Monday, 24 April 2017

Tramping Skills: Building a fire

Holy blazes.... fire starting, a vital outdoor skill!

The ability to build and light a fire when required is still a vital piece of tramping knowledge. Although the use of the fire as a cooking method has waned, fires built for heating, drying and survival purposes still have a place in the outdoors. 

Blazing fire in Lakehead Hut on a cold rainy day

I have no pretensions as an expert on the subject, what follows are just a few tips I have picked up along the way.

Do I REALLY need a fire?

 The very first question you need to ask yourself is 'Do I really need to light a fire'?

Most people will say yes, but actually for much of the year a fire is total overkill. Rather than lighting a fire why don't you put some more clothes on?

 If you are sitting in a hut and it is 30 degrees outside it would be madness to start a fire. You may laugh but this has happened to me a couple of times. One blistering hot summer afternoon I arrived at Boyle Flat Hut where two Swiss hikers had the fire going. The hut was 45 degrees hot! They had all the windows open because it was too damn hot in the hut to sit inside.

I suggested politely but firmly that possibly that wasn't an awesome idea...

Blazing hot 30 degree day on the St James- not a good day for a fire!

Again if you are camping and it is raining it would also be mad to start a fire. You are going to find it hard to find dry wood, the rain will dampen your fire and you would be sitting outside getting warm on your front and wet everywhere else.

You need to pick if and when you are going to light a fire carefully.

When is a fire appropriate?

Good question. Here are some things to consider when deciding if a fire is suitable:

  • How long is your stop? In the old days trampers made a fire every time they stopped for a brew, you can still do this but is it necessary.
  • Wood supply: is there any wood available? Often the answer will be no, especially around the well used non serviced huts and above the bush-line.
  • Temperature: Do you REALLY need a fire if it is 30 degrees Celsius?
  • Is there a fire ban in place? This is a lot more common now with climate change.
  • Is a small fire more appropriate than a large one? You may only need a small fire to heat the newer 'insulated to death' DOC huts. Don't go overboard and try to melt the window glass...

  Wood selection for fire making

  So, you have decided a fire is needed and now you are going to build one. You will need wood, so what kind works best and how much do you need. 

The quick answer is any wood that is dry- unfortunately this is often hard to locate. Look for standing dry wood, or wood which has been kept dry in a wood shed (at most DOC huts), under a large bush or over hang.

Do not bother with rotten wood, it will never burn even if it is bone dry. Bark is also difficult to light- keep it for when the fire is really blazing.

Wet, rotten wood will not burn...

Wood types that burn well are soft like pine, beech, manuka/kanuka etc. Native hardwood's such as Rimu, Totara and Matai are hard to light but will burn for a long time, keep them for when the fire is roaring.

You need three types of fuel for a fire:

Tinder: Tinder provides the fire-starter for your blaze- it might be paper, dry grass, dry pine needles, frayed twine, steel wool, birds nests or dry papery tree bark. I like native Fuschia bark, it is a light paper like bark that will take a flame well.

A tinder bundle made of dried grass
Kindling: Think finger sized or smaller;  sticks, branches or slices cut from a larger log. I usually use a mixture of sticks and slices. If the sticks have thick bark try to slice them in half so they catch fire better as bark is notoriously difficult to light.

Cutting logs into kindling, Lakehead Hut

Logs/splits: These will range in size from arm thick to thigh thick depending on the type of fire. All logs work better if they are split i.e. cut into several slices. Wood with edges burns better than full round logs due to the bark. If the fire is in a hut make sure the splits are short enough to fit into the wood burner.

Some log splits for the fire box

Tools of the trade

Once you have your wood sorted you need some tools to break it into manageable pieces.

Your first tool is yourself, break small branches in your hand, over the knee or around a tree. Slightly larger versions can be leaned against a rock and broken in half with your feet. Breaking wood this way is as old as humanity, we have used this method for the last 100 thousand years.

Other tools you will use are axes, saws and knives. If you are in a DOC hut there will probably be either an axe or a saw for firewood preparation. It is easier to saw any wood into manageable logs and then split them with the axe- chopping through a log is an exercise in futility!

Tools of the trade: Axe and saw
If you are camping you will need to make due with what you can find, break by hand or use whatever knife you carry. If you are a machete, parang or kukri carrier you are set...they are all basically small axes.  If like me you only carry a Swiss army knife hand broken wood is your only option.

