Tuesday 28 November 2023

Nelson Lakes National Park, Bushline Hut: 16-20th November

Visiting Bushline Hut

I went for a flying visit to Nelson Lakes NP in the first week of November with the intention of doing a series of day walks in the area. I was using St Arnaud as a base and walking some tracks around both Lake Rotoiti and also Lake Rotoroa.  I managed to walk the Mt Robert Circuit track which is the circuit around Mt Robert. 

High of Mt Robert heading for Relax Shelter

I have previously walked the Mt Robert Circuit via Pinchgut and Paddy's Tracks but decided I would revisit them as I am scouting out a possible trip to Lake Angelus later this year. I also love Nelson Lakes NP so always enjoy visiting my favorite tramping destination. 

Visible sections of Mt Robert Circuit from Kerr Bay

The overflow carpark from Mt Robert carpark

Looking down on the Brunner Peninsula from the Mt Robert carpark

My car was left at the Mt Robert carpark

The circuit starts from the Mt Robert carpark and heads up the steep Pinchgut Track before curving around Porangahau/Mt Robert and heading back down to the carpark. 

Map board in the Mt Robert Shelter, Nelson Lakes NP

...Pinchgut Track starts from the shelter...

Closer look at information in the shelter, Nelson Lakes NP

The best views are visible once you break the bush-line after walking for about an hour and once you are clear of the forest you can see as far out as Nelson Bay, Mt Owen, Kahurangi NP and south down the Southern Alps. Relax Shelter is another ten minutes along the track and is a place to get out of the elements for a break and it has water tanks and toilets if required.

At the start of Pinchgut Track, Nelson Lakes NP

Some distance up the track looking at the Mt Robert carpark

There are occasional views out through the forest canopy to Lake Rotoiti, the Mt Robert carpark and the surrounding mountains. It was a blue sky day with only thin wispy cloud so you could see for quite a way...it was probably in the low 20's with little to no wind. A perfect day to be climbing to the tops in Nelson Lakes National Park.

Lake Rotoiti with the Richmond Mountains behind

View of the high ground along the Pinchgut Track

After 15 minutes you break out into open grasslands as the Pinchgut Track follows the edge of the bushline up to Mt Robert itself. You can see the track ahead running along the bush edge and I could see a number of other trampers ahead of me who were also climbing the track. 

Coming out of the forest enroute to Mt Robert. Nelson Lakes NP

A photo taken of the Pinchgut Track, Nelson Lakes NP

The views just keep getting better the higher you climb and eventually you can see all the surrounding mountain ranges. Lake Rotoiti and the Brunner Peninsula are laid out before you like some giant 3-D diagram and the sun shining on West Bay enhanced the whole vista. You continue to climb going into and out of the bush as you make your way ever higher.

View toward the St Arnaud Range, Nelson Lakes NP

The Pinchgut Track is a series of switch backs

Forest track along the Pinchgut Track, Nelson Lakes NP
There is a bench seat in the forest with a great view of Lake Rotoiti about 40 minutes into the climb so I stopped here for a five minute break. Then it was steady climbing along a bush covered track for another 25 minutes as I worked my way up to the tussock line at around 1400 meters. I could hear people coming up the track behind me but they never managed to pass so must have stopped for an extended break somewhere. 

Coming to the bush edge on the Pinchgut Track

View from my rest area onPinchgut Track

I eventually broke out of the top of the bush after climbing for about an hour and ten minutes and found myself in an area of tussock and rocky spires. You climb through this area onto the Robert Ridge which stretches off to the south towards the interior of the park. You climb a couple more switchbacks and find yourself on the western flank of Mt Robert just down from the summit. 

There is a hut marked on the LINZ topographic maps near the 1400 meter line called Bushedge Hut but it was actually removed a couple of years ago. Instead there is a nice bench seat just down from the summit of Mt Robert with superb views in all directions. To the north you can see as far as the mountains of Abel Tasman NP, to the west are the Matiri and Lyell Ranges, to the east the St Arnaud Range.

