“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
The Travers Sabine Circuit is an 80 kilometre loop in the Nelson Lakes National Park, starting and ending in St. Arnaud, on New Zealand’s South Island. This beautiful yet challenging multi-day hike takes you along Lake Rotoiti and up the Travers and Sabine Saddles. You then come across Lake Rotoroa where you can take a water taxi back, walk up to the Mt Robert Circuit or hike the Speargrass track to Mt Robert car park. From the car park it is another 5 kilometres back to St. Arnaud.
There are plenty of side trips you can take, including an overnight trip to the famous Blue Lake and Lake Constance, Angelus Hut, and many others. The Travers Sabine Track is now officially part of the Te Araroa long-distance trail and attracts many visitors that want to climb Waiau Pass or Moss Pass. Definitely worth exploring the area!
Accommodation is available in the DOC huts and campsites along the trail. Although the huts rarely get full here, keep in mind that it is a first come first serve.
The biggest challenge for the Travers Sabine Circuit is probably to arrange transport if you don’t have your own car. For all transport options, keep scrolling to the “How to get to the Travers Sabine Circuit” section.
- Hopeless Hut – 1.5 hours
- Cupola Basin Hut – 2.5 hours
- Lake Angelus Hut via Mount Cedric – 6 hours
Transport to the Travers Sabine Circuit?
The easiest to get to the Travers Sabine Circuit is by car. St. Arnaud is quite remote and there is no public transport in town. There is a large carpark at both ends of the circuit, just remember to remove your valuables. At the time of writing, there were many backpackers staying the night at the Mt. Robert carpark, giving a little sense of security.
To get to St. Arnaud without a car, you need to book a shuttle bus from Nelson, or a private taxi from Blenheim. Hitchhiking is possible, but don’t have any personal experience with that. Nelson Lakes Shuttles offers budget fares. You can also book via this website.
From St. Arnaud you can take the shuttle bus back to Nelson, book a private taxi to Blenheim (expensive!), or make your way to the intercity bus stop Kawatiri (25km from St. Arnaud). If you decide to take the intercity bus, please be advised you will need to book in advance because the bus only stops there if there was a booking.
Check out this website for your best itinerary to St. Arnaud.
Accommodation on the Travers Sabine Circuit
Although there are plenty of huts available, the Travers Sabine Circuit is one of the more remote tracks, which means that there are no other options available other than to camp or stay at the DOC huts.
St. Arnaud has a mix of hotel and backpacker accommodation.
Huts and camping on the Travers Sabine Circuit track
There are plenty of DOC huts and campgrounds along the trail to make your walk enjoyable. You can choose to skip huts or take it easy and spend a night at every hut on the way. There are dedicated camp spots at every hut. The huts are well maintained and all you need is a sleeping bag and your own cooking gear.
The system operates on a first come first served basis, which means that you might miss out on a spot. When that happens, you could always sleep on the floor…believe me, it happens! Therefore, I always recommended to bring a sleeping pad just in case.
Below is a list of huts and their capacity:
- Lakehead Hut – 28 beds
- Coldwater Hut – 12 beds
- John Tait Hut – 27 beds
- Upper Travers Hut – 24 beds
- West Sabine Hut – 30 beds
- Sabine Hut – 32 beds
- Speargrass Hut – 12 beds
- Angelus Hut – 28 beds
- Blue Lake Hut – 14 beds
- Hopeless Hut – 6 beds
- Cupola Hut – 8 beds
Payments and bookings
If you are making a side trip to Angelus Hut, you need to book in advance.
For all other huts on the Travers Sabine Circuit, you can pay per night by purchasing DOC hut tickets, or you can purchase a backcountry hut pass from the DOC offices or i-site.
The backcountry hut pass gives you as many nights as you need for 6 or 12 months. Price at the time of writing is NZD$92 for 6 months and NZD$122 for 12 months. Hut tickets are $15 each or $5 for a campsite.
For more information on booking and paying for huts, check the DOC website here.
Accommodation in St. Arnaud
St. Arnaud is a remote town that has very limited facilities.
In the town centre, you will find a service station with a small shop and a bakery/cafe. On the other side of the street, there is the Mountain Lodge which has a restaurant that is open for non-guests.
Conclusion: bring your food with you from either Nelson, Picton or Blenheim.
Nelson is probably the biggest town in the region, offering many outdoor shops and supermarkets. Most transport to go to hiking trails goes from Nelson.
For a complete list of the gear that I took with me on the hike, click here. The link will take you to my lighterpack gear list. The list includes weight and links to more info.
Because I decided to stay in huts the whole time, I left my tent and sleeping pad behind in Nelson. The hostel I was staying at offered cheap lockers ($2) until your return…a bargain really! There are other storage options in Nelson, including renting lockers at the Nelson i-site.
There are plenty of outdoor shops in Nelson if you need to find some gear. Nelson is also a great gateway for a lot of hiking tracks.
Day 1: Nelson to St Arnaud and walk to Lakehead Hut (9 km):
- Morning transport to St. Arnaud.
- Lunch at the Alpine Lodge – pizza.
- Afternoon stroll to Lakehead Hut.
- Diverse and international crowd of TA hikers, fishermen, Travers Sabine Circuit and Waiau Pass explorers.
Day 2: Lakehead Hut to Upper Travers Hut (19.6km):
- Morning – walk to John Tait Hut.
- Afternoon – John Tait to Upper Travers.
- Late afternoon rain.
Day 3: Upper Travers Hut to West Sabine Hut (7.5km):
- Morning – Upper Travers Saddle.
- Looooong descent of 1/3 exposed on top, 1/3 in the steep and slippery forest and 1/3 in the valley to the hut.
- Crowded West Sabine hut.
Day 4: Blue Lake overnight side trip (6.7km):
- Early morning start to secure a spot in the 14 bed hut at Blue Lake.
- Afternoon relaxing at the lake.
- Cooooold night with many many stars!
Day 5: Blue Lake to Sabine Hut (20.6km):
- Long 8 hour walking day with lunch at West Sabine hut.
- Not many people at Sabine Hut.
Day 6: Sabine Hut to Speargrass Hut (11km):
- Short day walking along the Speargrass Track.
- Beautiful location at Speargrass Hut.
- Only 3 people for the night.
Day 7: Speargrass Hut to St Arnaud (12km):
- Short 2 hour walk to Mt Robert car park.
- Lunch at the servo cafe – venison pie.
- Shuttle transport from St. Arnaud back to Nelson.