The Kukri I carried in the Army- awesome knife but bloody heavy!

If you have a suitable knife, grab a piece of hard wood and use it as a hammer to drive your knife through thinner pieces of wood.

Using a knife and a log to split wood, photo Paul Kirtley
Regardless of the tool always be safety concious- take care using any sharp blade, don't let minors cut wood, wear boots when chopping and try to get home without losing a finger, hand or limb....

Types of fires

 There are many different formations you can use when you first start a fire, the most common are the teepee, log cabin and upside down pyramid. All of these use the same basic premise; a structure is built around and above the tinder. Once the blaze is going well the larger splits will collapse forming a good bed of coals for large pieces of wood.
Some different types of fire formation

Another type is the star fire. The star fire formation is a good choice for a slow burning fire in areas with little wood or where only larger logs are available.

Classic star fire set up
Once the fire is burning the various logs are slowly feed into the centre maintaining the fire.

Building an outdoor fire

The skills used building a fire indoors or outdoors are very similar, you use the same process in both cases.

A scratch camping spot with fire circle near Mt Richardson, Canterbury

When building an outdoor fire you need to follow these steps;

  • Locate a site for your fire. Using 'leave no trace' methods this should be in an existing fire circle, or on a hard impermeable surface such as rock, compacted sand or compacted soil
  • Gather your wood: you need tinder, kindling and fuel wood. Make sure you have more than enough wood to maintain the fire until it is going well
  • Place a bunch of tinder in the middle of your camp-fire site, if the ground is damp construct a wood platform for the tinder to rest on using larger kindling
  • Form an initial teepee of small kindling around your tinder regardless of the form of fire you are building
  • Add kindling to the pile, working up to pencil sized pieces
  • Create a larger teepee/log cabin/upside down pyramid around and above your kindling teepee using fuel wood,
  • Light your fire. If you have some type of fire starter (rubber tube/candle stub/soaked cotton waste) this is when you should use it.

Different types of firewood ready for use

Lighting a classic 'pyramid' fire outdoors

A small campfire at the Ryde Falls camp-site, November 2012

Make sure that you:

  • Conserve wood- only use what you need, when you need it- don't waste wood just because it is there. 
  • Keep fires small, they use less fuel and usually do the job perfectly adequately.
  • Don't use smooth river stones in a fire circle- they may explode as they heat up and expand.
  • Don't light a fire on humus (the dry, crumbly soil you find on a forest floor) as it can smoulder and eventually catch fire long after you are gone. 
  • Watch your fire, never leave it unattended in case it gets out of control and starts a larger fire. 
  • Make sure it is fully out before departing: use the douse, crush and mix method. Put the fire out with water/soil/sand then crush the embers with your feet. Mix it around with a stick to make sure all embers are out. Repeat until fully doused.

Building a fire in a hut

Almost all DOC huts will have a heat source of some sort, generally these will be open fires, pot belly stoves or wood burners. A few of the Great Walk huts have gas heaters, usually only during the Summer season.

The classic 'corker cooker' wood burner, Magdalen Hut

In general terms you need the same resources for a hut fire as a camp fire: tinder, kindling and wood. If you are lucky (for instance I was at the hut before you) you will arrive to find a supply of all three ready and waiting. If you are unlucky you will need to gather your own.

Fire prep done and wood laid in for when needed

Your first port of call should be the hut woodshed; most serviced and standard huts will have one, wither there is any wood in them is a different matter. If there is no wood shed or it is empty start foraging in the bush for your wood.

Partially full wood shed at Nina Hut

Look at that beauty: a full wood shed at John Tait Hut

Construct your wood burner fire as you would for a camp fire. Use either a tee pee, pyramid or log cabin. The tinder goes in the centre with small kindling stacked around and over it.  Have a supply of larger pieces of wood on hand for when the fire takes. Once you have a base of coals in the fire box you can start to add these larger logs as they need intense heat to ignite.

Basic framework for your fire- log cabin type

Ready to go: tinder and kindling added

Slightly shambolic stack but it will work!

Supply of wood ready for when fire requires it...
Some huts will also supply coal for the hut fireplace. I'm constantly surprised by the number of people who have never used coal before, when I was young everyone used it on their open fires so everyone knew how to use it. 

