Around the time I moved hostels and was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my traveling self, I heard from Louise. She was in a similar place – needing a friend and some inspiration – and she was on her way to Nelson! We spent a day catching up and discussing possibilities for our next adventures, then decided to head down to Nelson Lakes National Park for a long weekend before she continued up to the North Island for some traveling. We hoped some time away would allow us to collect our thoughts and revitalize our passion for traveling.
We initially planned to do the Travers-Sabine Circuit (a 4-7 day tramp) from St. Arnaud, but decided there was not enough time before Lou wanted to head north. We instead planned a route that would include a day with a bit of alpine climbing/scrambling up to one of the peaks (either Mt. Hopeless or Mt. Cupola), a visit to one of the more popular (and supposedly beautiful) spots next to Lake Angelus, and a return route that included a long walk along Robert Ridge. We were advised to be cautious about the weather in terms of what day we were on the ridge, because Sunday was expected to produce gale force winds which would knock us off out feet.
Friday, day one, we were already knackered. We had spent the previous day running around trying to plan out our route, stock up on food, buy/borrow some gear, store our unnecessary belongings, do laundry, and even tried to squeeze in a climb at the local gym (which was eventually nixed for time). Neither of us slept very much the night before, so we took it easy, enjoying a long lunch on the rocky beach of Lake Rotoru.
Aside from the lake, lots of what we saw along the tramp looked quite the same. There were some cool trees…
Plenty of mountainous backdrops…
A few sketchy swing bridges…
And lots of greenery.
When it came to finding a campsite for that first night, at times we were getting hopeless.
We eventually came across a lovely spot and (despite a messy gift from a bird who decided to perch on my hat) had a nice evening and a LONG night’s rest!
We set off on Saturday morning, headed up to Cupola Hut. The plan was to stop for lunch at the hut and then get to one of the summits in the afternoon.
Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in and there would not have been a very rewarding view from the peak. Also, we had been forewarned that bad weather can crop up quite quickly from beyond the mountains, so we decided venturing into unknown terrain was perhaps not the best idea.
I, personally, was already sore and tired from the hiking (particularly in my knees!) and wasn’t chomping at the bit to summit a mountain feeling sub-par.
We decided that if we weren’t going to get to do any mountain climbing, some hut-bouldering would have to do!
This entertained us for a while before it was time to head back down into the valley.
We retraced our morning walk and found a campsite a bit further along than the one we had Friday night.
There were so many sandflies, that we rushed to put up the tent and dove inside!
Due to the level of miserable itchiness that automatically ensues when stepping foot outside in these conditions (dusk in a land that is already severely infested with the little buggers), the two of us - who are quite experienced in the outdoors and really do know better - decided to prepare our dinner inside the protection of our tent! We had a tasty pasta bolognaise (it’s always nice when you can be excited about your meals while tramping)!
After we ate, we realized how poorly we had placed our tent in such haste. The grass seemed soft enough from afar, but there were giant lumps that were way too awkwardly placed to serve as pillows, so we had to relocate our home!
During the night, we felt the early arrival of the gale force winds which tried to rid us of our shelter (and succeeded at interrupting our sleep quite frequently), but, alas, come morning the skies had settled and the tent was still standing!
After much debate about following our predetermined route or turning back earlier than planned, we decided we’d had enough of Nelson Lakes. I’m sure the repetitive scenery was not helped by the fact that we backtracked much of our route, but neither of us seemed to be quite motivated to continue on to Angelus and Robert Ridge. We decided, instead, to follow the route back to St. Arnaud along the opposite side of Lake Rotoru, which would bring us out of the park on Sunday, rather than Tuesday.
We stopped for lunch at a hut once we reached the lake and chatted with two couples who had stopped there with their boat for a picnic. We mentioned how we had decided to bail and were headed back to St. Arnaud instead of our original plan, partially because of the mundane scenery (yes, the mountains were beautiful, but most of the track you spent in the woods, going up and down small, steep hills. We were sick of it.) They encouraged us to check out the waterfall along this side of the lake, and mentioned they would be headed back to St. Arnaud after their picnic. We were told there was a jetty at the base of the waterfall walk, and if we wanted a boat ride back to St. Arnaud, then to just wave them down as they drove by!
We hiked the hour or so to the waterfall, and had fun exploring it a bit. On our way back down to the main path, we saw a boat approaching the jetty. I grabbed my pack and ran down so they could see me, but soon realized I was approaching a different boat! In response to the baffled looks, Lou and I explained why I was so excited. The three boaters explained that they were going to walk up to the waterfall for a brief visit, but if we wanted a ride back to St. Arnaud, they’d be happy to take us after that. Hence, we wound up hitchhiking on a speedboat and saving about 5 hours’ worth of walking!