Seat with a view of Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP

Sign at the bush edge on Pinchgut Track

Lake Rotoiti and the distant Richmond Range

From Mt Robert you follow a track along Robert Ridge marked with snow-poles as you make your way to Relax Shelter about 300 meters along the ridge. This is easy travel during the warmer months but after a good dump of snow this can be a dangerous place with the potential for deep, slippery snow and cold, windy conditions.

St Arnaud Range raises over Lake Rotoiti

 If you are just day walking up here in winter then this is probably the best place to turn around and head back down Pinchgut Track. You are mostly protected from the elements by the beech forest and the views from near Mt Robert are magnificent all on their own. Otherwise head for Relax Shelter and figure out your next step.

Top of the bushline on Pinchgut Track, Nelson Lakes NP

View further along the Robert Ridge, Nelson Lakes NP

Here's the view looking off into the South West....a front was working its way up country and by the time I reached the hut it was cool and raining. 

View to the Matiri Range south of Robert Ridge

From the Relax Shelter you leave the Mt Robert Ridge Route and head down the start of Paddy's Track to Bushline Hut. There are awesome views along this section down to Lake Rotoiti, St Arnaud and out to the Richmond Range. You pass the Nelson Ski Club (NSC) Kea Hut on the way before arriving at 14 bunk Bushline Hut. 

...Relax Shelter is an old ski lodge...

Relax Shelter, Nelson Lakes NP

I eventually made it to Relax Shelter after about two hours of walking and I was pleased to be able to sit down for a short break. Relax Shelter is an old ski hut built by the Nelson Ski Club back in the days when people skied in the surrounding basin. There are a number of basins and gentle slopes around Mt Robert which would be excellent skiing terrain given enough snow.

...inside Relax Shelter is quite spartan...

The shelter is spartan inside...benches down both sides of the hut with one window for light but it is dry and warm enough so would make good location for a lunch break. There is a toilet and water tank to the rear of the shelter if required. Note: this is one of only two water resupply points on this track...the other is at Bushline Hut. There are none from Relax Shelter to Angelus Hut. 

A potted history of Relax Shelter, Nelson Lakes NP

Close up view of the information board in Relax Shelter

Looking out of the window from within Relax Shelter

After a 10 minute break I gathered my gear and set off for the track junction between the Robert Ridge Route and Paddy's Track. It is 100 meters to the turn off point to Paddy's Track and junction of the track is well sign posted by DOC.

Junction of the Pinchgut Track and Paddy's Track, Nelson Lakes NP

Note: if you are continuing to Angelus Hut then you are entering an avalanche zone from this point onwards. While the first section of Robert Ridge is relatively safe the terrain becomes more rugged the further you progress. Do not go beyond this point in winter without all the avalanche gear (shovel/probe/beacon) and the ability to judge your risk. There have been multiple fatalities and injuries on this route so be prepared. Check with DOC St Arnaud before starting ANY trip to Lake Angelus...

Looking down the ridgeline towards Bushline Hut

Meandering down Paddy's Track, Nelson Lakes NP

From the track junction it is a gradual one kilometer or 30 minute descent down to Bushline Hut along Paddy's Track. You will be following this track for the rest of the tramp and eventually it will deposit you down on the Mt Robert Road just downhill from the carpark. 

View up to Robert Ridge from Paddy's Track

The track is well marked by six foot high snow poles which gives you an idea of the amount of snow you could expect to find up here in the winter. It is an easy track to follow but take care as it is a boggy area and is a bit slippery in places. There are a couple of saddles along the track where you can see down into Lake Rotoiti...stay clear of the edges especially if there is any snow or ice present. 

...exposed section of Paddy's Track...

Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP from the exposed section

These two people were walking just ahead of me

The Nelson Ski Club used to use the basin along the track for skiing...it would have been a good ski field as the slope is easy to moderate but snow fall here is patchy at best and there are winters when there is no snow here at all. They eventually developed the Rainbow Skifield further along the Robert Ridge but even this is no longer in use. 

