Mt Robert Circuit
Nelson Lakes National Park
Mt Robert (1421 m) is at the northern end of Robert Ridge in Nelson Lakes National Park, and overlooks Lake Rotoiti and St Arnaud. Pinchgut Track and Paddy’s Track form the 3-4 hour Mt Robert Circuit, one of the most accessible day walks in the park. The circuit is challenging but achievable, and can be completed as a half-day walk or as a two day trip with an overnight stay at Bushline Hut. The circuit track provides amazing views over Lake Rotoiti and St Arnaud Range, and gives relatively straight-forward access to the intriguing alpine environment.
The circuit starts and ends at Mt Robert car park, at the end of Mt Robert Road. The turnoff to Mt Robert Road is a 2 minute drive west along State Highway 63 from St Arnaud. Mt Robert Road passes West Bay where there is parking and a campsite, crosses the source of the Buller River and reaches the car park at 900 m elevation. There is a small shelter, toilets and a trail info panel at the car park. The car park is large but fills up on busy weekends. The road can be icy in winter, so take care.
Nelson Lakes DOC Visitor Centre is located on View Road, St Arnaud. This is a good place to read up on the ecology, geology and history of St Arnaud and Nelson Lakes National Park, as well as check the latest alpine weather forecasts and speak to DOC staff about any warnings in place.
Pinchgut Track begins at the end of the car park, initially passing through beech forest and then emerging onto the northern aspect of Mt Robert, the upper half of which is bare except for grass; the original beech forest was razed in 1887 to allow sheep grazing. Manuka has reestablished itself on the lower half of the mountain, but the top half remains treeless and the subsequent accelerated erosion is obvious. The zig-zagging climb up Pinchgut is unrelenting, though the gradient is never too steep and there are ample opportunities to stop and admire the view of the lake below, which feels close enough to throw a stone into. The lack of shade means this can be a hot climb on fine days.
The upper portion of the track zig-zags through silver beech forest, which becomes noticeably more stunted as you approach the treeline at 1360 m elevation. Above the treeline the gradient flattens, out as the well-worn track (now a poled route) follows the broad ridge south through snow tussock. Relax Shelter is reached a few minutes later. This is a good place to put on warm layers if there’s a cold wind blowing. You will reach a tee junction, where Paddy’s Track heads left (east) and Robert Ridge Route continues south along the ridge, eventually reaching Angelus Hut (9 km, 3-4 hrs away).
Paddy’s Track descends gently eastward, with 1st Basin on the right and magnificent views of St Arnaud Range straight ahead. Bushline Hut (serviced hut, 14 bunks) is 1.3 km from the junction, at 1280 m elevation. The hut is well-positioned, enjoying all-day sun and allowing views northward toward St Arnaud township and the head of the lake.
Below Bushline Hut Paddy’s Track zig-zags down the bare northeastern aspect of Mt Robert. After 1.8 km the track enters manuka forest. Soon you will reach a link track through to Lakeside Track. Paddy’s Track crosses two large scree slides and ends at Mt Robert Road; from here it is an easy 400 m uphill walk back to the car park.