Bára & Kuba on the road

Chilly camping in Nelson Lakes National Park

Chilly camping in Nelson Lakes National Park

A Friday afternoon. Everything was packed and the car was ready. I printed last few maps, our ferry tickets and then we headed off to Wellington ferry terminal.

A quick warm-up while climbing up to Mt Robert
A quick warm-up while climbing up to Mt Robert

The first sign that something was wrong was that we were the only car at check-in. No queue as usual. At the gate, there was a notice that check-in would be an hour beyond its scheduled time. A bit annoyed, as we hadn’t received any notice, we drove to the terminal to find out what was going on. A few minutes later, all our weekend plans almost blew up!

Grass and mose still around but snow wasn't far
Grass and mose still around but snow wasn’t far

In fact, by mistake, I’d booked the tickets in the wrong direction and instead of in Wellington, they expected us to board in Picton. Within a sec, our annoyance turned into kindness as we tried to re-book our tickets at a counter and save heaps of money. Luckily, there were free spots on the next boat and a salesman was really nice. So eventually, we departed just with a little delay.

A kingdom of ice and snow
A kingdom of ice and snow

The first night we spent in YHA in Picton and carried on to the Nelson Lakes the next day. In the morning, a fog rolled over Picton but by the time we arrived at St Arnaud, the sun was shining and the blue sky indicated a beautiful day.

Lake Rotoiti and our campground down there
Lake Rotoiti and our campground down there

At Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre we bought our campsite ticket and got information about track conditions as there was already snow on the top of the hills. We abandoned our intention to reach the Angelus Hut as equipment like crampons and ice axes were required. Later, we found out why.

Jakub - the mountaineer
Jakub - the mountaineer

So, the goal for the afternoon was Mt Robert Circuit instead.

Despite the chilly morning, the initial steep zigzag part of the track quickly warmed us up. Through beech forest we climbed up to the open ridge top which with its great views of Lake Rotoiti and hills all around served as an ideal place for our classic hiking lunch - cheese and crackers.

Green slopes and white tops of St Arnaud Range
Green slopes and white tops of St Arnaud Range

As we passed Relax Shelter, patches of snow started appearing among clumps of grass. There was still plenty of daylight when we reached the junction to Paddy’s Track so we carried on a little bit further along the ridge towards Lake Angelus. The wind on the exposed ridge was pretty cold and soon we had to follow the path beaten in snow by previous hikers.

Our dinner
Our dinner

About one kilometer further, there was a nice flat top with amazing views of sharp mountains ahead as well as deep basin below. All covered in snow. Along the rocky ridge, we could see silhouettes of other hikes, hopefully, better equipped than us because peaks looked icy.

From there we descended back to the junction and finished the rest of the circuit along Paddy’s Track.

Still a fair bit to climb
Still a fair bit to climb

A really tough part of the day, however, began after wed finished the track. With the sun going down by the hill, all the warmth disappeared and the temperature dropped considerably. Pinned to the gas stove, we warmed ourselves a bit while we were cooking dinner but in the open kitchen, we couldn’t stand for long.

The first camping experience with temperatures way below zero
The first camping experience with temperatures way below zero

It was the earliest bedtime ever but as our fluffy sleeping bags were the only place where we could survive, there was no other option then spent the rest of the evening like two snuggled caterpillars.

Description Distance (km) Moving duration Average speed (km/h) Elevation gain (m) Elevation loss (m)
Total