A bag of coal in fire wood shed, Lake Daniels Hut

To use coal, first build a fire as described with wood. Once you have a nice bed of hot embers evenly spread a small shovel full of coal over the top. Take it easy with that shovel though, too much and you will smother your fire.Watch the coal dust as it can be explosive in the right conditions.

Coal being used in an open fireplace

I know there are environmental issues with using coal, but it is much more efficient that burning wood. Coal will give you a long, slow and even burn and it puts out a lot more heat than wood so if it is available use it. 

 Practice makes perfect

It is really important to practice your fire construction skills, even if you don't actually light the fire. Take the opportunity when you go for a tramp to locate and prepare fire starting materials. Chop wood at huts, and split some for kindling- you are practising your skills and making someone else's visit easier.

In the firebox and ready to go, Mid Robinson Hut

 Keep an eye out for good tinder, I collect Fuschia bark every time I see one of these trees as they make excellent tinder. I have a couple of kilos of it at home now drying.

Paper like bark of the native Fuschia Tree

When I am tramping in the summer months, when fires are less of a necessity, I always take the opportunity to cut & gather wood when I get to a hut. Cut some kindling and gather dry branches, put these in the woodshed, under the veranda or under the hut if possible so they can dry.

Best way to stack ready use wood- cross hatch stack- it dries faster

 I wont need it but I'm providing for leaner times when dry wood is not so easy to locate. If you pass a likely looking log close to a hut by all means carry it with you, chop it up and put it in the wood shed.


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A curious pastime....Hut Bagging!

"It's all about bagging those huts, baby....!!!"

Hut Bagging:  I have talked about this subject before but I thought a more in depth exploration could be useful.

We are very lucky in New Zealand to have a collection of huts available for the public to use at a minimal charge,  at last count there were over 970 huts. These range from tiny 2 person bivouacs or "dog boxes" (they look like a doghouse),  right up to Great Walk monster huts which sleep 50-100 people. They have a varied background: DOC huts, ex New Zealand Forestry Service huts, miner's huts, research stations, climbing/skiing/tramping club shelters or ex farm accommodation.

How about bagging John Tait Hut in Nelson Lakes National Park?

These are mostly managed by the Department of Conservation or DOC as we call it.
No one including DOC are exactly sure how many huts exist as a variety of factors effects what you class as a hut. Huts are constantly being added and subtracted from the equation.

Because of this profusion of huts we have a peculiar outdoor hobby in New Zealand of visiting or "bagging" as many of them as possible. There are many trampers who have visited over 400 huts and there several people close to reaching all 970+ huts. I would be surprised if anyone has visited all of the potential huts but a lot of people must be close.

Coldwater Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park

My personal hut bag is now 92, by the end of 2017 I hope to have passed the 100 mark. I don't usually tramp just to claim a hut but I have pointed my trips towards this end on occasion. For example, I have the Windy Point-Hope River-Doubtful River-Nina River circuit on my to do list both as a great trip and an opportunity to bag 6 new huts....Harpers Pass route equals 8 new huts etc.

There is a website called Hut Bagger NZ where you can collate information about your particular bag. This can be shared with others on the site or kept personal, you should check it out if interested.

My favourite North Island Huts

I don't often get up to the North Island, so haven't done that much tramping north of Wellington. When I was in the Army in the late 1980-1990's I did a few trips, mostly in the Lake Waikeremoana/Kaimaniwa's/Central Plateau regions. 

One of my most memorable trips was the Lake Waikeremoana circuit, it is a Great Walk now but back then it was less developed. 

You stay for a night at Panekire Hut on the bluffs high above Lake Waikeremoana. 

Panekire Hut high on the Lake Waikeremoana Great Walk

Awesome views of the surrounding wilderness from the bluffs, really spectacular.

The famous view from the Panekire Bluffs, from Wilderness Magazine

Another oddity I have visited is Westlawn Hut which is a historic 1890's station house deep in the back blocks of the Army Training Grounds, Waiouru. It is used by military personal as a hunting/tramping hut now. This old lady is a bit draughty but still keeps out the rain by the way...

Historic Westlawn Hut built in the 1890's

One more from the North Island is Ketetahi Hut on the Tongariro Crossing. It used to be a 20 bunk hut, but it was damaged in a volcanic eruption in 2012 and is now only a day shelter.  

