Nelson Lakes

We  returned to Nelson Lakes after bypassing it early in our trip due to heavy snow on the mountains. We came down from Arthurs Pass and visited Carew Falls near Lake Brunner. A huge storm had gone through in Easter bringing down vast swathes of trees and the track was still not officially open but it was cleared enough for us to get through easily.

We detoured from our path to visit the famous Hawks Crag in the Buller Gorge. It’s a tight fit for trucks and buses.

We arrived at Nelson Lakes to find there was still snow on the high passes but Ray still wanted to do a walk so we decided to walk in and out to Blue Lake. We thought we had found a beautiful, previously unseen NZ bird but it turned out to be somebodies abandoned pet – a Mandarin duck – very striking and unable to breed with the local birds.

Our first day turned out to be hut too far. We walked to Speargrass Hut on a rough track with lots of tree roots to carefully clamber over and a half hour steep flood detour so we arrived after three and half hours. After lunch it was then another five hours to the next hut (we took five and a half) with lots more roots, two large detours around areas where huge areas of trees had been brought down by the Easter storm and a tricky climb down to lake level. We arrived exhausted at 6.30.

We thought we had an easy day the next day – five hours and 13 km up the Sabine River. It drizzled most of the day and we ended wet and cold, the streams needed fording so our feet were soaked and we took six and a half hours. The hut was very welcome and Ray got the fire going so we could dry off. The next day was a short trip to Blue Lake but when we set off again in the rain, we found the  side streams quite high and lots of them so decided to retreat to the hut. During the afternoon a group from Auckland Uni arrived up the Sabine river track having waded through waist deep streams. After a break they continued on to Blue Lake. We are not that gung ho! (No pictures – too wet!)

The rain finally stopped and we set off for Blue Lake in the sunshine on our fourth day. The river and streams had all dropped and were easily forded though I would hate to have gone through some on the previous day. We had to cross a large snow bank that half crossed the river but luckily it was easily traversed. Blue Lake was just reward for our efforts, shining bluely in the sunshine with the clearest fresh water in the world (scientifically proven). We climbed up to look at Lake Constance above.

We strolled back down to West Sabine Hut enjoying the sunshine and the views.

Heading back down the Sabine River without the rain was much easier so we covered the ground more quickly and enjoyed the walk. Neither of us were looking forward to the walk back to the car so we accepted an invitation from the uni students to join them on the boat ride down the lake and they would give us a ride back to our car. We had to pick up half of their group from a hut on the other side of the lake where they had joined a hunter whose prowess was on display.

We still wanted to walk to Angelus Hut but the weather was turning again so we decided to retreat for a while and return in the sunshine. After admiring the huge eels that lived under the jetty at Lake Rotoiti we headed north to Motueka. A DOC pamphlet introduced us to the Cobb valley area and we decided to head there. We followed a hydro road up to a manmade reservoir high in the mountains. We camped beside the river and took a day walk to Lake Peel, a lake in a dramatically carved, glacial valley. We then walked to Sylvester Hut, only five km but taking us up to 1300m where we had patches of sunshine and blasts of snow.  I  lost Ray there as he managed to walk past the hut which was 50m off the track and he had his head down as it was snowing.

We arrived back at Lake Rotoiti to forecasts of sunshine for two days – long enough to get to Angelus Hut and back. We had to return along the ridge as the valley was closed for helicopter drops of poisoned baits. We climbed the zigzag path that took us above the tree line. From there we walked along a narrowing ridge as the scenery got more and more amazing and dramatic. We had to sidle some parts and gradually had more snow to deal with though it was all soft. When we thought it couldn’t get any better we dropped down to Angelus Hut, nestled beside two lakes and ringed by dappled snowscapes.

The fog rolled in before sunset but cleared during the night for me to creep out and take pre-dawn and sunrise photos. The clear skies meant that the snow froze so we had to take it very carefully until the sun melted it. Luckily there were footprints  frozen into the snow to make it safer and there was a lot less snow on our return along the ridge. One part had us sidling belong a rocky ridge above a steep snow slope and we were very pleased to be across it safely. It was then a pleasant return tramp on one of our most dramatic walks.

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2 thoughts on “Nelson Lakes

  1. Just discovered your blog. Thanks so much for your detailed account of the trek to the Blue Lake. Amazing photos also. I am 62 and only started serious walking 3 years ago – not sure why I waited so long. I now live in the wonderful Blue Mountains National Park of New South Wales, so there is a lot to yet explore. I plan to go to New Zealand probably within the next couple of years. I haven’t been there since 1974 so I think it is high time. Last year I did some amazing walking in the U.K. and this year will be heading to Scotland – can’t wait. I look forward to reading about your other adventures. Bye for now. Del

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