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Hiking the St Arnaud Range Track, Nelson Lakes National Park

Hiking the St Arnaud Range Track, Nelson Lakes National Park

If you want some of the best views in Nelson Lakes National Park without doing a multi-day hike, the St Arnaud Range Track is a great option. This walk takes you from the shores of Lake Rotoiti up to a couple of stunning viewpoints and will take most people 4-5 hours to complete. Keep reading for everything you need to know about hiking the St Arnaud Range Track in New Zealand’s Nelson Lakes National Park.

Hiking the St Arnaud Range Track

From the car park in Kerr Bay the track takes you through the forest for a couple of hours. You can get a nice view of Lake Rotoiti from close to the start of the track but from then on there isn’t much to see. It’s a bit boring and it gets steeper and steeper. It’s a bit of a slog but the views at the top are well worth the effort.

Parachute Rocks

After close to two hours of uphill forest walking we were glad to finally get some views. We did the St Arnaud Range hike at the start of winter and there was quite a bit of snow as we reached the top – tread carefully if you do it in winter! The Parachute Rocks – named so because they apparently resemble a parachute (I didn’t see it) is a good spot to have a rest and take some photos. The views down to Lake Rotoiti and the mountains surrounding are impressive, especially when there is some snow around. You could finish the hike there if you want, but look further uphill and you’ll see some orange markers leading the way up to the St Arnaud Range. It’s a bit of an effort to get up there but as you’ll soon see, the views are awesome.

READ MORE: Looking for an easier hike nearby? Check out Whiskey Falls!

St Arnaud Range

The track continues to climb up to 1600 metres, where you’ll reach a ridge with panoramic views of mountains and small lakes (which were frozen and kind of hard to see when I was there). It was pretty tough to walk up there as the hill was covered in thick snow. Others had gone before me though, so I walked in their footprints. Gia stayed at Parachute Rocks while I raced up – she’s a bit more sensible than me! Still though, I felt it was safe and I wouldn’t put my life at risk for a hike. But as I always say – do these things at your own risk.

I saw a guy in snow shoes and walking poles coming back from further along the ridge – I’m sure the views were cool from over there (I’m guessing you’d be able to see the other end of Lake Rotoiti) but I decided I was better off heading back down (it was lunch time and I was getting hungry).

The details

All up the St Arnaud Range Track took us just over four and a half hours to hike. We stopped for around half an hour for lunch at Parachute Rocks and stopped a few times on the way up through the forest. We walked quickly on the way back – I almost rolled my ankle a couple of times as the terrain is very rocky / covered in tree routes. Walk with care and I’d highly recommend wearing decent hiking boots (especially if you’re doing this walk in winter).

Getting there

This walk starts at Kerr Bay – turn onto Kerr Bay Road (you’ll see a sign saying lake access / visitor information centre). There’s a popular pier (where lots of people get the iconic Lake Rototiti Instagram shot) with eels swimming below. Keep driving to the left of the main pier and you’ll see a car park by another, smaller pier. The track starts nearby. There’s a camping ground there as well – it’d be a scenic spot to spend the night. It’ll take you around 90 minutes to get there from Nelson or around 4.5 hours from Christchurch.

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.