Back in the 1990's I stayed here with some army buddies for a night. 

Ketetahi Hut on the flank of Mt Tongariro from NZ Trampers

My favourite South Island Huts

I live in the South Island of New Zealand and have done most of my tramping here so it is difficult for me to chose a best hut. Some are best for location, some for scenery some for the memories I have of them. 

One of my favourites:Nina Hut Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve

The most scenic hut I have stayed in is Mueller Hut in Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park. It sits high above the surrounding valleys with spectacular views of Mt Cook, Mt Tasman and various glaciers.

Mt Cook from Mueller Hut, DOC website
The hut I have visited the most in all of New Zealand is Packhorse Hut on Banks Peninsula. I have been here either for day trips or overnight stays 9 times now. It is a real charmer with those stone walls and dramatic location.

Recently renovated and added to the hut booking system, this is a great first overnight location.

Packhorse Hut, high above Lytelton Harbour

A special note on walking the Te Aroroa Trail

Te Araroa is the long distance trail running from Cape Reinga in the far north to Bluff deep in the south. If you are trekking the whole way and complete all sections you will stay in or pass by 58 huts, the rest of the time you will be camping. This puts you in the mid regions as a hut bagger.

Lagoon Saddle Hut on the Te Araroa Trail

If travelling south, the first hut you will visit will be Pahautea, in Pirongia Forest Park, the last is Martins Hut down in Longwood Forest, Southland.

Pahautea Hut, Pirongia Forest Park

'Rustic' Martins Hut, Longwood Forest
When I finish section walking the TA it will have added an extra 40 odd huts to my bag. Now that is what I call an incentive to get out and do some tramping......

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Travers Valley Trip: 30th March-3rd April 2017

Exploring the Travers Valley

This is the first tramp I have been on for a couple of months so I figured I would go out for a couple of days. My first thought was a Travers Sabine Circuit but as my pack fitness was low due to a lack of trips I decided on an exploration of the Travers Valley instead.

The 'Silver Surfer' (third from left) parked in St Arnaud

I headed up to St Arnaud early on Thursday morning, with an end goal of reaching Hopeless Hut by the end of the day. Unfortunately the extremely slow trip from Christchurch to St Arnaud (6 hours) due to roadworks meant I was too late to get that far up valley.

Day One: St Arnaud to Lakehead Hut

As I was saying, I started tramping around 12 noon, instead of the 10 am I was expecting. This meant I only got as far as Lakehead Hut, rather than my original goal of Hopeless Hut another 3 hours up valley. 

Day One: St Arnaud to Lakehead Hut
As always I started out at the Kerr Bay track head, and followed Lakehead Track
(12 km's, 2-2.5 hours) up the eastern side of the lake. This is the second time I have walked this track in the last 6 months (fifth time overall) so it is becoming familiar to me.

Kerr Bay Jetty- overcast and late!

Start of the Lakehead Track

That seems familiar....

Jon on Lake head Track, Nelson Lakes NP

Lower Lakehead Track

A cloud covered Robert Ridge
The weather was overcast but warm, probably about 20 degrees and very calm. Makes a change from the rain and wind I experienced when I walked the track in October last year. 

Looking back over Lake Rotoiti to St Arnaud

Coldwater Hut on the other side of Lake Rotoiti

Having walked this track before it was a swift and unsurprising trip. I reached Lakehead Hut at about 2.30 pm after a pleasant trip of 2.5 hours. The track was much nicer to walk on as it was dry, I wasn't walking in pools of water like you do when it is raining.

It's actually about 2 hours to St Arnaud

Travers River mouth in the distance

The Lakehead Hut jetty

Bellbird near the Lakehead Hut jetty
I got to the hut at 2.30 pm for a late lunch of soup and wraps. I thought about continuing up valley but as I knew it was a least 3 hours to Hopeless Hut I decided to stay at Lakehead Hut instead.

Looking up valley from Lakehead Hut afternoon

View down valley from Lakehead Hut

My direction of travel for tomorrow
I shared the hut that night with a French guy heading to Upper Travers Hut and a German couple who were on their way out to St Arnaud in the morning. It was a pleasant night discussing this and that and I turned in early at 8.30 pm as we had no candles so reading was out of the question.

