A great place to find out whether extensive toil, inclement weather, and inadequate food, ie, more than a little hardship, do in fact add up to the full bundle of fun.
Spoilt for choice on the various tracks getting from St Arnaud to the Lewis Pass, this particular hack through the heart of the Nelson Lakes National Park means you aren’t required to carry a tent, a route requiring plenty of energy to get over those four mountain passes. Each pass gives big views, if the weather is okay, but the valleys with the rivers are generally plenty speccy as well. Overall it’s a major visual feast.
This route gets you to some out of the way places: Bobs Hut and East Mataki don’t get so many visitors, 10 parties, maybe, each year. Need any more convincing?
where | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP
Which direction? I guess it comes down to transportation which probably means it’s easier to get dropped off at the more inaccessible Lewis Pass and then make your way towards civilisation at St Arnaud. That gives you the tougher, more remote sections when you are, err, fresher, but carrying more luggage.
The variations are many: substitute Waiau Pass, Waiau River, Ada River for a, mostly, easier route; Mt Cedric and the Robert Ridge, (or Speargrass), for Travers Saddle and valley; Waiau Pass and Thompson Pass for Moss Pass and David Saddle, (tent and even more guts and determination required).
click to view larger, more interactive topographic map from, err, topomap.co.nz
distance | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP
around 95 km
time | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP
7 or 8 days
when | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP
best in late spring, summer, and autumn. ie, much of the year. The major issue is possible icy conditions on the four mountain passes and significant avalanche danger in winter and early spring. (You need to pack crampons and an ice axe if you do a winter crossing. Not required in summer or autumn.)
maps and GPS | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP
It’s essential to have a paper map in case GPS batteries flatten.
Land Information New Zealand, LINZ, Topo50 maps, both digital and paper: BS23 Matakitaki, BS24 Mount Robert, BS23 Lewis Pass, BS24 Ada Flat.
Download free digital versions from LINZ Mapchooser, or buy the real thing, ie, on old-fashioned paper, at DOC offices, outdoor shops and bookshops where maps sold. There’s a nationwide list at LINZ Map Retailers. Then you can print off the maps you need yourself.
Need a custom map for your GPS device, download a more compact .klm format file from topomap.co.nz for free, although if you download a few maps consider a small donation, there’s considerable work gone into getting that info onto the internet and we should support these useful resources.
route description | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP
Logistics suggest that it is easier to be dropped off at the Lewis Pass, basically the middle of nowhere, and walk back to civilisation at St Arnaud. That gives more flexibility for a pickup if you are late or early. Technically okay either way. You may prefer to avoid the Te Araroa section and detour down the Sabine River Valley to Lake Rotoroa, and do the Sabine Hut to St Arnaud via Mt Cedric and Lake Angelus instead. That is an outstanding, if arduous day if the weather is fine.
From the Lewis Park carpark it’s over to Ada Pass on the start of the St James Walkway, up over Three Tarn Pass for a few days of isolation in the Mataki valley, West and East, another slog up the trackless East Mataki River and over the almost steep David Saddle, the Upper D’Urville River valley and another almost steep climb up over Moss Pass to Blue Lake, you might be starting to see others around here, the final big climb, Travers Saddle then it’s the downhill cruise to St Arnaud.
huts | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP
Here are most of the huts you will encounter in Nelson Lakes National Park.
getting there | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP
Nelson Lakes Shuttles do the Nelson to St Arnaud run for $45 per person. $55 to Mt Robert carpark. There is a regularly scheduled service for the summer season (December to April inclusive), on Tuesday and Friday leaving St Arnaud at 11 am and Nelson iSite at 1 pm although they will pick you up along the way, ie, the airport or your accommodation, if previously arranged. They have other trips shown on their website page, nelsonlakesshuttles.co.nz/budget.fares.html. They have very much fewer scheduled trips during the off-peak season also shown on the budget fares webpage. Or, if you have a few people, or are rich enough, you can charter your own trip to suit your timetable. Phone 03 547 6896, mobile 0275 476 896. They are a helpful lot so just ask if they will accommodate your special requirements.
There is also an occasional scheduled trip Nelson to the Lewis Pass if you want to do the straight run by Nelson Lakes Shuttles for $110 per person (min $550 charge). It makes sense to start that variation from the harder to access end, ie, get dropped off at Lewis Pass and make it to the Cannibal Gorge hut, or Ada Pass Hut for the night and finish in St Arnaud where you can clean up before you reacquaint yourself with civilisation.
You can jump on the East West Coaches bus departing Westport at 8 00 am, arriving Lewis Pass at 10 10 am, or, departing Christchurch at 2 00 pm and arriving at 4 35 pm. Phone 03 789 6251, or 0800 142 622 for further information and pricing.
The competition Trek Express has recently taken over Nelson Lakes Shuttles so it remains to be seen how these services are rationalised. Currently Trek Express is advertising Nelson to St Arnaud at $50 per person, or up to the Mt Robert carpark for $60. They can also drop you off at Lake Rotoroa for $60. Free phone within New Zealand: 0800 128 735.
Getting around by hitching is also possible but, of course, entirely unreliable. Probably easier to hitch back to Nelson or Blenheim from St Arnaud.
supplies | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP
Nelson, Blenheim, and Richmond have the usual major supermarkets, Countdown, New World, Pak’nsave for getting the main supplies. Shellite or Fuelite and gas canisters for your stove can be obtained at outdoor and hardware stores in Nelson or Blenheim, if you haven’t been allowed to fly with it.
From the other direction, Christchurch has the works of course. Hamner Springs has two supermarkets, The Hamner Four Square in Conical Hill Road, open 7 days, most 8 30 am to 6 pm, and the Hamner Springs Foodway in Amuri Avenue open 7 days, 9 am to 5 pm.
The small store at St Arnaud has a reasonable, if expensive, supply of food and basic camping needs, matches, candles, Fuelite, etc, and operates normal business hours, seven days a week.
warnings | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP
The four big passes are all around 1800 m high and can get snow at any time of the year. The southern approach to David Pass is verging on “steep” and would require crampons when icy which might in fact be a decent proportion of the year due to the height and south-facing aspect. Moss Pass also has a steepish, and somewhat unstable, descent towards Blue Lake. Travers Saddle is somewhat easier although nearer to the Upper Travis Hut the track is potentially equally treacherous in icy conditions.
Guess I should mention once again that you are getting out quite remote in some of the park, eg, East Mataki Hut gets fewer than ten parties through most years, so carrying a personal locator beacon is sensible. It’s a long walk out to the nearest doctor.
In spring, or after heavy snowfalls, there is a real avalanche danger on the western side of Travers Saddle and the upper Sabine Valley heading up to Blue Lake. These areas are marked by signage on the trail.
Waiau Pass and Blue Lake are now very popular, being part of Te Araroa and that route can be well populated in summer. Blue Lake Hut is often at capacity from Christmas to Easter.
other websites | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes NP
No DOC website about this route.
a big image slideshow | Lewis Pass – Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park
Here’s a 42 image slideshow from the route between the Lewis Pass to St Arnaud giving an indication of the general track conditions and sights along the way, if you need any further convincing. (Sorry at the moment this is via Waiau Pass. Have to load images of the route as described.)
Click on the thumbnail image below to get the slideshow started, then you can click on the left or right sides of the bigger images to go forward or back.
Images of the Nelson Lakes huts can be found in the, umm, Nelson Lakes Hut section.