Angelus Hut – Nelson Lakes National Park

The six of us met at the train station at 2.20pm, where Lisa kindly had the van ready and waiting for us. We drove onto the Interislander for a 4pm sailing, arriving in Picton shortly after 7pm. We then drove down to St Arnaud, arriving at West Bay campsite just after 9pm, ready to pitch our tents and settle in for the night. There was the most amazing clear starry night.

Day 1

The next morning we packed up and had a short drive up Mt Robert Rd to the Mt Robert carpark, where we started the walk.

We set off walking at 9.15am up the Pinchgut track. It was a big steep climb up to the top of Mt Robert, with stunning views over Lake Rotoiti. We were blessed with beautiful weather, but the stillness of the surroundings was pierced with the sound of revving engines and a loudspeaker. Our trip happened to coincide with a power boat competition and we could see the boats going round and round a short circuit on the lake a long way down below.

We made it to the top of Mt Robert in about an hour and 20 minutes, and to the Relax Shelter 10 minutes later, where we had a rest and snack stop.

From there we passed various warning signs (advising that the visibility and weather can change drastically within minutes, to consider if you have the relevant gear and experience etc) and started the walk along Robert Ridge.

The wind had picked up a little at this point and the whole ridgeline was completely exposed. We reached Flagtop (a feature along the ridgeline) at about 12.20pm and Julius Summit at 12.50pm, where we decided to have our lunch in a sheltered spot with stunning views in both directions. We had perfect visibility and could see down to Tasman Bay in the distance, and all the mountain peaks and valleys around us. The views were breathtaking. It was also very strange to see patches of snow at many points along the ridgeline – which didn’t melt and disappear in the sun.

The extra steep rocky climb

The next section of the walk was very rocky – at first the track went downhill steeply and there were loose rocks to traverse. We had to move through this part very slowly and carefully as it would be easy to injure yourself or to keep sliding down and be unable to stop. After this there was more clambering over rocks and boulders for much of the way along to the hut, with an especially very steep uphill rocky climb at one point – which would be treacherous if done in high wind or low cloud. Sometimes along the track there were quite steep drops on one side.

Luckily there was generally not much wind as we walked along the ridgeline and it felt very hot in the sun at times as there is no cover or bush at all for the five or so hours you spend walking along the ridgeline.

We eventually reached the Speargrass Creek route turn off, and after a further small climb the track veered to the left and we could finally see down into the beautiful Lake Angelus and Lake Angelus Hut. We stopped here to take lots of selfies or photos of each other – a real iconic backdrop. It felt like we’d come to an oasis or resort in the middle of the dry, barren landscape as there was grass in the basin where Lake Angelus is located and the water in the Lake was glistening in the sun.

It was a steepish and very rocky descent down to the Lake and hut, with stunning views of the Lake. We reached the Hut at about 3.45pm. Some of us went for a swim or paddle and sunbathe by the Lake. It was still lovely and warm outside, but by all accounts the lake water was freezing.

We each prepared our own dinners and the hut warden did a short evening talk. The hut was full (all 28 bunks were occupied) but spacious, new and well equipped. Most of us had an early night, tired from our day in the sun

Day 2

The next morning we set off at about 8.15am, with the steep climb back up to the ridgeline to warm us up. There was a chilly wind first thing, but soon we were back in the sun again. The subtle morning light lit the landscape up with the most amazing glow.

We started down the Speargrass Creek route, as planned, for our return to Mt Robert carpark. There was stunning scenery (alpine plants, Speargrass Creek running the whole way down the mountain, a tarn..). The track changed from grassy terrain to clambering over rocks, down a very long way. Again we took our time. Further down the track we had to make multiple crossings of Speargrass Creek – there were no bridges, you need to jump from rock to rock over the creek and you are most likely to get wet boots. The rocks in the creek got slippery the further we moved down the hillside (probably due to the algae we began seeing in the creek) and one of the group slipped and got drenched shorts and boots!

We had a short morning break on the track at 10.50am and then reached Speargrass Hut at 11.30am, where we decided to have an early lunch (and let our feet dry or change out of wet clothing). We set off again at 12.05pm, and finished the track at 2.40pm. The track from the hut to the end was thankfully less rocky and in the bush, and we were able to walk at a faster pace. There were a few small climbs towards the end and we were very glad to catch sight of the carpark at the end.

We all jumped in the van and drove down to West Bay where some of us had a quick refreshing dip in the lake, admiring Mt Robert and thinking about our steep climb to the top the day before.

Soon after, we headed back to Picton, where we had time for a quick dinner stop before heading to the ferry for our 7.15pm departure.

It was a fantastic adventure, which we felt was probably on the challenging side of an Easy Medium tramp. You definitely need to be sure-footed, careful and have good balance for all the clambering over rocks (including sliding rocks). You also need to be ok with heights, and be able to cope with lots of up and down along the track. I would recommend walking poles for the river crossings, sunscreen in fine weather (most of the track has no shade) and grippy boots. Lake swims are also recommended.

We were very grateful for the wonderful weather, amazing scenery, a lovely group and all of Jacqui’s thorough organising that made this bucket list trip possible.

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