Angelus Hut Track: New Zealand’s most spectacular mountain hut hike
While preparing for my third trip to New Zealand I made a list of hikes I most definitely wanted to do when back there. On top of that list is the Angelus Hut hike in Nelson Lakes National Park. This hike first came onto my radar back in 2011 during my previous New Zealand trip. After hiking to Bushline Hut in Nelson Lakes National Park, I talked to some fellow hikers who advised me to hike onwards to Angelus Hut, which is supposed to be one of the most spectacular located mountain huts in New Zealand. Unfortunately, back then I didn’t have enough time to hike to Angelus Hut and so I decided that upon my return to New Zealand, this would be on top of my list.
And so when I returned to New Zealand earlier this year, I made sure to book my stay in Angelus Hut well ahead since I heard that within the six years that had passed, it had become quite a popular place to overnight. My actual idea for my visit to Nelson Lakes National Park, was to hike the Travers-Sabine Track, however due to the fact I injured my ankle just a week earlier I decided against it as it’s a week long hike that attracts few people only. My ankle was still quite painful and I figured that hiking to Angelus Hut would be quite a challenge already.
Arrival in Nelson Lakes National Park
After arrival on New Zealand’s South Island I had spent a few days in the Nelson region before eventually setting off to Saint Arnaud, a small village at the shores of Lake Rotoiti, one of the two Nelson Lakes. Here I first decide to visit the DOC office, whom I plan to ask about the current situation at the trails leading to Angelus Hut. Their staff tells me that all trails are open but the Speargrass Track is pretty wet and the stream crossings are quite deep. Luckily the Angelus Hut has various ascents and so I decide to go for the most popular route: the Robert Ridge Route.
It’s early in the afternoon only when I make it to Saint Arnaud. I have the reservation for Angelus Hut for the next evening and there for I decide to head back to one of my favorite huts in New Zealand first: the Bushline Hut. This is a small unserviced hut near the top of Mount Roberts, overlooking Lake Rotoiti when the weather is good. However, Nelson Lakes National Park is alpine terrain and there for the weather is always a bit of a challenge here. After packing my bag at the DOC Station and filling up my water bottles, I drive up to Mount Robert Car Park. As there have been reports of theft from cars that have parked overnight, I decide to leave my valuables at the DOC office at a small fee. Even though the weather isn’t awesome, the carpark is quite busy. There’s a section for day hikers and a section for overnight hikers and after parking my car and checking all my gear for the last time, I’m ready to start my first multi-day trek of this trip!
The hike to Bushline Hut
The hike to Bushline Hut can be done on two trails: the very steep Pinchgut Track and the lesser steep Paddy’s Track. This track is 4.8 kms long and will take you up to Bushline Hut in more or less 2 hours. Or in my case, a bit more since I’m carrying a large pack on my back and am still a bit sore because of that ankle. Even though it’s less steep than the Pinchgut Track, Paddy’s Track is quite steep at some places still but the views over the lake make the climb well worth it. The higher I get, the closer I get to the clouds and within an hour of starting my hike on Paddy’s Track, I’m up in the clouds. I decide to move on as fast as I can as it’s also getting cooler and want to be in the hut before it starts to rain.
Bushline Hut is a non-serviced hut meaning you cannot make a reservation for it, payment is by Backcountry Ticket that can be bought at the DOC office or by leaving the number of your Backcountry Hut Pass. So it’s always a surprise to see how many people show up. During my previous visit, my back then partner and I were alone and I honestly wouldn’t mind being by myself that evening. However, as soon as I arrive I can already some smoke coming from the chimney so there must be someone there. It turns out to be a French couple and not a whole lot later, an American couple who are hiking with their son arrive, too. So it’s not going to be a quiet night for me, however I don’t mind talking to fellow hikers as they always have the best stories and suggestions for next hikes. Just before it gets dark another solo female hiker arrives, making it a total of seven people staying at Bushline Hut that evening.
Hiking Robert Ridge Route
The next morning I wake up early (what else when you are in a mountain hut, right?) and am in fact a wee bit nervous. I know that the hike to Angelus Hut is a strenuous one and that it should not be underestimated. I fill up my water bottles as there is no drinking water available along the way and set off. I am still above the clouds and hopefully they will clear a bit more later in the day.
The first part of the track is quite easy. I’ve actually done parts of this section before and know what to expect. I soon reach the sign saying that the trail to Angelus Hut is 9 kms long and will take me about 4.5 hours. I find it hard to imagine that I will only be able to hike 2 kms each hour but then again, they say it’s a strenuous hike for a reason. Soon after the sign, there is another sign warning winter hikers to wear crampons and carry an ice ax. I’m happy to be here in the middle of summer.
The next hour is quite easy, I’m following the orange poles across the Robert Ridge and the view gets better and better. At the same time, the ridge stretches on and and and becomes more and more dramatic in the distance. I’m wondering if I’m actually going to climb on top of it because it looks a little intimidating from where I am. I decide to push on and about half way down the trail to the hut, the track starts to become more difficult. At times it’s more a scramble than a hike and most of the trail is across large boulder fields with no trail, just orange markers helping you to find the right direction. There is a steep drop right below me and I force myself not to look down but to just push on.
