We were never planning on going as far afield as Lake Rotoiti and the Nelson Lakes on our trip – we thought it would be a bit much to attempt for a day trip, but our friends Judith and Hamish had convinced us that at just over an hour away it was more than doable, and with a fine day ahead on the Tuesday we forged ahead with the plan.
The bad weather that had blown through on Monday had brought fresh snow to the hills around Nelson so we had high hopes there might be some to see on the mountains around the lakes. So we packed up lunch and warm jackets and with a quick stop at Café on Oxford (Trip Advisor review / company website) for takeaway coffee in Richmond we were on our way.
We’d planned to take Highway 63 which is the most direct route to Nelson Lakes, but somehow we missed it. I blame it on the game we were planning in the car which kept us royally entertained for most of the trip. Noah started us off with this quiz: there are 12 in the sequence and they start with J, F, M, A, M and J – what are they and what are the rest? Seeing them here written you may have already guessed that they are months of the year. But this sparked us into all kinds of quizzes to guess – like there are four and three of them are S, S, A – what are they and what is the last one? These were the seasons. We could give clues to help the people guessing – and some were easier than others. We ended up with a wide range of quizzes from TV characters like the four teenage mutant ninja turtles, to the planets, and a few more random ones but it certainly helped pass the time.
On the way we stopped on top of the Hope Saddle (photos above) which was nearly 1,000 metres in altitude – it was freezing cold with a biting southerly wind but well worth it for the panoramic mountain views that surrounded us.
Once we got back on the road to St Arnaud we travelled alongside the picturesque Buller River for a while before coming upon St Arnaud and the lake (points awarded to the first person to catch sight of the water – I think Mark won this one!). Down by the lakeside we saw a water taxi docked ready to take people out on the lake, and although we had NO expectations of doing this, after a short conversation with Hamish Simpson owner of Lake Rotoiti Water Taxis who told us we could get out on the lake for an hour and go to Whisky Falls for $80, we were quickly sold on the idea.
And why wouldn't you be with views like this?! We found out that it had snowed the night before here too so the fresh snow on the hills just added to the incredible sense of awe we felt being here!
Our time on the lake was utterly magical – being surrounded by snow capped mountains and crystal clear water – hello – it’s the stuff that dreams are made of. We journeyed half way up the lake and then took a five minute walk up to Whisky Falls which would otherwise be a days’ walk away – set back in the hillside as it was with dappled light coming through the trees, it was just so lovely.
On our return to shore, Hamish let Noah drive the boat (complete with captain’s hat on) for a while which made his day, and he then treated us all to some 360 degree bagels – not doughnuts – which got the adrenaline going!
After we were back on dry land, we sat and ate our picnic lunch soaking this view. I swear I had to pinch myself a few times to believe we were actually here.
Then it was time to do what we'd originally planned - a walk around the Brunner Nature Peninsular Walk - although it was easy to be distracted by the wildlife before we even got started - eels swimming under the jetty and a family of ducks!
The walk was fairly sodden in places but gave regular lovely glimpses of the mountains and being surrounded by the call of the bellbird and fantail and spotting these at regular intervals was a real treat. And of course being surrounded by the beech forest meant there was plenty more bug poo (aka honeydew) for us to feast on too!
At the end of the walk, we spent some time exploring the DOC Conservation and Information Centre to get a sense of the local area. It sure is vast in its beauty and the number of lakes and walks and serious tramps you can do. After an ice-cream at the local store we very reluctantly hit the road for the journey back to Nelson.
That evening we devoured pizzas from well-known Stefano’s Pizza (thanks again Trip Advisor) at the Tahunanui playground and while the boys meandered home on foot I took the opportunity to seek out a last sunset at the beach....but those photos will have to keep for another day.
We still felt we could have stayed longer in Nelson but Golden Bay was calling……..
For a range of great family activities in and around the Nelson area, check out our other Nelson posts.