Mt Robert Circuit Hike: Nelson Lakes National Park

Mt Robert Circuit, Nelson Lakes National Park

I was blown away by the Mt Robert Circuit track in Nelson Lakes National Park.  Maybe it was the perfect weather, or maybe I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautiful, but I was buzzing all day on this walk.

So if you love lake and mountain views like me, then this might be your walk.  A 4-5 hour loop track trail is an ideal family walk in Nelson Lakes National Park and you can even stay overnight in the popular Bushline Hut.

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Heading down Paddys Track on our way back to the carpark

How long is the Mt Robert walk?

The Mt Robert Circuit Track is about 9km in length.  DOC recommends you allow 5 hours to complete the loop.  It took us 4.5 hours plus lunch to walk this as a family.


What is the altitude gain for the Mt Robert Circuit Track

There is an elevation gain of about 550m over 9km on this track.


How high is Mt Robert?

Mt Robert is 1421m tall.  With the carpark at 880m of elevation, this Mt Robert track gains about 550m over the whole walk.

Mt Robert Circuit Map signposted at the beginning of the trail

Which track should I take?  Pinchgut Track vs Paddys Track


The Mt Robert Circuit Track is a loop trail.  So at the beginning you will need to make a decision: to climb up the Pinchgut Track, or Paddys Track.  There is also a flattish section near the top, so nice to have some easy terrain for a while.

The Pinchgut Track is a steeper trail with switchbacks, which gets you up the mountain quickly.  It has a mixture of open mountainside that you climb along with forest sections.  We chose to go up this trail as it seemed like a shorter steeper uphill, and then we got to see all the views on the way down Paddys Track.

Paddys Track is very exposed and overlooks the lake the majority of the time.  There is a small amount of bush near the bottom.  This trail was a little longer in length and not so steep, making it perfect for walking downhill.  

According to my Garmin, Paddys Track to Bushline Hut was about 4.2km, whereas the Pinchgut Track to the summit, and across the flat section to the hut was about 4.8km.  The flat section took us about 30 mins, so the Pinchgut Track was definitely a shorter uphill.

I was really happy with our choice and recommend it.  I definitely think it was easier and I loved having the views the whole way down. 

Paddys Track, heading down

What is the trail like to walk?


We walked up the Pinchgut track, along the flattish track at top until we hit the hut, then down Paddys Track.

The Pinchgut Track starts in the forest, then sidles the hillside where you will get lovely lake views before heading into the forest again.  You will pop out at an incredible viewpoint with a seat to overlook Lake Rotoiti.  

This steepish section took the kids about 1 hour 50 mins.  We had a decent stop here for morning tea, took a ton of photos and then headed onto the hut, another 30-40 minutes away.  The kids found this really manageable.  It wasn’t too steep, there was a decent amount of variation in the terrain and the views were great.

The flattish section headed away from the lake and felt more like open pasture.  There is a turnoff along the way for the Robert Ridge Route and Angelus Hut, but this is another 9km from this point.  It is worth noting there have been many rescues and even fatalities on this route, so it is one you must be well prepared for.

On the flat section you will note the huge alpine markers that were well above my head.  Common sense says they get some deep snow up here, so you need to be well prepared if you are visiting during winter and early spring.  If you aren’t sure of the current conditions, give the visitor centre a call as they should have a good idea of the weather up there.

After a leisurely 2 hours, 50 minutes we reached Bushline Hut.  The hut is a one roomed hut sleeping up to 14 people.  There are no separate bunkrooms as there are in some huts, so that’s just something to note if you have kids (It might be a late night)

Paddys Track took about 1 hour, 45 minutes to reach the end and the views were stunning.  It felt nice after the good uphill effort in the first part of the day, to be able to enjoy the views and take in the beauty on the second half.

The trail is still a rocky gravel track, but curves around the hillside.  Plenty of time for photos the whole way down.  Near the end is a small amount of bush, and a rocky scree section from some rockfall and you will be back at the carpark in no time.

Exploring a scree section from some rockfall near the bottom of Paddys Track

Walking the Mt Robert Circuit with Kids


Our kids were almost 4, 6 and 8 when they did this hike.  They found this walk pretty easy, but do note they are quite used to hiking.  This is the longest hike that Emilia (almost 4) had done, at 9km, but she has done some good hill walks before.  

