going up-river towards Waiau Pass told us the biv was leaking. This wasn’t apparent to us because the rain was minimal and they’d tracked lots of water onto the floor. We added to the wetness of the floor and only Kerry was game to sleep on one of the two stretched canvass bunks. Chrys and Carl tented.

Easter Monday was cloudy with no rain. A track sign at the biv said it was an 8 hour walk to the Maling Pass car park. We crossed the Waiau with ease and connected with the Maling Pass track. The pass can be crossed by bike or 4WD with good ground-clearance. As we descended we met people going up in a Subaru Legacy. Such cars are low-slung so the vehicle was scraping. It would be interesting to know how they coped on steeper bits and stream crossings. When the track leveled out we took a shortcut over wetland to the Tennyson lakeshore and along a vehicle track to our waiting car, saving a longer hike along the road. Tramping time was 6 hours. As we drove to Hanmer we could see that it was Canterbury’s turn for bad weather and the predicted southerly was arriving. We were back in town by 5:30pm.

Last time the club did this trip, Nick Webb chose to camp at Lake Tennyson to get an early start for the long first day. With our strategy and Easter falling in late April we ran out of daylight and needed torches to hunt for the campsite. This trip is a handy circuit saving lots of motoring to Nelson Lakes NP but then you have the pressure to get back to the car in bad weather. If the weather had forced us to exit to Lake Rotoroa, retrieving the car would be awkward. Carl, a recent migrant from England bore up well and didn’t complain too much about wet clothing and the weather. He’s encountered worse in the Faulklands. (KM)

Carl at the head of the Clarence River