Blue Lake in Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand

Blue lake - Rotomairewhenua

Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand


July 2019, Nelson lakes, New Zealand


Blue Lake, known to Ngāti Apa iwi as Rotomairewhenua (the land of peaceful waters), is the clearest fresh water in the world. It is sacred to Maori people of the area and located in the large conservation area of Nelson Lakes National Park.

For Jordan's birthday we went hiking to Blue Lake which is snuggled above Lake Rotoroa in Nelson Lakes National Park. Getting there and back took us five days hiking. Jordan and I drove to St Arnaud from Christchurch, spent the night in Bessie the car, and started our adventure first thing on Saturday morning.

Wheet-bix to get us going, and I see a Rifleman or Tītipounamu within the first hundred meters. We descended into Lake Rotoroa after a full day walking and catch the last of the sun between the beech trees. A piwakawaka (fantail) follows us to the hut chatting the whole way. The birds have been loving it today and the evening chorus feels especially spirited.

From sabine hut to west sabine is a bright green goblin forest. We pass our first avalanche pass which looks free from any snow. The track is easy to follow, with some scrambles over slips above the river, but nothing too challenging. We decide to stay the night at west sabine hut. The next day we carry on upriver. It is only three and a half hours from west sabine to Blue Lake. It is a clear day and the snow becomes deeper as we climb. All the bright white among the beech trees seems other-worldly. When we get to Blue Lake we walk around the edge not saying much. It is so blue and quiet it feels like an illusion. When you look at the deeper parts of the water the rocks at the bottom are outlined in violet.

At the Blue Lake Hut, someone has made a chess set. It is magic to sit in the warming hut with snow sliding off the roof. Hot tea and whiskey are even better. Jordan beats me twice at chess and I am not impressed - why does being beaten at chess hurt so deeply?

It is Jordan's birthday the next day and I try to make pancakes on the gas stove which burns them, then the woodfire which is very slow, but does prove effective.
On our way out the view down the valley is phenomenal. Mist is rising from the river, the mountains are clear and impressive. I take my favorite pictures looking downriver on the way back to sabine hut. It turns into a long day walking almost 19km, and we were happy to get to Sabine hut before the sun disappeared completely.

Five days walking in total. The last day is one of those mean tramping days where every tree is out to get you. I do not have fun but I get out some angst. A rainbow appears at the end of the track, and we discover that Bessie cars battery has died which prompts a lot of swearing from me. It also is not so easy as we hoped to push Bessie from her park over the lip of the hill but we do it, jumping in and descending out of sunshine beech trees, and mist.


Location: Nelson Lakes National Park. Northern area of the southern alps in Te Wai Pounamu (south island) New Zealand
Access: From St Arnaud, parking at the end of Mt Robert Road
Grade: Advanced (from DOC website)  See more information here!
Map: NZTopo50 map sheet: BS24

GPS: Grid/NZTM2000 coordinates: E1571514, N5343732

Time: Minimum 4 days return from St Arnaud. In summer you can catch a water taxi across lake Rotoroa which saves two days walking.

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