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Mt Angelus (2075m) from the shores of Lake Angelus
Mt. Angelus (2075m) from the shores of Lake Angelus
Country: New Zealand
Location: Nelson Lakes National Park
Accommodation: Hotel and backpackers accommodation in St. Arnaud. The Yellow House Youth Hostel. Camping sites at foot of Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa.
Transport: Buses to and from St. Arnaud village from Nelson.
Maps: Parkmap Nelson Lakes (1:100,000); Topomaps Murchison - M29, St. Arnaud N29, M30 - Matakitaki. Or look at my online map here.
Trip Dates: 26 to 30 December, 1997
Also See:
The Travers - Sabine Circuit: a wonderful walk along the Travers and Sabine valleys with a high alpine crossing.
Walking In The Rotoiti Area Of The Nelson Lakes National Park - highly recommended.
There are a couple of good pictures on the Tararua Tramping Club Pictures Page
Introduction

Between the lakes of Rotoiti and Rotoroa in New Zealand's South Island, is the high alpine tarn of Lake Angelus with the nearby luxurious Angelus Hut. Only another 400 metres higher is the fine peak of Mt. Angelus (2075m). The most spectacular hiking access to the lake, hut and mountain is along the Robert Ridge - a consistently high, sometimes narrow and usually beautiful route. There are great views into the basins above the Travers Valley and alpine herbfields for budding botanists.

The high altitude (up to 1600 metres) means that this area is subject to bad weather (including snow) at any time of the year. The steep slopes to either side are prone to avalanches in winter. This is a popular area even in winter with ski-tourers on the ridge and frozen lake and climbers tackling snow and ice on Mt. Angelus.

When starting this walk you have a few choices:
Stay in St. Arnaud overnight to allow a full days walking along the ridge.
Head straight up the ridge after travelling to the park (unless you are a local this means starting around noon and a late finish at the hut). Good for the fit or those in a hurry.
Go up to Bushline Hut on the first day - a leisurely way to fill in an afternoon. This was my choice.

Be aware that Angelus Hut can get full very easily, especially during holiday periods. Don't expect to be alone at the hut and large groups should carry tents.

Up to Bushline Hut

The day starts at the Mt. Robert carpark which is at an airy 860 metres. From St. Arnaud, drive west for 3 kilometres and turn left at the well-signposted junction. The gravel road skirts the lake shore and crosses over the birth of the boisterous Buller River. Another 1.5 kilometres brings the start of the Lakeside Track as the road begins to climb in earnest through beech forest. There is a small carpark and helicopter landing pad (for flights up to the skifield) just before the top carpark.

Looking south along Speargrass Creek
Looking south along Speargrass Creek. Speargrass Hut is in the clearing at the head of the valley - visible as a brown line at the photo's centre.

Paddy's Track departs at the bottom carpark for a traverse of Mt. Robert's eroded north slopes before climbing up to Bushline Hut about 3 hours away. This is a nice exit route from the hut but means extra effort if you want to go up and visit the skifield on the way up to the hut. If you are walking all the way from or to St. Arnaud then some travel along the gravel road can be avoided by following the Lakeside Track which has a branch track joining onto Paddy's Track.

Admire the fine views from the Mt. Robert carpark and then set off along the Pinchgut Track. A rising traverse through mature beech forest soon brings the foot of the massive zigzags leading up a ridge to the summit. Take special note of the sign just before the track emerges onto grassy slopes. Early settlers burnt the forest cover on the north face of Mt. Robert. This has lead to massive erosion that is just started to stabilise - keep to the track!

There are lots of zigzags as you climb up the open slopes. The sidles to the east give glimpses into the erosion gully while the western sidles get frustratingly (on a hot day) close to the shade of the beech trees. A fenced-in area near the end of the zigzags contains a planting of native shrubs and trees. Just as you begin to think that the zigzags are never going to end, a last zig (or zag) enters the trees just below a knob on the ridge. There is even a seat here to rest in the welcome shade - you have just climbed about 350m and are due a break. However there are still more zigzags in the bush but for some reason they are not as discouraging as the ones on the open ground.

The track climbs another 200m within the bush with one long traverse to the west and back. I reached the Bushedge Shelter about 2.5 hours after leaving the carpark. The shelter is a small solid structure right at the edge of the bush with nothing but tussock above it. There is room for 6-8 people to sit inside - out of the inclement weather or in my case a blistering hot afternoon. A gentle 10 minute climb past the summit of Mt. Robert (1411m) brings the larger Relax Shelter which looks like an old hut and has room for up to 16 inside. A few minutes further brings the junction with Paddy's Track at a large outcrop of rocks. Before turning off, I recommend that you drop your pack near the rocks and head up the ridge to look over the skifield - the round-trip will take less than an hour.