Late afternoon fog in the Travers Valley

Day Two: Lakehead Hut to Cupola hut via John Tait Hut

On day two I was tramping from Lakehead Hut to John Tait Hut (15 km's, 4-5 hours) up the Travers valley. From there I would be walking another (6 km's, 2.5 hours) to get to Cupola Hut which was my destination for the night.

Day Two: Lakehead Hut to the Travers Swingbridge

I was up at the crack of dawn and set off up valley just as the sun was cresting the eastern peaks along the Travers. The first hour or so  was an easy walk over grass flats to the swing-bridge over the Travers River.

Starting out from Lakehead Hut

The Travers River used to run down the eastern side of this valley, but re routed itself during a big storm back in 2010. If there is a lot of rain then the river will still use the old bed as well as inundating the flats between the two braids of the river.

The old Travers river bed 25 mins up valley

Obvious track heading to the Travers swing-bridge

Flood debris over 200 metres from the Travers River....

Matagouri and long grass- Travers River Valley

The old course of the Travers River
Once across the flats there is a short 20 minute section of forest and bush to pass through before reaching the Travers swing bridge. There are several places along here where the river has eaten the track away and you need to navigate past them.

The short forest section heading up to Travers swing-bridge

Bit muddy but not too bad- Travers Valley Track


The Travers River has eaten the track.....

Last bush finger before swing bridge

Old cairn on the Travers Valley Track
If you are doing the Lake Rotoiti circuit and are unable to use the lower ford this is the bridge you need to cross to get to the true left of the Travers River. It is a long and rickety bridge- so be prepared!

Travers River swing bridge

From the swing-bridge it is about 40 minutes to Hopeless Creek, it is then another 2-2.5 hours to John Tait Hut closer to the head of the valley.

Hopeless Creek to John Tait Hut
The track between the swing-bridge and John Tait hut is very nice. The track is a mixture of bush, river flats and small up and down climbs over the tail end of the ridges.

Heading up valley from the Travers swing-bridge

Approaching Hopeless Creek

Jon on the Travers Track day two

Travers Track- nice easy tramping

Mt Travers in the distance

Climbing up to Hopeless Creek Track

Swingbridge over Hopeless Creek
Hopeless Creek has a hut an hour and a half up the one of the side valleys. This is the destination for my next Nelson Lakes tramp, hopefully before the end of April. Hopeless Hut is a small 6 bunk NZFS hut most commonly used by climbers accessing the surrounding peaks. It can also be visited from Lake Angelus but it would be a total pig of a climb down over dangerous bluffs- no track.

Not for the faint of heart or inexperienced!

Track junction for Hopeless Hut... next objective in Nelson Lakes NP!

Travers Valley narrows as you climb

This fantail below followed me for about 30 minutes as I walked up the Travers Valley.

New Zealand Fantail...

...shakin that ass...!
There are a number of very nice looking camping sites up the Travers Valley, none of them are official but it is perfectly legal to camp provided you are not right on top of the track.

Nice camping spot 2.5 hours up from Travers Swing bridge

It is a nice wide track up the Travers Valley
You strike a foot bridge and attractive cascading stream about 30 minutes from John Tait Hut. 

Bridge about 30 minutes from John Tait Hut

Nice cascade 30 minutes from John Tait Hut

Another view of the stream...

First view of John Tait Hut through the forest...

The Upper Travers Valley is notorious for avalanches in the winter/spring, hence all the warning signs. Both John Tait, Upper Travers and Cupola Hut's all sit on or near avalanche paths so can potentially get hit at any time from May through December. 

Avalanche warning sign on the Travers Track

I finally arrived at John Tait Hut after 4.5 hours of trekking. This is an awesome hut, 28 bunks and is in excellent condition given it is over 40 years old. It was recently re painted and some maintenance has been done on it from the look of it.

This is the second John Tait Hut the original from the 1940's was replaced with the current hut in the late 1960's.

John Tait Hut II

Eating area at John Tait Hut

Cooking space in John Tait Hut

The bunk area- John Tait Hut

I stopped at the hut for about 40 minutes as I rested and ate my lunch, much better than being eaten alive by the sand-flies sitting on the side of the track somewhere.

