Friday, December 9, 2011

Nelson Lakes NP Hiking/Packrafting

The plan was simple, pack six days food and explore the northern part of Nelson Lakes National Park by foot and packraft, with the hope of floating sections of the Durville, Sabine and Travers rivers. And as sometimes happens on trips to the mountains the simple plan had to be modified somewhat. The weather is more often than not the reason itineraries need to be modified..but not this time.

I'm ok with altering plans because of the weather, in fact, dealing with the variables of mountain weather is part of the appeal. But gear failure? It just shouldn't happen. And not to XA Pros! As it turns out the bond that failed between the upper and midsole on the heel of my left shoe,(on the first day), didn't extend all the way through and held together for the duration of our altered five day adventure. Let me be clear. In the last seven years I have owned more than a dozen pairs of Salomon XA Pros, all have performed perfectly, I'll be getting another pair. The original plan was to hike up the Travers Valley crossing Travers Saddle into the Sabine, then head south over Moss Pass and float out to Lake Rotoroa on the Durville River. On the second day, after crossing Travers Saddle, my shoe had gotten slightly worse, so we decided not to risk heading further into the mountains where a total shoe failure would make things a little too interesting. So we headed down the Sabine Valley floating some sections and hiking some down to Sabine Hut. Then we turned to the east, crossing the Travers Range via Mt Cedric and Hukere Stream back into the Travers Valley where we floated out to Lake Rotoiti before hiking back to St Arnaud. 

When asked for advice on where to go hiking in New Zealand's South Island I typically recommend one of my favourite areas in the south. Of course Fiordland, Mt Aspiring, Mt Cook and Arthurs Pass national parks, and lots of other areas in between, all feature deep wilderness, spectacular scenery and a lifetimes worth of adventures. Although this end of the southern alps isn't quite as high and dramatic as further south, I found the peaks, valleys, lakes and ridges every bit as enticing.

Gear musings : 

Alpacka Packrafts - These things are a revelation. The rivers were high on this trip, some sections  class III and IV and only for the more experienced. We didn't have spraydecks, PFDs or helmets which was a mistake. 

Packrafting Packs - I use light frameless packs for pure hiking trips, these work very well with loads up to 10 kg. A six day trip with a packraft and paddle means a load up around 15kg which requires a more supportive pack. I carried a Black Diamond Quantum 65, comfortable with heavy loads and big enough to swallow a packraft, four piece paddle, gear and a weeks worth of food. 

MLD Spirit Quilt 30 - Sleeping bags are dead to me ( at least for temps above freezing). Quilts are so much more comfortable than a bag.

The Stickpic - Get one. Film stuff.

Footwear - NZ hiking generally means wading streams. The fastest draining, quickest drying shoes are highly recommended. Use waterproof socks for packrafting and snow walking if it is cold. I think the drainage could be improved on XA Pros and Slab Wings. The stiff midsole on the XA Pro makes it a great choice for the heavier loads required for packrafting trips.

Stoves - I used a Caldera Cone on this trip which worked perfectly but the cone is on the way out. I got to check out a french guy's Jetboil Sol Ti, the future of gas stoves I'd say.

The gear list is here.


  1. Great post Trev and I really enjoyed the video. Timely too, as I was considering doing the Travers Sabine Circuit next year instead of hiking further south as I normally would do. Bummer bout the shoes!

  2. Trev, a quick question. Im looking for a new trail shoe, one with a bit more toe (keep losing toenails) and midsole protection than my current La Sportiva Lynx offer. Do you think the XA Pros' could offer this? I presume the XA's you wear are the non-goretex version with the low cut profile rather than the mid version with ankle support? Thanks in advance.

  3. Thanks Philip, its a great area, I'm sure you'll love it if you decide to head up there.
    re shoes, XA pros have the most protection, particularly in the toe, of any trail shoe I know of but they do have a little less cushioning than your Lynx. Highly recommended though if they fit your foot well. Yeah, the non gore low cut version is the one I use.

  4. Thanks for the reply Trev, I will check the XA's out.