The track drops gradually from the junction, at one point crossing the head of the scree slopes falling into the headwaters of the Robert Stream (the second eroded gully on the mountain's north face). Steeper slopes are zigzaged down to pass the private Kea Hut and enter the top of the beech forest above Lake Rotoiti. Bushline Hut is found tucked under the trees one hundred metres later with a great view over the lake to St. Arnaud (walk a little down the track for the best vantage point). Take special note of its long-drop - perched on the top of steep bare slopes to the east of the hut (a loo with a view!). This night the hut was better than half full with 9 people staying - 6 Kiwis, 2 Belgians and a German.

Robert Ridge to Lake Angelus
Over Lake Rotoiti to the Travers Valley
Over Lake Rotoiti to the Travers Valley (under the morning mist) with Mt. Chittenden (2205m) poking up in the background

Angelus Hut is signposted as 4-7 hours away over Robert Ridge. The large range echoes the wide range of weather conditions on the ridge - 4 hours for overcast days with no views, 7 hours for fine crisp winter days through the snow. On the beautiful day that I had there was no excuse to hurry and I walked close to 7 hours. Remember to take plenty of water with you - there are tarns close to the ridge but they are all at least 100m lower than the crest and this has to be climbed back up again!

The day started with mist rolling around the hut. This was a little discouraging until I climbed a little way above the hut and broke into bright blue clear skies above the mist. The photo to the right was taken near Kea Hut. By mid-morning the mist was gone leaving me stripping down to survive the hot sun and hoping the track would keep to the east of the ridge to protect me from a cruel cold wind from the west.

South over Mt Robert Skifield
Looking south over the Mt. Robert Skifield

The climb back to the junction is quickly over (30 minutes) and you rejoin the Pinchgut Track up to the skifield. This starts with a flat section until a climb up a tiny knob (with steps!) with the first alpine basin along the ridge to your left. The basin is drained by Whisky Creek with the large Whisky Falls near the lake shore. This first climb is helped by a set of steps before the track heads up dirt slopes following poles. If the wind is in the right direction then you will be serenaded by the moan from a hollow metal pole as the gradient eases. Also be aware that the occasional great white shape in the sky may not be a seagull looking to make a deposit - gliders from the Lake Station Aerodrome often buzz the trampers along the ridge.

Once over the crest, there is one of the many great views on this walk. The jagged Christie Ridge rises on the other side of the second basin containing the main skifield and its buildings. A glimpse of the major feature of Robert Ridge, Julius Summit (1794m), can be seen to the east of Flagtop (1669m) the next objective for today. There is a shelter to the left but the route heads along the scree slopes to the right with a large sign pointing the way (Paddy's Track heads steeply down into the skifield).

Julius Summit (center of picture)
Forward to Julius Summit from Flagtop

The route traverses under a small knoll and rejoins the crest of the ridge at the top of a ski-tow. The crest is followed closely as the well-padded route winds around various rocky bumps on its way up to Flagtop. About halfway along, a tiny shed is passed - possibly a radio repeater for the skifield. Most of the 100m climbed is concentrated in the approach to the broad bump of Flagtop - a good excuse to keep your head down and ignore the skifield apparatus on the summit. In general though the skifield is not too obtrusive with its assorted buildings painted to blend in with the tussock. This is a good spot for your morning break.

For a bit of extra excitement, you can leave your packs and scramble along the narrow and rocky Christie Ridge. The view from point 1715 will reward the sweat lost.

Junction of the Travers and Arnst Rivers
Over the fourth basin to the junction of the Travers and Arnst Rivers. Note some of the many tarns in the various basins.

A gentle drop from Flagtop takes you further along the ridge with the third basin to your left. Soon an easy climb heads towards a small peak. However the summit of this peak is not reached since the route traverses below its final slopes to a tiny saddle at the base of Julius Summit. This section contains the first of many scrambles through boulder fields. If you have half an hour to spare then the top of Julius Summit can be reached by ascending the rough rocky ridge and returning the same way. Be careful - there are steep drops to either side of the ridge.

The route continues by sidling through scree to stony outcrops. There is a steep 10 metre plunge through the scree to reach the base of the outcrops and progress further along the slopes. The footing rapidly becomes better and you reach another saddle (west of point 1813) sooner than you would expect. By now lunchtime looms and the saddle is a convenient place for a break. You have a choice of views, either back (NW) into the alpine basin with its tempting blue tarns or forward over the fourth basin (more tarns!) to the junction of the Travers and Arnst Rivers.