Jon still feeling o.k at John Tait

Lunch: Wraps, pate, soup and tea- I have a big climb ahead!

View down valley from the verandah at John Tait
As you can see from the photo below the avalanche path is literally 5 metres from the hut. That slide is made of decades if not centuries of avalanche material coming down. There is a photo inside of both the clearing AND the hut totally covered by an avalanche back in 2008. Not a place to be if there are heavy snow storms in the upper valley.

Avalanche fan & debris piled up near John Tait Hut

Some information about John Tait and the first hut

Look at all that lovely wood....!

After lunch I refilled my water bottles and set out for my destination for the night, Cupola Hut. Cupola Hut is about 3 hours up valley, there is a side track about 30 minutes from the hut, it is then 2-2.5 hours to the hut.

John Tait Hut to Cupola Hut

The distance to both Upper Travers Hut and Cupola Hut are around three hours- the distance to both is about 6 km. Slow, slow travel. is very steep in places!

Heading for Cupola Hut after lunch

The track starts off flat-ish after John Tait...

...then gets much steeper!
Open forest-Upper Travers Track

Turn off to Cupola Hut

After turning off the main Upper Travers Track you start a gradual climb up to the head of Cupola Creek. You are on the true right to start but cross over another foot bridge about an hour up the side valley and stay on that side all the way to the hut.

Starting up Cupola Creek Track

Cupola Creek is your companion for awhile

Crossing the bridge mid way to Cupola Hut
The last section of the track is a switch back, it takes longer to cover the distance but it sure is a lot less painful way to do so. It wont be the original track: back in the old NZFS days they just went straight up ridgelines, none of this fancy back and forth stuff.

Because they were HARD!

Start of the switch back climb to Cupola Hut

Nearly at Cupola Hut

I arrived at Cupola Hut around 4 pm. The view from Cupola Hut isn't magnificent, there are too many trees in the way for that. It is in a nice location though, perched high up on a ledge on the mountain side. The hut is a modified NZFS70 6 bunk hut from the 1960's. 

View from Cupola Hut- not much of a view!

I was surprised because the hut has a water tank, the DOC website says there is no water source. Also bloody irritated as I had 3.5 litres of HEAVY water on me as I was expecting a dry hut

End of Cupola Track, Cupola Hut Ledge

The hut is classic NZ Forestry Service goodness: it has 6 bunks, an open fire, a small table and bench seats, cooking bench and a selection of FMC and hunting magazines. It is mostly used by climbing parties attempting the local peaks.

View of the outside of Cupola Hut
I had the hut to myself that night which was nice as every other night I was sharing a hut. Just as well as I was knackered- 8 hours on track doesn't sound like much to a young bugger but I'm a semi fit 49 year old. I lay down for a rest when I arrived and didn't wake up until 7 pm.... 

Cupola Hut Interior from website

Cupola Hut Bunks from website

Cupola Hut exterior from website

Potential avalanche source above Cupola Hut
 Cupola Hut is also on an avalanche pathway, in this case high steep cliffs above the hut sometimes release snow after large storms. There are signs on the track warning of the avalanche danger.


Day Three: Cupola Hut to Travers Falls, then to John Tait Hut

Day three was a short trip back down to John Tait Hut (7 km's, 2.5 hours)  for the night, as an added bonus and because it was only 30 minutes away I went up valley to visit Travers Falls. The first hour and a half was back out to the main Travers Valley track, then right turn and marche.

Cupola Hut to John Tait

Once on the main Upper Travers Track it is a steep climb uphill to the Travers Falls turn off about a kilometre away. The track follows alongside the Travers River with the occasional climb to avoid gorges.You are just able to make out Mt Travers as you climb the track.

View of Mt Travers through the trees

Bridge over Cupola Creek, main Upper Travers Track

Cupola Creek: Deep gorge down there!
Real moss covered alpine stream bed
Below is a classic form of track marking, the top of a can has been cut off and nailed to a tree. In the old days the Forestry Service used old paint tin lids and later strips of Permolat which was a reflective strip much like a metal Venetian blind. The ubiquitous orange triangle only came in with the birth of DOC in the late 1980's.

Old style NZFS paint lid track marker....

The track is steep, rocky...

...and covered with roots!