View from the ridge leading to Bushline Hut

Looking up to Robert Ridge along Paddy's Track

There is a point along the track where you can see right up Travers Valley to the confluence with the Arnst River and you can see right along the full length of the St Arnaud Range. Unfortunately Mt Travers and Travers Saddle are around the bend of the river just out of sigh

Looking deep into Nelson Lakes NP

You are heading for Bushline Hut but on the way you will pass the NSC Kea Hut...another old ski lodge built back in the 1930's. Kea Lodge is beautifully placed in a stand of beech trees and while it is locked it is still used by members of the Mt Robert Snow Sports Club. 

NSC Kea Hut as seen from Paddy's Track

NSC Kea Hut, Nelson Lakes NP

Bushline Hut is 200 meters or five minutes walk from NSC Kea Hut and stands on the far side of an arm of Beech forest at around 1300 meters. It is easy walking through red tussock and beech forest on a well marked and maintained track. 

...heading down Paddy's Track to the hut...

I arrived at Bushline Hut after walking for 2.5 hours so it is basically the halfway point for those people who are walking the Mt Robert Circuit. It is a 14 bunk serviced hut with platform bunks, a wood burner with supplied wood, water tanks and a decent amount of living space inside. 

The hut is on the online booking system and must be booked right through the year for any overnight stay. There is usually a Hut Warden here over the summer months

Bushline Hut is a tidy 14 bunker...Nelson Lakes NP

Photo of the front of Bushline Hut

Interior of Bushline Hut

Bushline Hut sits on a small plateau high above Lake Rotoiti and there are some awesome views of the lake from up there. A motor boat was passing along Lake Rotoiti while I was there and it looked like a toy over 800 meters below me. There is also that iconic view from the toilets at Bushline Hut of the St Arnaud Range to the north east and on the other side of the lake. 

Looking at Lake Rotoiti from Robert Ridge

..view of Golden Bay hidden in the mist...

I spent two nights at Bushline Hut...the first it was very quiet with just myself and another guy sharing the hut. The second night it was much busier...I started off by myself and the first people didn't arrive till nearly 12.30 but after that time we gained people until the hut was basically full. It rained fairly solidly for two days and I was forced to take shelter in my sleeping bay for much of the second days as it was so cold. 

View from the veranda of Bushline Hut,  Nelson Lakes NP

This was typical weather during the weekend, Nelson Lakes NP

I spent the two days in the hut and wished there was enough wood in the woodshed to have the fire going. DOC did not provide wood for the hut this year so it was cold and I was huddled in the hut 
by myself for much off the time. It was warmer after 2 pm when people started arriving at the hut and their body heat warmed it. 

Jon enjoys a coffee before the people arrived

Interior of Bushline Hut prior to the arrival of people

From Bushline Hut you drop down the northern edge of Mt Robert along an exposed track through tussock and stunted Matagouri. Once you lose a bit of altitude it is back into the forest for the last couple of kilometers out to the Mt Robert Road.

Day3: Bushline hut to the Mt Robert Carpark

There are some truly amazing views as you head down Paddy's Track to the road...you are still at 1300 meters near the hut so you can see right out to the horizon. It was gradually getting cloudier as the day progressed as a front was moving in but it was still hot in the sunny ravines with temperatures well into the mid 20's. 

Looking up the Motueka Valley from near Bushline Hut

Pancake Rocks are on the third spur to the left...St Arnuad Range

Last view of Bushline Hut, Nelson Lakes NP

This part of the track is down and along tussock covered ridgelines so make sure you cover up with sun screen and a hat as you are out in it for nearly an hour. The track condition was excellent with soil and larger gravel for a base. I had minor slips here and there but it was generally very nice to walk over. 

The Richmond Range starts just to the north of St Arnuad

West Bay of Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP

You can see the track in front of you winding its way down the northern flank of Mt Robert. There are great views down to St Arnaud and Kerr Bay and you can really see the size and shape of Brunner Peninsula at the northern end of Lake Rotoiti. 