The hard bit up the Pinchgut Track will take about 90-120 minutes, so if you are confident they can walk up hill for that long, then the rest of it isn’t too long.

Another option if this is quite a lot for one day for the kids, is to stay overnight at Bushline Hut.  This would make a fantastic beginners overnight hike during the summer and warmer weather.

Bushline Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park

Safety on the Mt Robert Circuit


The track is very exposed, so in summer it can be extremely hot and in winter, icy cold.  So as a starter, make sure you are dressed appropriately for the conditions.

While this track is great for hiking with the family in summer, during winter parts of the trail can be in snow.  You can tell by the extremely tall markers here on the track that it gets very deep snow up here.

Unless you are experienced with hiking in snow in winter, you might like to save this track for a different season.  In saying that, check in with the local Department of Conservation team as they will know the condition of the track and the weather forecast and can help you plan.

Living area at Bushline Hut
Bunk room at Bushline Hut, all in the one area

How to get to the Mt Robert Circuit walk?


The Mount Robert Circuit Walk isn’t too hard to find, but you’ll want to take your vehicle to the start of the track.

Follow all the signs to Nelson Lakes National Park and St Arnaud.  Find Mt Robert Road and head all the way to the end.  The first Mt Robert carpark leads to the bottom of Paddys Track.  The upper carpark (also with the toilets) starts at the Pinchgut Track.

We parked at the bottom carpark and walked up, saving our legs at the end of the day.

You will note that it doesn’t recommend campervans more than 7m in length to drive this road.  There are some narrow section and turns that would be difficult, especially with other traffic.

On Pinchgut Track, near the junction which splits off to Angelus Hut (straight ahead up the hill) and left to Bushline Hut (continuing on the Mt Robert Circuit)

Where to stay in Nelson Lakes National Park


DOC Campsite:  There are a few doc campsites in Nelson Lakes National Park and one of them even has powered sites too.  There aren’t too many sites available considering how beautiful and busy it gets in summer, so do make sure you book these ahead of time to nab yourself a space

There isn’t a lot of accommodation in St Arnaud itself.  A few baches and small accommodations here so don’t be expecting big hotels.  If you want to stay in St Arnaud, try out these spots

Woodmans Den:  2 bedroom villa accommodation with free wifi and air conditioning as well as a hot tub. Click here for photos and pricing

Alpine Lodge:  Offering Queen rooms up to a 2 bedroom apartment, this accommodation has a restaurant, bar and even a childrens playground.  Click here for up to date pricing



Founder of Backyard Travel Family

Jen is a super organiser when it comes to travel. Having travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, has lived in London and the USA and holidayed in many parts of Asia, she is not a newbie to the travel space

Jen has three young children, 8 and under and travels around New Zealand with them.

Backyard Travel Family New Zealand. Lets share these articles and spread the love

what you need to know


- The Mt Robert Circuit carpark is a 12 minute drive from St Arnaud township or 1 hour, 15 minutes from Nelson City Centre
- Cannot drive a long campervan down the last 7km gravel road to the carpark (its signposted)

The track

- 2 tracks (Pinchgut Track and Paddys Track) so choose our own direction to walk
- Uphill trail for around 70-120 mins then down again
- Loop track
- Bushline Hut to stay overnight if you wish

Suitable for kids?

Yes this is a great family friendly tramping track, taking around 5 hours round trip. A decent climb but not crazy steep and an easy trail to navigate.
We walked with a 4, 6 and 8 year old and they walked the whole trail with ease (semi-regular hikers)


- Toilets at the top carpark and at Bushline Hut
- Trail is quite exposed, except for the beginning of each track. No shelter in the main part of the track except for the hut.

What to bring

- Water at the hut is boil only, so plenty of fresh water or bring a jetboil/cooker
- Food for a good half day
- Rainjacket and windproof jacket
- Sunhat or beanie as appropriate
- decent walking shoes, running shoes at a minimum

Food options

- Fuel Station in St Arnaud, just 12 minutes drive
- St Arnaud Store and Alpine Lodge have food available

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