When I first arrived at Nelson Lakes National Park, I heard about the Angelus Hut from a woman who had just finished her day hike. She said that it was a hut surrounded by calm lakes and gorgeous mountain peaks. She also informed me that it would be raining for the next few days and so it would have to wait until her next visit. Well, I followed her lead and headed up to Abel Tasman National Park for a few days before returning, anticipating some good weather and a chance to see this beautiful place the woman had told me about.

Luckily, I came to New Zealand after the busy season and had no trouble getting a reservation for a night. And after speaking with the volunteers at the Visitor Center, I decided I would hike up Cascade Track, spend the night in the hut and return down Robert’s Ridge Track.

The morning to leave for the hut came, but the sunrise over Lake Rotoiti was too beautiful to allow me to start the hike on time. So once the sunrise show had ended, I paid for a water taxi to transport me across the lake, trimming off 2.5 hours of hiking. (I would be ashamed of “cheating” the hike, but a sunrise over a lake is a good excuse if you ask me.)

The first hour of the hike was a hike through a forest along a crystal clear river. And after that first hour, I came across the halfway point, distance-wise. Peculiarly, however, even though the first half only took one hour, the second half was supposed to take five hours. Strange, I thought, and continued up the track.

An hour and a half later, it became clear why the second leg was estimated to take so long. Yes, you guessed it: Brett somehow managed to find the hardest way to the hut. The trail suddenly started ascending straight up to the ridge high above. There were points where I literally had to use my hands to climb up the trail. But despite that, I did surprisingly well with relatively few stops to catch my breath. My physically demanding activities over the past few weeks were finally paying off.

At some point during the second half of the hike, I found myself wondering where the track had gone. Now in New Zealand, the tracks are all marked quite frequently by orange triangles on trees in forests and by orange poles above the tree line. And by the time I realized I hadn’t seen an orange triangle in a while, I also realized I had been following a false trail. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find a trail to follow, it was that everywhere I looked seemed to be a trail.

Now this was strangely reminiscent of many years ago when I got lost in Switzerland and subsequently almost got my skull crushed by some rocks thundering down from above; so I stopped, put down my things and took a long breath. After taking a minute to look over the map, it became clear that the trail followed the river all the way up to the ridge. That way, I knew that as long as I was next to the river I wasn’t far from the trail. So I started zigzagging up the mountain between the river and an imaginary boundary I had drawn, searching for the trail. At one point, I came across some Fantail birds that began whistling at me.  I might have asked them where the trail was as the began flying ahead of me, stopping at trees to whistle back at me. Now I’m not saying the birds were leading me to the trail, but they definitely did not lead me in the wrong direction.

One other comment I’d like to make about the Cascade Track is that it is aptly named. Once the trail started ascending, there were waterfalls all around. Even falling alongside the track I was climbing. It was breathtaking.

Once I reached the ridge huffing and puffing, as usual, there was Angelus Lake and the Angelus Hut. Not thirty minutes after arriving at the hut, the sun descended below the mountainous horizon and bathed the clouds in orange and the entire landscape in gold.

Now Day Light Savings just ended (or did it just start?) and so sunrise comes particularly early; especially when you’re up above the trees. So at five in the morning, my alarm went off to my fellow hut dwellers’ dismays and I headed out into the dark to capture sunrise. Over the course of a few hours, I managed to circle the area in search of the perfect light. Now none of it was perfect. In fact, some of it was quite messy, but I did come away with some photographs I quite like and you might be surprised how different each of them is from the changing light.

 

As I mentioned before, I hiked down from the hut via the Robert’s Ridge Track. The weather was gorgeous and the vistas did not disappoint, as I hiked along the mountain’s ridge for hours. Just before the last set of switchbacks, I decided to take a break next to a couple ladies who were also resting. We had a nice chat for fifteen minutes and then I continued downward. Now the tracks I chose don’t actually form a circuit. So after completing the Robert’s Ridge Track, I still had four kilometers of dirt road to hike before arriving at my car. Luckily, however, an hour down the road, there came a honk from behind me. In the car were the ladies I had visited with and they offered me a ride to my car. This probably won’t come as a huge surprise to many of you; as you know, I’ve always been better with older women.

And thus ended my trip to Angelus Hut.

If you’re ever in New Zealand, make time to visit the Angelus Hut. It’s officially on my “Must See” list.