A high Alpine Mire near Travers Falls

Heading down to Travers Falls
Travers Falls is only 15 meters high but the volume of water passing over it still makes it worth a visit. It was really loud as it is in a water carved amphitheatre, be careful of the track/ viewing area as it is steep and wet from the spray. Go have a look if you are passing this way. 

Travers Falls from the viewing track

I continued on up the track for another 15 minutes to see what I could see, I turned back at the first stream/avalanche path as the bridge that used to cross the stream has been washed away. Then it was back tracking to John Tait Hut for the night.

Upper Travers Hut is 2 hours that way....

There should be a bridge here....avalanche chute!

Heading back down to John Tait Hut

View downstream from John Tait Hut

Someone has a fetish about making wooden faces....

I went a bit crazy with the axe...

...still more wood...

...and even more wood!

Firebox set up and ready to go!

  There were just the two of us in the hut that night: myself and a young woman from Germany (...hi Luisa, I hope the rest of your trip goes well, it was nice meeting you...).

It must be slightly weird to find yourself staying in a hut overnight with a stranger, especially if you are a young woman from another country. In the dark because, you guessed it, there weren't any candles in the hut.

Jon outside John Tait Hut

I'm such a Dad though I generally put people at ease fairly quickly, you just chat to them and shove some tea in their hand. Works wonders in my experience.
I was a bit surprised the hut was so empty as it was a Saturday, I thought there might have been more people tramping over the weekend. I think people were put off by the forecast of bad weather which only arrived mid-day on Monday. So you missed out on some fine weather!

We had the fire going later that night as it got cold once the sun went down at about 5 pm, very nice it was too!

Day Four: John Tait Hut to Coldwater Hut

  Day four started out cloudy but got progressively better as the day wore on. The trek today was back down valley following the main Travers Track till the swing-bridge (13 km's, 3 hours). Then it was following the track down the true right of the Travers to Coldwater Hut (6 km's, 2 hours). 

  Luisa and I walked separately down valley, she was nursing some awesome blistered heels and wanted to go at her own pace. In the event she was only 25 minutes behind me at the end of the day.

The John Tait Hut veranda

John Tait Hut in its clearing

Heading for Coldwater Hut- near John Tait Hut

Nice open forest, near John Tait Hut

Mossy goblin forest, Travers Valley

Jon on his way to Coldwater Hut

Walking alongside the Travers River

Small tarn halfway to the swing-bridge, and...

...the very nice camping spot nearby.

Lovely open red beech forest

The Hopeless Creek bridge

There is a track there....somewhere...
About half way to the swing-bridge there is a point where the river has eaten away the bank causing a shingle slide. To pass it there is a high, steep very obvious track, don't use this as you will probably end up falling over. Instead you should just follow the low track right next to the river. 

The problematic shingle slide

Beech and ferns, John Tait Track

A native New Zealand Wren

Another patch of goblin forest, Travers Valley
Below is another spot where the river is gradually eating away the river bank, you need to do a bit of a bush bash to get around it...

More river damage between John Tait and the Travers swingbridge

There are a number of excellent camping spots in the Travers Valley, all of them have had obvious use, in fact I saw two of them occupied when I headed up the valley earlier in my trip. 

Another nice camping spot

More possible camping spots along the Travers River

The flats just up from the Travers swing bridge

Snack and map check, near Travers swing-bridge

Last significant climb for the day

Back at the Travers swing-bridge

NO!!!! More like 1.5-2 hours.....

Down stream of the Travers swing bridge
Downstream of the Travers swing-bridge the track is a mixture of river flats, short bush sections and   bridges which cross all of the major side streams on this side of the Valley. It takes about 2 hours to get from the swing-bridge to Coldwater Hut, ignore the bogus track times posted by DOC. 

River flats, true left of Travers River

Nice track between Travers Swing-bridge and Hukere Stream

First suspension bridge over Hukere River

The mighty Hukere River

The second suspension bridge over Shift Stream
The track up to this point is rather nice and easy to walk. From Shift Stream to the ford over the Travers it turns into a bloody irritating son of a bitch. The track isn't terrible, just not well maintained: muddy, too many ups and downs to avoid hazards, lots of fallen trees, unclear track signage etc etc. This is the only part of the whole five days that had me swearing aloud. 

It wasn't just me, all four of the people staying in Coldwater Hut that night said exactly the same thing.