Looking back from point 1788
Looking back from the rocky ridge starting at point 1788. Julius Summit is in the centre of the picture.

The route heads to the west under a small bump and then arcs south along a long ridge. On your right, there is the valley containing Speargrass Creek - this is a good chance to have a look at the route out along this creek to Speargrass Hut. The only difficulty I could see was a steep section part of the way down the valley just before the waterfalls descending from a tarn on the other side of the valley. The ridge becomes rocky and narrow as it rises to point 1788. While the crest can be clambered along, the route takes the better and safer option of keeping a few metres down from the crest on the east side of the ridge. Even so, I made the walk a little more interesting by occasionally walking along the crest. A final rocky climb brings you to a pole stuck up on a small knob and a change in direction to the west.

A few more rocks to clamber over and then the route takes yet another traverse below a peak on the ridge. At the end of the traverse there is a small drop to the saddle at the head of Speargrass Creek. By the time you go on this trip, there will be a new signpost pointing the way down the creek to Speargrass Hut - it was waiting on the ground when I passed it. There is one final climb up a scree slope to a last saddle overlooking Angelus lake, mountain and hut. Angelus Hut is obvious at the base of a peninsular that almost splits the lake in two. Its porch faces the saddle so the sharp-eyed among you can take a first guess at how full the hut will be. Note that the M29 Infomap (published in 1987) shows two buildings here but there is now only the main hut - the site of the other building on the peninsular is often used as a camping ground.

Back from the saddle above Lake Angelus
A couple of trampers joining me on the saddle above Lake Angelus.

Beyond the lake there is a glimpse of the foot of Hinapouri Tarn with Sunset Saddle against the sky above it (directly to the south). I arrived at 2 pm and spent about half an hour admiring the views and greeting various trampers as they passed on their way to the hut. I was tempted to extend the day by circling above the lake via point 1805, Bristol Pass and point 1860 to join the poled route from Mt. Cedric. But I had just drunk the last of my water and so headed down the steep, slippery path through the scree to the lake shore 100 metres below. I wasn't brave enough to try running down the scree like the bloke who passed when I was about halfway down.

The rest of the afternoon was spent leisurely - just settling in, sitting on the porch admiring the views (see the top photo) and taking a small stroll up the rise behind the hut for yet more views. There were about 30 people in the hut which made things busy and a bit noisy but not too crowded.


Out to Lakehead Hut and St. Arnaud

My plan for today was to head up to Sunset Saddle, drop my pack there and bag Mt. Angelus and then head down Hopeless Creek to Hopeless Hut. The route to Hopeless Hut is a largely unmarked trail but has few navigation difficulties in clear weather. However during the previous evening, a bank of clouds had rolled in - you can see the first lacy billows around the summit of Mt. Angelus in the top photo. Visibility was very low (about 20 metres) by the morning and there was a light cold drizzle to provide a contrast to yesterday's hot sunshine. Thus I decided to stay at the hut and hope for better weather later on. Some people left (mostly by Robert Ridge) and a few people arrived via the Cascade Track - resulting in about 20 in for the night.

In the afternoon, the clouds lifted slightly to give a visibility of about 100 metres. A group of four decided to have a go at Mt. Angelus and I wandered up towards Hinapouri Tarn behind them to see what the weather would do. I strolled up to the west end of the tarn (thus the detailed description below), saw that there would be no improvement and so returned to the hut. The group returned about an hour later having given up just above Sunset Saddle.

The various routes out from Angelus Hut are:
Over Sunset Saddle (5 hours).
This route is described in a notice in the hut or get a route guide from DOC.
Travel along the poled route to Mt. Cedric until you cross the main outlet from the lake (10 minutes from the hut). Head SW to pass an alpine meadow with a tiny semi-circular stone wall (a windbreak for campers?). The meadow is good for camping if you want privacy and easy access to the hut. The route climbs onto a small embankment and contours around to overlook Hinapouri Tarn with a couple of rocky outcrops providing good views. You can then either head down a steep grassy gully to the tarn side or walk along a shelf to a ramp of boulders. Either way soon gets you to the west end of the tarn (30 minutes from the hut). Climb 200m up steeply beside the creek feeding the tarn to reach Sunset Saddle and make your own way down scree slopes into Hopeless Valley. Keep to the true left of the creek as you drop down the valley so that you pass between the two tarns in the head of the valley. Then cross to the true right of the creek at the outlet of the lower tarn and follow the bank all the way to the hut.
Returning over Robert Ridge (5-7 hours).
Speargrass Creek (6-8 hours).
Over Mt. Cedric and down to Sabine Hut (5 hours)
Follow the poled route from the hut to climb towards point 1860 and then skip along the 1800m contour above the headwaters of Cedric Stream. An easy descent along a ridge takes you down to Mt. Cedric (1532m) and then down to the bushline. In the bush, the gradient starts reasonable but soon becomes unrelentingly steep (950 metres dropped in less than 2 kilometres).
Down Cascade Track to Coldwater or Lakehead Hut (5-6 hours, see below).
In winter, the steep slopes with ice and snow makes this track only suitable for experienced and suitably equipped parties.