Paddy's Track winds down the northern flank of Mt Robert

Looking up the Wairau Valley from Near Pt.1098, Nelson Lakes NP

Approaching Pt. 1098 on Paddy's Track, Nelson Lakes NP

Northern end of Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP

Kerr Bay, Lake Rotoiti from Paddys Track

You finally arrive at the forest at the 1000 meter mark and after descending for another 100 meters find yourself back in Manuka with a flattish sidle track to follow. The last two kilometers of the track are mostly flat with only minor 20 meters drops and gains along the way. It is good to be out of the sun after nearly two hours in the open...

Back into the bush along Paddy's Track, Mt Robert

The last hour is through Manuka/Beech Forest...Paddy's Track

Two kilometers from the end of the track you reach a track junction...if you go down you will eventually end up on the last 200 meters of the Lakeside Track. Go this way if you want to walk back into St Arnaud as it save walking down the Mt Robert Road. Go straight ahead if you are going to Mt Robert carpark to stay on an even sidle line to the road. 

Paddy's Track....only 30 minutes left to walk!!!

Side track to Lakeside Track and Mt Robert Road, Nelson Lakes NP

I think this side of Mt Robert was milled for timber at some time...it is covered in Manuka forest which you usually get after an area was milled and is regenerating. Eventually it will be overtaken by Beech forest and the Manuka will more or less die out. This will also happen in areas where fires have damaged the forest...

On the last kilometer of Paddy's Track, Nelson Lakes NP

Interesting moss growing alongside Paddy's Track

Regenerating Manuka forest along Paddy's Track, Nelson Lakes NP

After 30 minutes you will find yourself at a couple of slip faces which start up near the summit of Mt Robert and fall almost to the lakeside. There are a couple of scree faces to cross separated by a forested spur. There is a stream along here which is usually dry but it can be a problem in heavy rain as it is the main drainage point for this side of Mt Robert. Exercise extreme caution if crossing here in the rain. 

Crossing a scree field along Paddy's Track, Nelson Lakes NP

This stream can be a problem in heavy rain...Paddy's Track

You pass over the second of the slip faces about 10 minutes from the end of Paddy's Track. From the open rocky area you can look up to the hillside you climbed while walking the Pinchgut Track earlier in the day. You just have one last small spur to sidle around and you are back on the Mt Robert road. 

Nelson Lakes NP: looking to Pinchgut Track from Paddy's Track

The last spur to cross on Paddy's Track, Nelson Lakes NP

Paddy's Track ends approximately 500 meters away from the Mt Robert carpark and 100 meters lower down the hillside. There is an overflow carpark here for use if the main carpark is full. You just start walking back up the Mt Robert Road towards the start of the track...it takes about 5 minutes to walk back to the DOC shelter.

Mt Robert Road climbs 100 meters to the carpark...

Overflow carpark on Mt Robert Road, Nelson Lakes NP

Lake Rotoiti looking at Mt Robert

This was my third walk around the Bushline Circuit and I must say I enjoyed it even though it was hard work in places. It is a lovely 4-5 hour round trip and has excellent views along much of its length.

Access: The Mt Robert Circuit can be accessed from the Mt Robert carpark above Lake Rotoiti. Turn off SH 6 approximately one kilometer before St Arnaud and follow the narrow gravel road to the top. 
Track Times: It is approximately six kilometers (3-4 hours) around the Mt Robert Circuit first on Pinchgut Track and then on Paddy's Track. The circuit starts and finishes at the Mt Robert Carpark. 
Hut details: Relax Shelter (Shelter, water tank, toilet), NSC Kea Hut (Private locked hut), Bushline Hut (Serviced, 14 bunks, water tank, wood burner, wood shed, toilets).
Miscellaneous: This is a high alpine environment at times above 1300 meters asl. Be prepared for all conditions. Some avalanche risk on Paddy's Track over the winter if snow on Mt Robert...check with DOC St Arnaud before attempting this track in winter. Bushline Hut must be booked all year for overnight stay. Stay on the marked track as there are fall hazards along both tracks. Mt Robert carpark is often targeted by vandals/thieves so lock away all valuables.
YouTube video: Mt Robert Circuit