Getting ThereNelson Lakes National Park is located towards the north end of the South Island, easily accessible in a day from either Nelson or Christchurch. From Nelson, head southwest on Highway 6 until you pass the small town of Belgrove (55km). Just beyond Belgrove, turn left (south) onto Wai-iti Valley Road (which later turns into Stock Road). At the intersection of Stock Road and Kerr Hill Road in Golden Downs (around 25 km), turn left again (south) on Kerr Hill Road. Follow Kerr Hill road for around 38 kilometers until you hit Highway 63. Turn right on Highway 63, and proceed to St. Arnaud, the major center for activities in Nelson Lakes. It takes around an hour and a half to reach St. Arnaud from Nelson.
From Christchurch, take Highway 1 north to Waipara (47 km), then Highway 7 north over Lewis Pass, all the way to Springs Junction (150 km). At Springs Junction head north on Highway 65, then turn right onto Highway 6 at the intersection. Pass through Murchison, and then turn right (east) onto Highway 63 (34 km). Continue another 24 kilometers to St. Arnaud. The trip from Christchurch takes about five hours.
From St. Arnaud village, reach the trailhead by driving west around the West Bay of Lake Rotoiti. Turn left, cross the Buller River, and follow the signs to the Upper Mt. Robert carpark that services Paddy’s Track, the Pinchgut Track, and the Speargrass Track. This trailhead is approximately five kilometers from St. Arnaud.
ApproachesAngelus Hut can be reached via a number of different approaches, the most popular of which is the Robert Ridge route. This route is quite long, requires some easy scrambling, and stays above treeline for most of the day. In the event of poor weather or low visibility, consider the Speargrass Track as an alternative. The Cascade Track offers yet another alternative, though it is also quite long and very steep near the end.
Any of these approaches offers a means to access the Angelus Hut and the North Slopes route on Mt. Angelus
This tramp offers a fine alpine tour, with the possibility to climb several minor summits along the way. From the Mt. Robert carpark, head up switchbacks passing into and out of the Southern Beech forest until you reach the small shelter just below the summit of Mt. Robert after an hour and a half or so. The track officially ends here and a marked route begins, though in fine weather a well-trodden footpath is almost always visible. From here the route more or less follows the broad ridge, passing the small Mt. Robert ski field and over the broad summit of Flagtop (1690 meters). A short descent leads the way below the small rocky peak of Julius Summit, which makes a fine ten-minute side trip scrambling up to the summit. Visitors from Colorado will wonder if they have even left their home state, as the rocky, sparsely vegetated terrain in this area of Nelson Lakes could easily pass for Southwestern Colorado.
From below Julius Summit the route drops below the ridge and crosses loose heaps of scree and talus, where care is needed. The route then regains the ridge for a long stretch before dropping again to reach the saddle joining the Speargrass Creek route. From this rocky saddle climb up to regain the ridge again, and a viewpoint overlooking Lake Angelus, the hut, and Mt. Angelus as well. A short twenty-minute hike down switchbacks leads to the hut. The route should take between six and eight hours, depending on how big of a hurry you are in to reach the hut.
This low level alternative to the popular Robert Ridge route will likely avoid the crowds up above, but requires a good deal of route finding experience and a healthy attitude towards muddy boots. From the Mt. Robert carpark, head along the well defined Speargrass trail through a beautiful mixed forest, descending to Speargrass Creek. At a trail junction near a small sturdy bridge, head up the creek following the occasional orange marker.
The trail weaves into and out of the beech forest, through boggy marshes and over the stream at numerous points. High vegetation overgrowing the track can make navigation a trick, and the footpath frequently disappears from view. Finally, a steep ascent up to the saddle across open tussock rejoins the route with the popular and much better defined Robert Ridge. Continue up to the ridge and descend the switchbacks to the Angelus Hut. Though this route is recommended as a safer alternative to the ridge in inclement weather, the travel and routefinding is much more difficult and time consuming. This route will likely take between seven and nine hours in ascent, and perhaps an hour less in descent. I would recommend taking the Robert Ridge route up and the Speargrass route down for a varied circuit tramp.
This varied route is long and quite steep towards the end, but allows for a pleasant three-hour flat walk around Lake Rotoiti as a warmup. You could also hire a water taxi to deposit you at the Coldwater Hut for a head start. From the Coldwater Hut an easy track heads up the Travers valley to an intersection with the Cascade Track. Head west at the junction, following the Hukere Stream up a series of steep climbs. A marked route continues up the steepening valley up scree slopes and through cliffy terrain to Lake Angelus. This route will likely take seven to nine hours.
Routes also exist accessing the Angelus Hut from Hopeless Hut (mountaineering and navigation skills required, via Sunset Saddle), and from Sabine Hut (via a pole-marked routeover Mt. Cedric).
Red TapeNo permits are needed to tramp in the park, however two hut tickets are needed to stay overnight at the Angelus Hut, a Category 2 (serviced) hut. Purchase these tickets in advance at the DOC (Department of Conservation) office in St. Arnaud, or purchase an annual Hut Pass from the DOC. Though a hut warden is not always present at Angelus Hut, please do your part and help pay for all the great work the DOC performs maintaining tracks, huts, and the wilderness in New Zealand. It is especially important to sign your intentions at the DOC office in St. Arnaud to avoid overbooking this popular hut.
No pets are allowed in the National Park. Please do not use soap or was dishes in the lakes. Please use toilets provided in the huts, as this is fragile and popular area.
Department of Conservation
Numerous campsites are available around the northern end of Lake Rotoiti outside of St. Arnaud. Check in at the visitor center in town to reserve space, or call (03)521-1806.
External LinksDepartment of Conservation
South Island Weekend Tramps book