The following morning brought a chilling reminder of the fickleness of mountain weather in New Zealand. When I made a dash for the long-drop through what I thought was drizzle, I found that it was actually light showers of snow! The weather had reverted to normal drizzle by the time I left for the Cascade Track down Hukere Stream (around 8 am).

The Cascade Track starts fairly steep and then gets even steeper. The first 100 metres are OK as you descend to follow the trickle of water from a tarn just below the lake. The next 100 metres though give a taste of the slopes to come as you drop down rocky slopes beside a waterfall. Below the waterfall, you leave the streamlet behind you and head off to the left towards the creeks emptying from Lake Angelus and Hinapouri Tarn. This soon leads to a abrupt fall through scree with plenty of excuses to stop and admire the many fine waterfalls around you. Low cloud meant that I could only see a few of the lower falls.

Looking up Hukere Stream
The cloudy view up Hukere Stream from just below the top clearing.

This steep section ends as you cross Hukere Stream just below the junction of the two creeks. Note that this ford may be impassable after heavy rain. The track enters stunted mountain beech forest for a less steep descent to a large alpine clearing (a wonderful site for camping). The beautiful beech forest will accompany you all the way down to the Travers River. From the clearing, a well-padded track continues down the stream with a series of flat sections separated by steep descents. Of interest are:
An area where the stream and track are squeezed between fans of scree and boulders falling from either side of the valley.
The map shows the track to be on the true right of the stream all the way down. However there is one point where the track crosses the stream to avoid a large tangle of uprooted trees.
A long plunge alongside an old stream course or flood channel while the stream vanishes off to your left and out of hearing. At the base of the descent, the stream reappears with a nice little waterfall.
As the valley bends north to join the Travers Valley there is one last steep section beside a gushing cascade. Once past this, there is level going all the way to the Travers Valley (about 3 hours from the top clearing, 4 from the hut).

The junction with the track up the Travers Valley is a few metres upriver from the swingbridge across the Hukere Stream. Those of you heading for Coldwater Hut will head across the bridge and then downriver. Lakehead Hut can also be accessed by going directly downriver but only if you are sure of being able to ford the Travers River. In my case, I knew that the river was about hip deep (as reported by people coming up to Angelus Hut) and so I headed upriver for the swingbridge across the river about 20 minutes away. This is thoroughly pleasant walking along gentle river flats. There is a long grassy area well suited for a bit of a break (various insects allowing) just before the bridge.

The bridge stretches across the river to a rocky bluff where a metal rope helps you keep to the track. Take care rubbing your hand along the rope since there are a few spiky metal strands poking out (as I quickly found out). The hut is less than an hours stroll downriver through the beech forest and then scattered scrub and clearings filled with old burnt-off trees. When the track climbs around a river bluff, the hut is quite near. I found myself alone at the hut for quite a while until a Japanese family arrived on a day trip from St. Arnaud. The hut turned out to be relatively empty - only 7 people in for the night.

There is not much to say about the lake-side walk - it's enjoyable, the beech forest is delightful and there are lots of chances of views up and down the lake from the shore and the open areas at a couple of stream deltas. It only takes 3 hours so you can stretch it out by heading up the Loop Track as you near St. Arnaud which climbs 160m up through the bush to Borlase Stream and then drops down to the lake again. If you have even more time then hide your packs near the stream and climb up the St. Arnaud Track for wide views.

Summary
From To Posted Time1 My Time2 Comments
Mt. Robert carpark Bushline Hut 180 240 Nice zigzaging climb with an 1 hour side-trip to the skifield.
Bushline Hut Lake Angelus (Angelus Hut) 240 to 420 390 Wonderful walking along Robert Ridge.
Lake Angelus Lakehead Hut 300 360 Many steep descents are rewarded with fine waterfalls and lush beech forest.
Lakehead Hut St. Arnaud 180 240 Delightful, easy walking.

1 Time in books or hut notices (minutes).
2 My time includes lunch, stops and my very slow pace (minutes).


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