As the end of my internship here at Hiking New Zealand drew closer, I was asked to join a weekend hike in Nelson Lakes National Park. No need to tell you that I eagerly accepted the offer and packed my bags for one last adventure.
After several hours of driving, including petrol refilling, toilet stops, and a pizza break in Murchison, we finally arrived at the car park from which our tramp would begin. As the sun was setting we headed up along Paddy’s Track. This was a short walk compared to what would come over the next few days. Nevertheless it was, for me, the most physically challenging one as it was a steady incline and I carried a backpack half my own weight (ok, maybe not that heavy, but that’s what it felt like). Powered by a few short breaks, the previously devoured pizza, and amazing views of the lakes, we made it to our stop for the night - Bushline Hut. Since the daylight was long gone we quickly brushed our teeth and snuck into the conveniently half full hut to get some sleep.
As we had a long day ahead of us, we started with a relaxed breakfast while enjoying the early morning sunshine and the spectacular view from the hut. After packing away the food, we began our tramp and quickly reached the start of Robert Ridge, the rocky track that would eventually take us all the way to our second destination - Lake Angelus. It’s hard to express in words what it is like walking on the ridge of a large mountain range in New Zealand. As a Tolkien fan, I felt like I was crossing the Misty Mountains on a quest to save the world. Surrounded by numerous other mountains and lakes we covered a great deal of the track before stopping at one of the highest points for some well deserved lunch. The rest of the trail continued in the same wonderful environment with some occasional scrambling along the side of the ridge. This, and controlling my balance while carrying a big backpack, was something new to me but thanks to some general determination it all worked out well. When we finally climbed over the last ridge and got our first glimpse of Lake Angelus we were all rejuvenated with some extra energy and pretty much skipped down the last bit.
As the others were cooling themselves off with a dip in one of the alpine lakes, I could lean back and contemplate if I had enough energy left to try to climb Mount Angelus. It turns out I did! Although my initial plan was to do half the climb, look at the view and then walk back to the lake, I somehow made it to the top. There wasn’t a marked trail all the way up so the last bit was a mix of scrambling and actual climbing. If the climb didn’t take my breath away, the view from the top most certainly did. Looking out over the numerous mountain tops got me a bit philosophical, thinking about how small I am compared to the world, and all that jazz. After pointlessly waving to the people that stayed at the lake we headed back down, half walking and half sliding with the loose rocks.
The day wasn’t over quite yet. From Lake Angelus we started the descent down along Hukere Cascades, which basically means jumping down from one big rock to another on what looks like the remains of an avalanche - exciting! An hour later we reached a wonderful meadow where we put our tents up and got a campfire started. While the dark was closing in we had dinner and later roasted marshmallows over the fire. It doesn’t get much more idyllic than that, does it?
As I woke up the next morning, opening the tent and watching the sun shine on the surrounding mountains while drinking tea made from the water from the stream, I could almost hear Edvard Grieg’s classic symphony Morning Mood playing in the background. It was the perfect place to camp, not even my sore feet or the slightly burnt porridge could ruin my good mood. Reluctantly, we packed our gear and left the meadow behind us to continue on Cascade Track. The beginning of this trail took us along the Hukere Stream, through the lush forest. As much as I enjoyed the rocky, exposed hike from the day before, it was nice having a change of scenery. To entertain the kids (and ourselves too), we played a couple of games of Murder. This was a new game to me but I will definitely teach it to my friends so we can play it on our next hike!
The track eventually took us to Coldwater Hut, just by the edge of Lake Rotoiti. We spent an hour relaxing and soaking up the sun before being picked up by the water taxi that took us back to St. Arnaud. It was a short ride, but we were well entertained by the skipper of the boat, telling us to shout if we saw any dolphins, sharks or mermaids so we could go and get a closer look. Another well deserved pizza, plus my first shandy (lager beer topped with lemonade) ever, was consumed before the journey home began. Needless to say, we were all pretty exhausted but with a little help from some coffee and an ice cream stop, we made it back home.
I feel so lucky that I got the opportunity to go on a real kiwi-style hike, being able to enjoy mountains, camping and good company - to me, that’s what New Zealand is all about. To sum it all up - I couldn’t have asked for a better final weekend with Hiking New Zealand! Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and it is time for me to move on and leave this beautiful country. For now ;)