Crossing those boulder fields takes a lot of concentration and I’m happy once they are over. I haven’t seen a lot of people so am not sure how much further it is to the hut, however I’m super happy once I see the sign it’s just another 30 minute walk to the hut. Once I see it, I feel like crying. But first there is one more challenge for me, the trail down to the hut which looks steep and challenging. It’s not as hard as it looks though and just a few moments later I arrive at the hut where I check in for the next two nights.
I’m immediately amazed by the landscape. Lake Angelus is surrounded by mountain peaks and even though there are other people here as well, it’s silent and peaceful. The outhouses are a bit of a walk away from the hut (they are probably among the best located outhouses in the world I reckon) and the campsite is next to the hut. I’ve definitely arrived in a little piece of heaven and the hard work getting up here proves to be well worth it.
Angelus Hut is located at 1.650 mts above sea level, at the shores of Angelus Lake. I find myself a bunk, make some tea and get outside. The sun is shining and I spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the lakeshore and enjoying the sunshine. For the next day I have planned to hike in the area a bit, but at night the hut warden tells me that bad weather is coming in the day after tomorrow. And since I don’t fancy being weathered in or doing that grueling ridge section in poor weather and limited visibility, I decide to be wise and head back out again the next day.
It’s a clear morning when I wake up and head outside to take some pictures. I’ve decided to team up with Andrew for my hike back to the car, he has been hiking the Travers Sabine Track and fancies some company on the way down. And so we decide to hike out together the next morning. Even though the day starts sunny, soon after departure the clouds come in and visibility becomes low. I’ve luckily already passed the ridge section and once we get to the Pinchgut Track, it clears out again and the views are quite amazing. The trail down is steep and I’m happy to have my trekking poles with me. An hour after starting our descent down towards the parking lot, we arrive to my car. My first solo-trek in New Zealand is in the pocket!
Angelus hut hike movie
I made a short movie about my hike to Angelus Hut. I hope you’ll take a moment to view it. If you liked it, please give it a thumbs up on Youtube. Below the movie you will find practical tips for hiking to Angelus Hut as well as the answer to the question if you are fit enough to do it.
Things to know about the Angelus Hut track
DOC clearly mentions that this hike should only be done by well equipped hikers who are comfortable on wild terrain and have no fear of heights. You should wear tramping boots and bring warm and waterproof clothing as well as a hiking map, drinking water and food and fuel. There are no stoves at Angelus Hut, all you need is bring your own. Overnights in Angelus Hut should be booked in advance as there is limited space. There are four ways to reach Angelus Hut:
– The Pinchgut Track & Robert Ridge Route: this is the most popular way to hike to Angelus Hut and will take you across the Robert Ridge as described.
– The Speargrass Track & Speargrass Creek Route: this is the bad weather alternative, including muddy sections and unbridged stream crossings.
– Travers – Cascade Track: a very steep hike which I was told not to do as I was hiking alone. It requires navigation skills and can be icy well up until November.
– Mt. Cedric Track: this is the track in if you are coming from the Travers Sabine hike, it’s steep to climb and only recommended for experienced hikers.
Of course you can also do the Angelus Hut hike in two days and take the Pinchgut / Robert Ridge Route as a return, the stay at Bushline Hut is just optional. I’ve even come across hikers who didn’t manage to get a spot in the Angelus Hut so they decided to hike back and forth on one day. Please do consider this is an extremely long hike which takes at least 12 hours to complete.
Can I do the Angelus Hut track?
Well that’s entirely up to you. I’m an experienced hiker myself and apart from the rocky sections previously mentioned, it’s not very technical. However it’s not a hike for those with a fear of heights as the drop offs are steep and look unrelenting. Also if the weather is foul, make sure you choose your route carefully and always check with DOC before departing if the track of your choice is open. The hike is approximately 6 hours one way and should only be attempted by you if you are somewhat experienced and able to walk with a big pack. However, looking back at it I would gladly do it again, even though the rocky sections were a little intimidating for me at some point.
Have I finished hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park?
If have most definitely not! The Travers-Sabine Track is still one of the hikes I really want to do one day. Another hiker also told me about Blue Lake Hut, which is another two days walking from Angelus Hut. Since Nelson Lakes National Park is one of my favorite unknown places in New Zealand, I will definitely return here one day!
Practical information about Nelson Lakes National Park
Nelson Lakes National Park is located about 1.5 hours driving south of Nelson. The main gateway is the small town of Saint Arnaud. It has a small shop, a gas station and a few accommodations. Your best best for a room is The Alpine Lodge, which also serves a great burger by the way. A total treat to myself after completing my first solo multi-day hike.
Before setting off, make sure to pick up a hiking brochure at the DOC office in Saint Arnaud for 4 dollars. Also order your copy of Lonely Planet’s Tramping in New Zealand .
I hope you enjoyed my blogpost about the Angelus Hut track. If you want to know more or have any questions not answered in this blog, please send me a message or leave them in the comments below.
Want to read more? You may also enjoy the following posts:
– The best hikes in New Zealand: a list of short, long and multi-day hikes
– Hiking Tongariro Crossing: New Zealand’s best one day hike
– The best hikes in Whangarei and how I got lost on the trail
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Thanks for sharing!