If you were to have just one day to visit Nelson Lakes National Park, I highly recommend it is spent hiking Mount Robert. Towards the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island, nestled on a road between Nelson and Blenheim, is the little village of St Arnaud that lies by the bank of Lake Rotoiti. Flanked by the St Arnaud mountain range on the eastern aspect, opposite to them, and round West Bay lies the domineering peak of Mt. Robert.
It is a short drive from the village, and up a winding unsealed road to reach one of the car parks. Stopping in to the local Department of Conservation office, I was recommended to hike the summit in an anti-clockwise route, and I would definitely recommend this too. From the uppermost car park, the Pinchgut Track sets off through an impressively dense and tall forest and immediately starts the constant winding gain of altitude that leads up to the summit. The middle section of the ascent is exposed to the elements – in the case of the day I hiked it, this meant the harsh and hot sunshine. Zig-zagging upwards for over an hour, Lake Rotoiti is visible for a large portion of the hike before the trail disappears again into the forest. Being in the middle of the summer, there were alpine flowers in bloom and plenty of Tui flitting about the trees.
After about an hour and a half, the path burst out of the trees at a pseudo-summit. The true summit of 1421m (4662ft) is unmarked, but is effectively one of the two little hillocks that sit to the side of the path which is only a metre or two off the summit height. From this ridge track, the lake is hidden, but instead the vista is of rolling green hills spreading off into the distance. Nelson Lakes National Park is undeniably beautiful, and with the sunshine and associated haze, the mountains appeared blue. A little hut, called the Relax Shelter sits near to the split in the path which marks the turning point for the loop track to head back to the car park. With more time, it is possible to continue along the Pinchgut track which climbs higher to the Robert Ridge, and beyond to the Angelus Hut by a mountain lake of the same name, and further still to connect to one of the many tracks around both Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa. The National Park is a hiker’s paradise with a large selection of track options to choose from.
My partner, who is not a fan of hiking mountains, always spends the incline cursing me under his breath. I always know he will love the view and the achievement at the end of it, which is why I talk him into it, so after receiving the evil eyes on the steep climb up, the smile broke across his face as we rested up by the shelter. The bees were busy polinating, and some other hikers chatted to us for a while. After a pit-stop, we took the loop path that split from the Pinchgut Track, called Paddy’s Track. This took us first over a fairly barren ridge where we were facing the immense wall of the St Arnaud range, and finally Lake Rotoiti came back into view.
Beginning the descent, we passed the Kea Hut, an old ski club hut from the days when people used to hike up mountains before ski lifts were invented, and beyond this was the Bushline Hut, a decent-sized overnight hut at 1290m (4232ft) altitude. Being a popular trail, we got chatting to a German hiker whilst we ate lunch. After having had Mt Alford to myself the week before, it was interesting to have so many tourists to chat to as we went. From this point onwards, Lake Rotoiti is in full view for the majority of the descent. The path has loose shingle making some parts a slip hazard, but with such an awesome view it was a very enjoyable walk down. On two occasions, there is a scree slope to negotiate which needs good treads on your feet, and finally, the path disappears back into the forest for a while before eventually exiting at a lower car park.
The DOC signs state 5 hrs for this hike, and that’s not far off what it took us to complete the circuit, although this included a lengthy lunch break and a shorter break on the summit. The majority of the hike is exposed to the elements making it a sweaty affair on a sunny day, but I was recommended this hike, and I highly recommend it as a must for any trip to this National Park.