Hiking Pinchgut Track in Nelson Lakes National Park, NZ

You can’t visit New Zealand without at least doing *some* hiking.  I’ve already talked about the stunning Hooker Valley Lake Track that we did on our first day in the country, but let’s be honest—that’s really a walk, not a hike.  Flat, easy, short.  But we also wanted to experience a tiny taste of real Kiwi hiking as well.

For the bulk of our two weeks in New Zealand, we were based in Nelson, on the north end of the South Island.  So after doing quite a bit of research, we decided that Nelson Lakes National Park offered the best options, specifically the Mount Robert track.  Once we got there, the rangers recommended Pinchgut Track which goes up Mount Robert, an easy half-day hike on the beautiful day that we were given.

Lake Roitoiti and Mount Robert in Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand

Hiking Pinchgut Track in New Zealand's Nelson Lakes National Park...easy half-day hike (or day if you prefer), moderate, gorgeous

I was only a little over a year past hip surgery, and this was my hip’s first real test.  So I was definitely a little nervous, and the hike was especially challenging for me because of that…not only did the steepness put a lot of pressure on my hips and quads (both up and down), but I was understandably a little out of shape after a year of very light activity.  While it was challenging, it was still doable, and so for people in okay shape it should be fine.

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We’d been given instructions on where to park by the lady at the visitor centre, but we got confused and parked in the first real parking lot we came to.  BIG mistake!  We started walking along a gravel road and walked like a mile uphill, passing another parking lot and eventually arriving at the trailhead at the THIRD parking lot…dusty, tired, and just now starting the real hike.  Don’t be us.  Go all the way up to the main parking lot and trailhead.

Pro tip:  Keep going until the third parking lot and real trailhead…don’t be fooled by the first few ones you come to or you’re in for a loooong dusty, steep hike.

Why you should hike Pinchgut Track in Nelson Lakes National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Hiking is a must! Where to do an easy day hike if you're staying in the northern part of New Zealand's South Island

This hike is breathtaking—in more ways than one.  It’s pretty much relentlessly uphill.  Go slow and don’t underestimate the effects of the altitude.  Make sure to stay hydrated as well.  The sun is stronger in New Zealand (something about there being a hole in the ozone layer there?) so even if it’s not particularly warm out you need to watch for sunburn and also getting too dehydrated.

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Hike the Mount Robert track in Nelson Lakes National Park if you're in New Zealand's South Island

Why you should hike Pinchgut Track in Nelson Lakes National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Views of Lake Roitoiti from above, while hiking Pinchgut Track on Mount Robert, New Zealand

The trail zigzags up the bare side of Mount Robert, offering spectacular views of Lake Roitoiti.  It eventually enters a beech forest and you’ll spend quite a bit of time there.  Eventually we turned around since it was starting to get late, but you can continue and eventually reach Relax Shelter (where it meets Paddy’s Track).

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If you have even a touch of asthma, make sure you have your inhaler.  My friend had an asthma attack about a mile up (she only has mild asthma), but thankfully she had her emergency inhaler and just had to stay there and rest while we went the rest of the way.

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If you're planning a trip to New Zealand, hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park is a great itinerary add

Things to do in New Zealand's South Island...hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park

Why you should hike Pinchgut Track in Nelson Lakes National Park, South Island, New Zealand

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Lake Roitoiti provides a serene, beautiful place to rest when you finish hiking.  The little jetty there is the cutest, and you wouldn’t believe how clear the water is!

Lake Roitoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand

Beautiful views of Lake Roitoiti are one of the perks of hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park

The four of us sat here for probably half an hour just watching the clouds move over the mountain and the ripples in the lake.  Also, this pic of Sarai and I is the absolute cutest…it’s become a girls’ trip tradition shot.

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We were totally tuckered out when we got back to the house we were renting, and starving to boot.  We headed into Nelson and ended up at The Vic, a great brewpub.   We stuffed ourselves with burgers and savory pies, and tons of local Mac’s beer—I’m partial to the Black Mac.  Then went back home and slept like the dead.

Tips for hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park

  • If you’re staying in Nelson, this is about a 90-minute drive one-way.  Here’s why I think basing yourself in Nelson is amazing, and lots of ideas for what to do in the area!
  • Always be prepared for changing weather in New Zealand, so have a jacket or water-resistant layer and hat with you, and bring plenty of water too (and food if you’ll be up there a while); make sure you pack any trash out
  • As mentioned above, there are a few places to park but you want to drive all the way up to the third carpark, the main one at the trailhead.  Otherwise you’re adding about a (non-scenic) mile straight uphill to your hike.
  • I’ve read that the Mt. Robert car park is prone to break-ins, so make sure there are no valuables in sight and that you lock your car (that’s always true, obvs…)
  • You can get additional info on the trail here and make sure to read tips on TripAdvisor as well for recent info
  • Refuel at The Vic in Nelson…pub food and craft beer at its finest

What other easy(ish) half-day hikes do you recommend in New Zealand?  Let me know in the comments!

Other hiking adventures:  

Why you should hike Pinchgut Track in Nelson Lakes National Park, South Island, New Zealand


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