We left the West Coast planning a stop at Nelson Lakes NP just for a night on our way to Marlborough wine country. Thinking we’d just camp, do a bit of hiking on the short trails and check out the visitor center, we discovered an awesomely beautiful lake with towering mountains behind them. Looking a bit more into it we find that you can access the alpine region in a day, that the one hut most people want to go to is closed because they’re rebuilding it larger, so there are very few people hiking the high country. Sum it up - mountains, alpine lakes, no people - perfect! We plan out a three day trip, check with the warden who says it sounds good to him (we’ll get back to him later), and decide to head on to Marlborough country to relax, refresh, and prep for the hike. Meanwhile, it happens that the park is hosting a classic and antique boat show so we walk around taking some of that in. This is for Jan and Luke, my sister and bro-in-law who have been living part-time on their sailboat on the SE Atlantic coast - check out the picture, I talked to these folks for a bit, they retired and then spent 3½ years BUILDING their own sailboat! I don’t know if you can tell from the picture but the detail work on it was really neat looking, its about 20’ long and they’ve been living on it for the past year. They trailer it around and camp in it on shore, coincidentally we saw the boat again a week later up at Abel Tasman where they were sailing off the coast.
So, outfitted and ready to go, we come back to the park, drive our campervan up to the trailhead we’re going to come out on, get a ride back with the local shuttle, hop in the water taxi to cross the lake (saving us about an 8K hike), and start up the trail. First of all, NZ parks have a habit of signing trails with a time estimate of how long it’ll take you to get there. No mileages, just hours. My theory is that they have some guy who does triathlons RUN the trail for a workout and then post his time to see if anyone else can match it. We’ve learned, especially on the uphills, that if it says 3 hrs we plan on 5-6 hrs with stops. Now Day One of this hike we know is going to be hard, we think we’re doing probably 7-8 miles and we’re climbing 4000’, the sign actually said 5-8 hrs so they knew that there’d be some variables. But we did Grand Canyon and climbed more then that (over 2 days) so I’m thinking ‘okay, 8 hrs it is’. We head up the valley for a couple miles, beautiful day, easy hike. Turn up the side valley and start climbing, not bad, doing fine. Trail is getting narrower, less well marked, do some route-finding, doing okay. Run into some blown down trees, find our way, climb some more and come out above tree line and look up. Ouch, we’re looking up a valley and there’s mountains all around the top, high looking mountains that we need to get over to get to our lake because there’s nowhere to camp below them. It gets steeper, we get tireder. It gets even steeper, did I just say that? We rest, refuel with Snickers Bars, head on and up. Then as we get closer it gets REALLY STEEP!! One of us had to stop and have a bit of a cry from being so tired. With encouragement and no other option we kept on. Then one us of slipped and fell on her butt and had another bit of cry, the other of us felt really bad at getting us into this. But the warden (remember him?) didn’t say boo about how hard this trail would be. So one of us went on and left his pack and came back down and took the other pack and did a couple round trips cause he hates seeing those tears and it seemed to help and we FINALLY got past this insanely steep part of the trail and got to the ridge and saw the hut and went on to our lake and made camp in a fabulously beautiful spot. During the night the Kea’s were flying and calling their name (KEY-AAA, KEY-AAA) and the morning dawned all sunny and gorgeous. We survived to hike another day with no discussion at all about divorce!
Day Two - hiked back up past Angellus Hut, planned to have 38 bunks and what a setting, right at the top of a glaciated bowl with a lake wrapped around it. We climbed, yes, climbed the ridge near the hut and got onto Roberts Ridge and found ourselves on top of the world. Spent most of the day hiking along the ridge until starting to drop down toward a hut at day’s end, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Day Three was easy, down the face of the mountain and back to our camper, arrived there around 11 am and ended up driving to Abel Tasman NP that afternoon. And that is New Zealand - hiking down from an alpine camp above tree line and ending up on a gorgeous beach hours later - what a country!