One of the nicest easy walks in New Zealand that is suitable for everyone is the Lake Daniell hike near Lewis Pass on the South Island. Here you can easily familiarize yourself with hiking in New Zealand and sleeping in a backcountry hut without too much preparations and efforts. I did this easy tramp for the first time in 2011 and returned in January of 2023. I was pleasantly surprised to find a brand new hut but still an equally beautiful landscape. I went out on this tramp with with fellow Dutchie Mariëlle and we had a wonderful outdoor girl’s night out, in one of New Zealand’s newest backcountry huts.
This post was first published in 2014 and republished in 2023 after my most recent visit to New Zealand
Table of Contents | Inhoudsopgave
Driving to Lewis Pass
Mariëlle and I know each other through Instagram and met previously on the North Island during my stay in Te Kuiti, after I decided to quit hiking Te Araroa. About a month later both happened to be on the South Island at the same time and we decided to do a hike somewhere where our paths crossed: we chose Lake Daniell. I drove up from the west coast, where I have just completed the Paparoa Track, to Lewis Pass. Once past Reefton the landscape becomes lonelier and just after Springs Junction the mobile signal disappears. Of the three mountain passes that you can drive over the Southern Alps, the one over Lewis Pass is the lowest, but certainly no less beautiful than the other roads. Even though it has been 12 years since I was here before, I’m once again extremely impressed.
Arrival at Lake Daniell carpark
The parking lot at Lake Daniell is quite full. I’m not surprised, because the hut is fully booked for tonight. I’m relieved to see that Mariëlle has also arrived. Since there is no mobile coverage, it was just a bet that we would both make it in time. We park our cars and strap on the backpacks. We brought food for an evening and breakfast, our sleeping bags and a water filter. Oh yes, and a can of wine for dinner.
The Lake Daniell track
As I remember, the Lake Daniell Track is a fairly easy hike. The path is wide and not really steep anywhere. Sometimes we have to cross some mud but it’s not much to be honest. Along the way we occasionally have a view of the Southern Alps and the high mountains that surround Lewis Pass. We see robins and enjoy the simplicity of the trail. The “Sluice Box” at the start of the walk is beautiful to see, here the bright blue water squeezes through a narrow canyon.
Arrival at Lake Daniell
The forest we walk through is dense. There is hardly any direct daylight, but after about 2.5 hours of walking, the sky suddenly comes into view again: we are now arriving at Lake Daniell soon. Since we didn’t leave until after noon, I expected us to be the last ones at the hut and this turned out to be quite right. Before we look for a place to sleep, we first take a refreshing dip in Lake Daniell. Due to the drought, the water level is low and we have to wade a long way before we can actually swim.
Kōhanga Atawhai Nelson Nicholls Hut
The original hut on this site, the Manson-Nicholls Memorial Hut, was built in 1976 by members of the Christchurch Tramping Club and The Lake Daniell’s Fishing Club in memory of three young trampers who died across the lake in 1974 came during a landslide caused by bad weather. The current hut, the Kōhanga Atawhai Nelson Nicholls Hut, was built in 2020. I was not aware that there would be a completely new hut after my last visit and have been pleasantly surprised by its comfort: a beautiful open space, lots place to cook and modern compost toilets.
More information about the hut can be found here.
Making fire and eating marshmellows
Soon after our arrival the sun slowly but surely sets and lights up the sjy. We make our food and then join some other hikers around the campfire. As it’s the summer holidays, it is mainly families with young children who stay here, but there are also a number of travelers from Switzerland and a few fishermen. Great conversations about life arise around the campfire and we eat marshmallows that one of the women from Christchurch brought with her. The sandflies are also plentiful and we have to swipe them away nonstop. But let’s be fair… this is part of being in the New Zealand backcountry!
A restless night
As I don’t feel like sleeping in the bunkroom between a large family that doesn’t leave much space for another tramper, I put my mattress down in the living area. After the last trampers have gone to bed around eleven, it’s completely silent in the hut. Every now and then I hear someone snoring or someone walks past me to go to the toilet in the pitch dark. But above all it is quiet. After a restless night and a simple DIY breakfast (oatmeal with water and apple), Mariëlle and I repack our backpacks and hike back to our cars in about 2.5 hours. We hug each other and say goodbye. Will we ever see each other again? No idea, but we had a great time!
Practical information about the Lake Daniell hike and hut
The hike to Lake Daniell starts at the Marble Hill Campsite just outside of Springs Junction on the road over Lewis Pass. There is no cell phone service after Springs Junction. The walk is 8.4 kilometers one way and can therefore also be made as a full day hike. If you want to spend the night in the hut, you must book this in advance on the Department of Conservation website. If you want to camp at the hut, this is also possible. You can find rates and availability for the hut on the DOC website.
This simple walk in New Zealand is very suitable for families, so bear in mind that you will not be the only one in the hut during the summer holidays and weekends.
Conclusion and disclaimer
The Lake Daniell hike is an easy walk on the South Island of New Zealand that anyone in reasonable shape can do without any problems. It is definitely one of my favorite easy hikes to an easily accessible backcountry hut where you will find few tourists but mostly locals.
Hopefully you found this article about Lake Daniell in New Zealand useful. If you have any questions and/or comments, please leave a comment or send me a message. You can read more about me in my bio, you can read more about New Zealand on my travel in New Zealand page.