Track deteriorates mid valley

First view of Lake Rotoiti for the day

Frickin irritating long grass and indistinct track- Lower Travers

Gawd-damn never ending slog to Coldwater Hut

The Travers River ford sign

Those times are about right...

Walking next to the Travers River

Lower Travers Valley near the river mouth

Chandler Stream- last bridge before Coldwater Hut

First view of Coldwater Hut

Coldwater Hut from the jetty

Inside of Coldwater Hut (October 2016)

Sleeping platforms, Coldwater Hut (October 2016)

Coldwater jetty at dusk
There were four of us in Coldwater Hut that night: myself, Luisa (Germany), a guy called Christen (Belgium) and a woman from Spain. An international mix if ever there was one.

Its a nice wee hut, 12 bunks, open fireplace (no wood) with an awesome view of the lake but the sand flies are murderous. You can see some big old eels from the end of the jetty (3-4 metres long at least). 

A group of Canterbury University trampers stopped for a swim off the jetty, they said the water was warm but I noticed they didn't stay in very long (they almost levitated out of the water when the eels started swimming around them....). 

It absolutely hosed with rain overnight, from about 7 pm right through to 5am in the morning... winter has arrived folks...

Day Five: Coldwater Hut to St Arnaud

 The last day was the walk back to St Arnaud along Lakeside Track (16 km's, 3 hours). I've been down this track four times now so the distance just seemed to motor past. I have my time from Coldwater Hut to the Mt Robert road down to just over 2 hours.

 Easy walking even with a wet, slippery track. 

Coldwater Hut to start of last climb

The weather was great for walking mild, with the odd patch of drizzle but not enough to call for a wet weather jacket. The higher ranges on both sides of the lake where covered with cloud for most of the day.

Coldwater Jetty at dawn

Start of Lakeside Track

First bridge on Lakeside Track

Another view, first bridge Lakeside Track

Approaching Whisky Falls

The turn off to Whisky Falls 45 minutes down valley

Lake Rotoiti from the Lakeside Track

Bridge over side stream, Lakeside Track

St Arnaud in the distance, from Lakeside Track

One of the shingle slides coming down from Mt Robert

Stony part of the Lakeside Track
The track was a bit wet and slippery but I just took extra care and was very aware of foot placement.

Parachute rocks are up there somewhere

Jon at Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP

From start of last climb to St Arnaud

The last bit of Lakeside Track is the slow steady climb up to the road, it is about 35 minutes to the  end of the track once you start climbing. To start with it is steep but it levels out the higher you climb.

Starting the climb to Mt Robert road

Nearly at the Mt Robert road

There is the end of Lakeside Track...
Once on the Mt Robert road it is 20 minutes to West Bay and then another 15 minutes to the car parking area at the DOC workshops.
Lake Rotoiti from West Bay, Nelson Lakes

Rotoiti Peninsula from West Bay...nearly there!

Lake Rotoiti and Mt Robert from the Kerr Bay car park

Another good trip in Nelson Lakes National Park, this is now my favourite location for tramping adventures. There are certainly a lot more people passing through here but I never felt like the park was crowded at any time. While you are walking you still have the forest largely to your self, and the huts were mostly empty. 

I hope to be back late in April to finish my exploration of the Travers Valley by visiting Hopeless Hut....lets hope the weather holds out!

Just a final note anyone travelling between Christchurch and points north should factor extra time into their travel plans. Normally I can get to Nelson Lakes in 4.5 hours; this trip it took me 6 to get there and 6.5 on the return. Its not the traffic it is the road works: at least 40% of SH7/6/65 are being repaired or widened at the moment. 

It makes for SLOW travel....
Access: Via the Travers Valley track, from St Arnaud
Track Times: 3hours to Lakehead Hut, 4-5 hours to John Tait Hut, 3 hours to Cupola Hut, 6 hours from John Tait to Coldwater Hut, 4 hours to St Arnaud
Hut Details: Lakehead; serviced, 24 bunks, wood burner, water tank
                      John Tait: serviced, 28 bunks, wood burner, water tank
                      Cupola: standard, 6 bunks, wood burner, water tank
                      Coldwater: standard, 14 bunks, open fire, water tank
Miscellaneous: In an active avalanche zone, care needed in Winter-Spring, some un bridged side streams