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Hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park

Without a doubt, this is New Zealand's best kept hiking secret. Could this be the next addition to New Zealand's Great Walk network? The Nelson Lakes National Park protects 102,000 hectares of the northern most Southern Alps. The Park offers a quiet, yet dramatic experience of craggy mountains, tranquil beech forests, fields of tussock, and clear streams and lakes, both big and small. With its long forested valleys, high passes, large areas above the bush line, lakes and tarns, the landscape is both varied and well adapted to tramping. This is area is filled with long mountain ranges separated by forested valleys, which were gouged out by glaciers in the last ice age.

And here's a quick fact for you: Located deep within the Nelson Lakes National Park you'll find Blue Lake, which in 2011 was proven by NIWA to be the clearest natural body of water on earth! The underwater visibility of Blue Lake is up to 80 metres, meaning it's considered to be almost as optically clear as distilled water.


Hike Nelson Lakes National Park  

Hike the Nelson Lakes National Park with Active Adventures.

The Ultimate South Island Adventure 'Rimu' trip takes you on an unforgettable journey exploring our mountains, coastlines and countryside, on foot, by bike and with a paddle in your hands. Experience our unique culture and wildlife along the way.

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Video: What does a hiking trip into the Nelson Lakes National Park Look Like?


Hiking Itinerary for the most popular hiking route - the Angelus Circuit

Day 1: Saint Arnaud to Lakehead Hut

Our hike begins in the charming village of Saint Arnaud, on the edge of Nelson Lakes National Park. This is serious wilderness country, with incredible views and marvellous solitude. The park straddles the upper Southern Alps, an area composed of beech forests, big lakes and even bigger mountains.We’ll hike the relatively gentle trail through the forest alongside Lake Rotoiti to Lakehead Hut, a small mountain cabin at the head of the lake and our home for the night. Our guides are pretty tough and they’ll carry the lion’s share of the load. All you’ll be carrying is a backpack with your sleeping bag, a few spare clothes, and a share of our food. To protect this beautiful and fragile environment, we always keep our group sizes small and our exact route flexible.

Lake Heak Hut NLNP

Photo: Happy hikers at Lakehead Hut, in Nelson Lakes National Park

Day 2: Lakehead Hut to Angelus Hut

Today is an unforgettable day – the scenery gets better with each step! We follow the Travers River through beech forest, before heading up the Hukere Stream towards the ridgeline.This is a steep hike, with an elevation gain of 1,000 m (3,000 ft), but it’s absolutely worth it. The Angelus Circuit has exceptional scenic diversity, so it provides a great reward for the efforts you put in. We will encourage you all the way up to Angelus Hut, nestled beside a gorgeous alpine lake, whatever your hiking speed. Many people tell us this hidden gem was the highlight of their New Zealand adventure, and a lot of Kiwis prefer the Angelus Circuit to better-known tracks.

Angelus Hut NLNP

Photo: Angelus Hut, nestled on the shores of Lake Angelus in the Nelson Lakes National Park

Day 3: Angelus Hut to Lake Rotoiti

This morning you’ll wake up on top of the world. After breakfast, we’ll hike out along the barren Robert Ridge with dramatic views of Tasman Bay and the mountainous Kahurangi National Park in the distance. We’ll descend below the treeline again into native beech forest completing our hike on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. Here, we’ll meet up with the kayakers and cyclists and share stories of our adventures, before carrying on to the West Coast.

 End of hike angelus circuit

Photo: Take one last look at the view before descending through the native bush, at the end of day 3 of the Angelus Circuit


Flora, fauna and weather in the park

The climate is moderate by comparison with other areas in the Southern Alps. Many other features left from this same period remain, such as the two lakes of Rotoroa and Rotoiti after which the park is named, and where fly-fishing for brown and rainbow trout is popular.

The forests are full of birds like tomtits, robins and the tiny rifleman, New Zealand's smallest bird. South Island kaka are also present. The vegetation is predominantly beech, with the red and silver species growing in lower, warmer sites and mountain beech at higher altitudes. The bush line, where forest gives way to alpine plants is a remarkable feature of the park; the change is abrupt and uniform as if drawn with a ruler.

In summer the alpine fell fields teem with flowers, though typically they tend to be pale colours, white, light blue and sometimes yellow. This heavily protected native bush lets you see New Zealand as it would have been 500 years ago. Tramping tracks in the Nelson Lakes are characterized by challenging terrain and spectacular views. Nelson Lakes National Park is especially well suited for tramping as the public-use Department of Conservation Huts provide rustic, yet comfortable basic accommodation for multi-day treks. The park is also well equipped with tracks and bridges, yet offers untracked and more remote valleys for those seeking greater challenge, remoteness and wilderness.


Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    It doesn't get much better!

    What a fantastic time traveling with family and new-found friends! New Zealand is an absolutely beautiful country, with thrills and adventure around every corner (and there a lot of them)! Our guides Ken and Elder were as good as they come; from their knowledge of the country, to their welcomed encouragement on the trail and the water. Oh, and did I mention their wholesome and delicious cooking?!?
    I would not hesitate to travel with Active Adventures again. Their organization, communication and willingness to please were simply over the top. Next year in Patagonia perhaps???
    Dean Altaras Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Rimu, February 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1887 reviews)

    Exceeding expectations and more!

    We had been planning this trip for about a year and I had been dreaming about this trip for about 7 years, therefore the expectations were high. Active Adventures did an excellent job and our guides Kuru and Liana made this a trip of a lifetime. The most amazing part is that they always were one step ahead of planning the next meal, hike, bike or even maneuvering around the NZ wild weather. All the planning ahead and adjusting on the fly would normally turn a trip to be very stressful but we were able to sit back and relax (not literally because it was very active) and truly enjoy the beautiful landscape and everything NZ had to offer. Truly the trip of a lifetime!
    Ryan Hussey Review Image
    – New Hampshire, United States
    Tui, December 2016
  •   4.70 out of 5 (from 266 reviews)

    Great Guides, Beautiful Countryside

    The trip was an exciting experience of New Zealand. The guides took very good care of us and helped with any of our needs and wishes. I am so pleased with the trip and would recommend it to anyone who wants to see beautiful scenery and take an active part in enjoying it. I would and may do it again .
    David Zabielski Review Image
    – New York, United States
    Kiwi, February 2018
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Even better than expected, and I expected a lot

    This was a truly awe inspiring trip---from the mountains to the rain forest to Milford Sound. A friend of mine advised me not to go on this trip. He said if I did, I would never have anything better to look forward to and he may have been right.
    Realizing that an extraordinary amount of work is done by the office and support staff, I still have to say that this trip would not be what it was without the guides, Nick and Tory, going above and beyond what anyone could have expected. They have got to be among the best.
    Thank you to the entire gang at Active Adventures.
    Doug Spitzenberger Review Image
    – South Dakota, United States
    Rimu, March 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    No regrets! Accomplish the impossible!

    I can't begin to describe my Rimu experience, from the amazing guides, Ken and Elder, to my fellow travelers and the detail that Active Adventures puts into everything we did. I was able to scale and climb those mountains and ridges that I laughed off as impossible, see the most amazing untouched scenery, completely decompress and completely check out from my daily life. If you want to see the south island the way it was meant to be seen, you're open to being active everyday with the conveniences for yourself taken care of, take this trip!
    Pam Lin Review Image
    – California, United States
    Rimu, January 2017

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Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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