Nelson Lakes National Park
Almost all trampers who have ventured into Nelson Lakes National Park will know the Travers and St Arnaud Ranges. Together they form two of four ranges (the others being the Ella and Mahanga) that probe like splayed fingers at the very northernmost extent of the Southern Alps.
The park’s most popular tramps (the Travers-Sabine circuit, and the Lake Angelus tramp) traverse or cross the Travers Range, and its three main peaks – Travers, Cupola and Hopeless – are the most sought-after summits in the park for mountaineers. Despite its popularity, the Travers Range offers opportunities for equally worthy but lesser-known routes, notably Sunset Saddle and Gunsight Pass.
While fewer trampers frequent the St Arnaud Range, it offers the area’s only ski field, and a range of interesting tramps and climbs.
- Hinapouri Tarn
Many trampers who visit Angelus Hut fail to wander a short distance from the hut to overlook Hinapouri Tarn, which together with Lake Angelus, comprises the major feeder of Hukere Stream. This elongated tarn is broken into two by a small connecting cascade, and has a charm and beauty perhaps greater than Angelus itself.
- Hopeless Hut and Mt Hopeless
Hopeless Hut was built by the New Zealand Alpine Club in 1967 and, despite lying in an avalanche path, has managed to survive thus far. It’s often used as a base for climbing Mt Hopeless (2278m), the craggiest summit on the Travers Range, or as a stopping point on the Sunset Saddle route.
- Cupola Hut and Mt Cupola
Cupola Hut occupies a snug position just below the bushline in this attractive basin, arguably the finest on the whole Travers Range. It’s most often used as a base for climbing nearby Cupola (2260m), but also for attempts on Mt Hopeless. Trampers will find it a superb overnight excursion from the main Travers Valley Track.
- Gunsight Pass
For those with sound tramping experience and navigation ability, Gunsight Pass (1780m) offers an exciting alternative route between Cupola Basin and Travers Saddle. The pass is not officially named or marked, however, its distinctive notch-shape directly beneath Mt Cupola has earned it the nickname ‘Gunsight Pass’. From Cupola Hut, sidle high around Cupola Basin, into the very head of the valley and ascend scree and rock slopes to the pass. A steepish descent leads into another basin, where the navigation gets more challenging. Aim to intercept the Travers Saddle Track at the bushline, but first some steep terrain must be avoided by climbing over another shoulder at 1780m.
- Upper Travers Hut
This relatively new hut was built in 2004, a replacement for the Lands and Survey hut that had occupied the upper valley since 1961. Superbly located in a small enclave of beech forest, the 24-bunk hut offers fine views of the upper valley and Mt Travers.
- Travers Saddle and Mt Travers
Happily the climb onto Travers Saddle (1787m) from Upper Travers Hut is neither unduly long nor taxing. The well-trod track follows marker poles onto the broad saddle, which offers striking views of Mt Travers (2338m), here with an almost pyramid-shaped profile. Travers is rarely climbed from the saddle; the easiest approach lies up Summit Creek from the Travers Valley. Travers is not the highest peak in the park, despite popular opinion, being two metres shy of Mt Franklin.
- Rainbow Ski Field
With the Mt Robert club ski field no longer viable due to lack of decent snowfalls, the area’s only ski field is the commercial Rainbow Ski-field, situated near the eastern crest of the St Arnaud Range. Access is on a road from the Rainbow Valley.
- Parachute Rocks
The Parachute Rocks Track provides an alternative route to the crest of the St Arnaud Range. The steep zigzag track begins from the shores of Lake Rotoiti, where birdlife is prolific due to the intense predator-control operations of the Revive Rotoiti Project. Parachute Rocks are a prominent rock outcrop on the western side of the range.
- Arnst Basin
Beyond Parachute Rocks, trampers can traverse the St Arnaud Range and drop into the Arnst Basin, a delightful tarn-filled alpine valley. From here untracked routes exist into the Travers Valley to intercept the track there. It’s named after Dick Arnst, an early prominent New Zealand rower who used to train on Rotoiti.
- Kehu Peak
Kehu Peak (2220m), named after the famous Maori explorer who guided Thomas Brunner on his arduous expeditions in the 1840s, is a fine craggy peak clearly visible from Upper Travers Hut. It’s most often climbed from here, although alternative and challenging routes lie in Begley and Rainbow headwaters. The first recorded ascent came as late as 1947.