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A day trip to Blue Lake

In an earlier post, I described the first two days of a six-day trip that we did in the Nelson Lakes National Park – the Travers Sabine circuit. An outbreak of wet weather had reduced options for photography with the spectacular high peaks of the Travers Range mostly obscured by low cloud. However, after two fairly hard days making our way over the Travers Saddle to the West Sabine Hut, we had an easier day planned with a day trip up to Blue Lake, a spectacular glacial lake in a high basin in the west branch of the Sabine River. After rain through much of the night, we woke to heavy cloud hanging in the valley, but set out in the hope that conditions might improve.

A gallery of selected photos from this part of the trip can be found here – a description of the first part of this trip can be found here with earlier photos here.

Accompanied by the roar of the river, we walked upstream, the forest dripping wet, and low cloud delivering occasional light drizzle. But as we worked our way steadily upstream, the sky brightened, with the odd window of blue beginning to appear down the valley. Over the next three hours the track climbed a series of steep glacial steps, eventually arriving at the lake. The water was every bit as clear as what we had heard, although the name, ‘Blue Lake’, seemed somewhat inaccurate given the intense green colour of the lake bed, intensified by the somber green reflections of the surrounding beech forest.

Blue Lake

Photography was made difficult by the light, with a now uniform grey overcast flattening out the contrast. But its rare to get to visit places as spectacular as this, so I persisted, even though my preference would have been to settle in for a day or two with the prospect of early morning or late evening light to play with. Eventually time came to leave, and with a sense of reluctance we headed off, dogged a little by a slight sense of disappointment of what might have been. Such is hiking to a schedule, when huts must be reached for shelter – we got back to the West Sabine Hut in the late afternoon just as the rain returned!

Down to the Sabine Hut

Not for crossing!

Day three arrived after more heavy overnight rain, the Sabine River running even higher than the day before – days like this make one thankful for bridges. With packs on our backs we headed off on the relatively easy day’s walk downstream to the Sabine Hut on the shores of Lake Rotoroa, a place infamous for its biting sandflies. The weather gradually brightened and we walked much of the day without rain gear, though the track was sodden, requiring us to wade one or two of the small side-creeks that were normally jumpable with dry feet. We finally reached the Sabine Hut, where we were treated to the customary greeting by the swarm of sandflies that frequent the front porch. Boots and wet weather gear were hastily shed so that we could retreat to the shelter of the hut, but after a brief freshen up, we all headed for a swim and cleanup in the lake.

Lake Rotoroa – Durville River Delta from Sabine Hut

Over Cedric to Lake Angelus

Day Four was to be our biggest day, requiring a 1350 metre climb via Mount Cedric to an unnamed saddle on the Travers Range before dropping down into the Angelus Basin – I can still remember how my muscles ached on this climb when I did it as a 17-year-old! We woke to yet another grey morning, although as we prepared for the day the sun began to break through. Grabbing my camera I headed down to the nearby jetty, where the almost mirror-like waters of the lake reflected the dramatic sky with its occasional strong side-lighting. However, this opportunity could provide only limited postponement of the climb up Mount Cedric, which begins straight behind the hut, the first 200 m ascending at a heart-pounding and breath-gasping rate! Fortunately the gradient gradually eased a little, although it would be three hours of hard graft before we finally emerged into the sub-alpine grasslands for a lunch-break.

Raoulia or vegetable sheep

The gradient eased again once we had completed the short climb through the tussock to Mount Cedric, and we could enjoy the expansive views back up the Sabine valley and out across Lake Rotoroa to the west as we walked the ridge that gradually climbs to the saddle leading into the Angelus Basin. It was late afternoon before we finally had our tents pitched beside Lake Angelus, a couple of hundred metres or so from the new hut that has replaced the earlier version in which I stayed 40 or so years ago. After the most successful of our homemade dehydrated meals and a game of cards we retreated to our tents, a series of sharp showers blowing in on yet another south-westerly front.

The last day – out along Robert Ridge

Sunrise at Lake Angelus

This was to be the shortest night of our trip, not just because it was the summer solstice, but also because at 5.45 I was woken by one of my sons with the news that the weather had finally cleared. I emerged to a gorgeous dawn with the first clear skies of our trip. Grabbing my camera, I made the most of the best photo opportunities of the entire trip, the combination of spectacular landscape and sublime light making the choice of where next to point the camera a difficult one! After a glorious hour, I finally downed my breakfast and helped pack up the tent, looking forward with anticipation to the opportunities for photos that I knew would present themselves on the final day’s walk out along the Robert Ridge. I was not to be disappointed, with cloud rising up out of the valleys as it was warmed by the rising sun, and the tarns that dot the first two basins in particular standing out with their intense blue-green colours in a landscape dominated by muted yellow-greens, browns and greys.

Walking Robert Ridge

And this was another day for transition as we left the simple, distilled pattern of walking, food and ‘how long until the next hut?’, moving instead to the more complex world of ‘civilization’. A day, too, for enjoying one another’s company, to throw snowballs, to recall the notable events of the trip; a day with time to watch brown creepers gleaning for insects in the canopy, a rifleman bathing in water caught in a hollow on a fallen tree, or a falcon quartering over the open face on Mount Robert; a day for running repairs on gear that was struggling to last the distance; and a day of anticipation of missed favourite foods to be eaten on the return to Saint Arnaud.

Made it!

Made it!

An afterthought about gear selection for those with photographic interests

This was my first extended trip with my new Sony A7R, and it worked brilliantly. Three batteries easily got me through a six-day trip, during which I took about 450 images, with about 50% capacity left on the third battery at the end. I carried three Canon FD lens – a 20 mm F/2.8, a 35 mm F/2 and an 85 mm F1.8 – and a single adaptor. I used the 35 mm the most – its a focal length that seems to match the way that I see the world and produces beautiful sharp images. The 85 mm was great for picking out more distant features, or for closeups when I would add a Nikkor 3T or 4T closeup filter. I used the 20 mm perhaps 20% of the time – I love its wider field of view, but as with many earlier lenses of this focal length (along with some more recent!), it doesn’t pay to look to closely at image quality in the corners. Perhaps Zeiss will come to my rescue with a wider-angle addition to their new Loxia range – a 21 mm Distagon, please Mr Zeiss!