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April 2016 Issue
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Side-stepping the crowds

A perfect camping spot by Hinapouri Tarn. Photo: Dennis Radermacher
Distance
15.3km to Hinapouri Tarn
Total Ascent
1781m
Time
To 3rd Basin tarn, 5hr; tarn to Hinapouri Tarn, 4hr; Hinapouri Tarn to car park via Robert Ridge, 5hr
Grade
Moderate
Access
Mt Robert Road carpark, 2km west of St Arnaud

Hinapouri Tarn via 3rd Basin, Nelson Lakes National Park

The route along Robert Ridge to Lake Angelus Hut is one of the busiest tramping highways in the country. My partner and I were drawn by the amazing views over Nelson Lakes National Park but were apprehensive of the impending hubbub. As it turned out, the route offered lots of solitary camping opportunities even in high season. All it needed was a little planning and basic route finding skills.

The first two hours up Pinchgut Track are a steady climb on a perfectly maintained path. The track zigzags in and out of beech forest on the north-west facing slopes of Mt Robert and there are great views of St Arnaud.

The crowds thinned considerably once we were up on the ridge. From there it was nice and relatively level walking on a route that mostly sticks to the ridgeline. We covered the distance to 3rd Basin quickly and made sure not to descend to the first tiny tarn we came across. Instead, we stayed on-track until we were fairly close to Julius Summit. Only the lowest of three tarns is visible from here with just a tiny corner of the middle tarn showing. Coming down from the ridge we made sure to stay clear of a steep gully at the headwaters of Chandler Stream. Facing the tarns, we stayed on the true left of the stream until it turned into a tiny trickle of water.

The middle tarn turned out to be a perfectly quiet camping spot only 800m from the track. We enjoyed our tomato soup with the impressive dam of the upper tarn looming over us. Our only company was a grand total of three sandflies and an army of croaking frogs.

Next morning we carefully back-tracked to stand on the ridge just an hour later. From there the route got ever rockier and we spent a fair bit of our afternoon hopping from boulder to boulder.

Angelus Hut is a well-known gem sitting in a stunning basin below Bristol Pass. Unfortunately the hut was as busy as it is beautiful and we decided to go our own way.

Luckily Hinapouri Tarn offered freedom camping options just half an hour further on. While we weren’t alone this time, the tarn was large enough for all parties to keep relatively isolated. We arrived early and claimed the best spot right on a piece of land that bisects the tarn.

We enjoyed an afternoon in the sun with a light breeze keeping sandflies and mozzies at bay.

There are a couple of options for the return trip. Interested parties can choose to turn this trip into a loop, returning via Cascade Track alongside Lake Rotoiti, or via Speargrass Track to the north. These routes are particularly suitable in bad weather when travel on the ridgeline is not recommended. We chose to return the way we had come.

Robert Ridge offers spectacular alpine terrain with all the amenities of a well marked and maintained track. For those preferring their own company, a short detour off-track will provide all the solitude anyone could ask for.

– Dennis Radermacher