Te Araroa

Nelson Lakes National Park: Waiau Pass Track


There are few things more satisfactory in life than enjoying lunch in the sun on top of a remote alpine pass. Waiau Pass Track is my number one favourite track on the TA so far. It’s landscapes are high up with the other highlights, with the wonderful addition that it is a quiet place. Rugged alpine peaks. Crystal-clear water in the streams. Lakes bluer than the sky. Nelson Lakes National Park is an absolutely stunning place to walk through.

We had the weather with us this time and crossed both passes under brilliant blue skies. From the Travers Saddle we admired Mount Travers and the deep valleys ahead and behind. On the way up we made a small detour to Travers falls, a pristine fall in a pristine forest.


Coming out of the forest into open alpine territory with such wide views made us feel like this is what life is really all about. We relaxed on the tops, on pleasant rocks down the road, on slopes towering high above the valley floor. We both felt at ease and everything seemed easy. We took our time to let it all sink in, to feel far away from the world and let all the stress that being close to it entails disappear. No haste on this trail.

It was always nice to descend into the forests again too, into the safety of their shelter and shade. The forests inside this park are some of the finest we have ventured through. They are cross-cut by rivers and streams so clear that it appears that no water is present at all sometimes.


We slept in he spacious huts occupying the park. From St. Arnaud we went to John Tait, on to West Sabine and up to Blue Lake Hut. We spent half a day at the hut, going around Blue Lake, the clearest and purest freshwater body in the world. The lake is gorgeous: you can see straight through it, right into its pitholes, right to the bottom on the other side, to the green losses covering some of its bed. Yet it is so blue that it makes the sky fade away.

PJ and I sat at the lake head for a long time, talking about our future house in the woods of Lapland, complete with kayaks, canoes and a few huskies. It was a wonderful afternoon talking while looking at spectacular Alpine scenery. At that point we were only three left of our initial group of five, us and Patrick, as the others had rushed off and none of us had any intention to join in the speed race.


From Blue Lake we climbed up to the actual Waiau Pass on a rough track sidling along the bluffs towering over Lake Constance, scrambling on a steep scree slope to a narrow saddle at 1870m. I looked back more than once to the reflection of the sharp peaks in the lake. The mountains here are rough, rugged terrain, very different from the ones I used to wander through in Scandinavia.

An even steeper descent – a 570m drop over a kilometre of distance – brought us to the head of the Waiau River. Ten hours and 13 km into the day we set up camp by Caroline Bivvy, mesmerised by the dramatic alpine landscape we had walked through. After dinner we lost our patience in the midst of endless attacks by swarms of sand flies and retreated into our tent, joined by a mouse who seemed to be very entertained by trying to climb to the top of it.


The final 65 kilometres of the track are and easy hike across wide river plains. Our bodies felt tired after the intense trails of the past weeks. I was happy to give my knees a break while walking through the golden grass, thinking about ham-cheese-and-tomato toasties. No matter how hard we try, it seems that there is no way we can keep ourselves from going hungry now.

Two and a half days after descending the pass we got down to Boyle Village and hitched into Hanmer Spring to soak our joints in the hot pools and revitalise with lots of food before starting on the next section: Harper Pass. The longer we go, the more I realise what a magnificent country this is. Long live the TA.

– by Eef De Boeck


5 thoughts on “Nelson Lakes National Park: Waiau Pass Track”

  1. Knap, knap, knap! Weeral Knap gestapt, knappe ingesteldheid, knap verslag ! Elke keer en met de keer meer denk ik ‘was ik maar ettelijke jaren jonger!’…..Ik kan me voorstellen dat de ‘oh’s en ah’s ‘ niet meer te tellen zijn evenmin de keren dat jullie zeggen ‘ that’s the most beatyfull place ever’ ….. Eef , als jullie hut in Lapland er echt is, give a call, we komen onverwijld af en dan gidsen jullie ons een stukje op maat, goed?
    All the best for the next trip, take care en tot het volgende verhaal.
    Big big hugs!


    1. Hey Maik, have fun in there! You’ll love it. It is very different – yet I love them both for what they are. Maybe we’ll see you later on the trail, we’re taking it pretty easy ;). Safe travels! Eef


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