We arrived at Nelson Lakes National Park in the early evening and made our way to the Kerr Bay campsite. The location of the campsite was perfect – inside the park, adjacent to beautiful Lake Rotoiti, and just steps away from the start of the hike we were doing the next day.
The sunset over the lake that night was beautiful. Jay captured some great photos of it.
After the sun went down, a swarm of eels came out from under the dock. It was pretty cool, yet also a bit creepy, to watch them.
The following day, we hiked the St Arnaud Range Track and experienced our first taste of the magnificent Southern Alps, the mountain range that extends nearly the entire length of the South Island. The Southern Alps are what give the South Island its dramatic scenery. Although it seems all of New Zealand is strikingly beautiful, the Southern Alps are simply stunning. Nelson Lakes National Park is situated in the northernmost ranges of the Southern Alps. Our hike on the St Arnaud Range Track took us to a ridge on top of these northern ranges.
To reach the ridge required a steady climb through beech forest. The hike starts at an elevation of roughly 900 feet, and the ridge sits at about 5,500 feet, so it’s an unrelenting climb. Within no time, our quads were burning. It was quite the workout and the most we had sweated on an NZ hike. Thankfully, we were able to shower afterwards at the campsite.
I stopped to take a quick breather, and felt like someone was watching me. I looked down and saw what appeared to be the profile of a man’s head. I took a picture of it. Maybe I was getting delusional from all the climbing, but when I look at this picture, I can still see it (green/orange afro hair, a long nose)…do you see it?
As we made our way up through the forest, the trees changed from large red beech to silver beech to mountain beech, with the mountain beech getting shorter as we climbed higher toward the treeline. In Colorado, treeline (the highest elevation where trees can grow) is at 10,000+ feet. Interestingly, in NZ, treeline (‘bushline’ to New Zealanders) is at 3500+ feet. From what we gathered, the low treeline has something to do with NZ’s climate and the low frost tolerance of NZ’s treeline species. Bottom line, we are accustomed to not getting above the trees until we’re above 10,000 feet, and at that elevation the air starts to get thinner and you start to breathe a little harder because there is less oxygen. In NZ, you can enjoy being above treeline without oxygen deprivation. It’s fantastic!
After about two hours of climbing through the trees, we reached treeline and were rewarded with spectacular views.
We made our way to parachute rock (a parachute-shaped mass of rocks). We enjoyed the views from there, but knew the views would only get better as we continued to climb up to the ridge.
We were fortunate to have a perfectly clear day – we could see for miles. And there wasn’t another human in site; we had the entire ridge to ourselves. The scenery was spectacular…mountain ranges, alpine valleys, bright blue lakes…beauty as far as the eye can see. From the ridge, we could see the entire surrounding area: east down the Wairau Valley, north to Mt Richmond Forest Park, west towards Kahurangi National Park and the Buller Valley, and south to the rest of Nelson Lakes National Park.
To get a taste of what it was like to hike along this mountain ridge, check out this one-minute clip at: http://youtu.be/U-uL2FtKQwA
On our way back down, we took the loop track at the bottom, which led us along Lake Rotoiti. By the time we finished the hike, it had taken us about five hours to cover just 8.5 miles. It was a tough but absolutely beautiful hike.
Overall, we really enjoyed Nelson Lakes National Park. It would have scored a 10 out of 10 in our books, if it weren’t for one thing – biting sand flies! As soon as we arrived at the Kerr Bay campsite, they started biting us. By the time we left the park the next afternoon, our legs and feet were covered with itchy bites. They itch worse than mosquito bites, but if you itch them, they take a long time to heal and go away. After suffering this attack, we purchased a natural bug repellent made with essential oils and that seemed to keep them mostly at bay.
Anxious to get away from the sandflies, we didn’t hang around long after the hike. After a quick shower, we were off to our next destination…Mt Cook.