Lake Florence

Lake Florence

Lake Florence is an alpine lake in Arthur’s Pass National Park that sits just below Mt Armstrong. It is a beautiful spot, rarely visited by many. The route is both physically and technically demanding following an unmarked route for most of the hike. Even when the route is marked it can be difficult to find your way as you search for little orange triangles. With a small amount of searching, I was able to find an article and a post on people getting lost or only getting a chance to attempt the route. Please only attempt this route if you are an experienced tramper or mountaineer familiar with offtrack New Zealand conditions with a high level of fitness.


8 hrs


7.5 km


1130 m





Nathan (the author) hiking up towards the northern ridge of pt 2010 | @inspired_by_the_outdoors

In Detail

The route to Lake Florence covers a variety of different terrain all in one day. It begins along a closed-off private paper road to the railway bridge then up the Otira River until you hit a tight gorge. Ascending through the bush and then climbing a steep chossy scree slope towards the ridge of 2010 and then down to Lake Florence. The route requires a lot of good navigation skills and route finding with the track that’s marked being unmaintained. It has a steep ascent up a loose scree slope covered in rockfall. Ensure that you take safety precautions and carry a helmet to protect your head.

Looking out from our campsite on the valley and mountains fading into the distance

Getting There

Getting to the start of the route to Lake Florence is relatively easy. Follow SH73 until you get to the bridge over the Otira River. It’s identifiable as a one-lane bridge with steel girders. Directly after you cross the bridge you will go under a railway bridge. It’s on this bend which you turn left onto an unnamed gravel road to reach the start of the track. There is a locked gate within the first hundred metres of driving down the road. There’s plenty of space to leave your car, just ensure you don’t leave any belongings obviously visible.


For the first part of the hike, we followed the Rolleston River Route up until the markers ended where it met with the Rolleston River. Usually, people will follow the river on to climb Waimakariri Col and return out via the Waimakariri River. It is an alpine hike that is well regarded among both mountaineers and hikers. We followed this same route for the first part of the hike, but when we reached the outlet from the Rolleston River we crossed the stream and gained the ridge to Lake Florence. This naturally seemed the best way to reach the lake although, I did find some further information from sifting through a number of photos from Nina Dickerhof on her summit of Mt Armstrong.

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Our hike began at a locked gate up a private road a rail bridge just off the road from Arthur’s Pass. It’s flat right the way to the river giving your legs a chance to warm up before getting to the river section of the hike. It would save a significant amount of time being able to drive right the way the roads end. There is a railway bridge that could be tempting to cross to keep your feet dry. Don’t even think about it! It’s not worth the risk, besides, I can guarantee your feet will end up getting wet while you are walking up the river.

The railway bridge with many warnings and hazardous signs to deter trespassers

Rolleston River

The river is where the hike begins. Although it is not marked, for the most part, it is easy enough to find your way upstream. There are some parts where there may be a fork in the river where if you look hard and close enough you can find a marker or signifier to direct you. As previously mentioned we walked almost the entire river route in sandals to get up to the marked track. They were great for not holding the water in and stable enough to scale many of the boulders along the way.

Top: Walking along one of many dried-up riverbeds
Middle Left: Wading through a sidestream of the Otira River as we followed our way upstream
Middle Right: Squeezing through a couple of the boulders next to the river to continue following the route
Bottom: Navigating the way between the two streams looking at the map

There were a number of times where we found ourselves hauling both us and our packs over large rocks to continue along the river. Often it was a challenge to keep balance on the rocks with large packs squeezing between the bush and boulders separating us from the river. Other times it was simply ankle-deep wade through the river or rock hopping

Top Left: The triangle hidden under the tree shade as you rock-hop up the river
Top Right: A close up of the triangle shown in the picture on the left
Bottom: Thomas surveying the route ahead as we made our way up the river

Bush Section

There were also a numerous times we discovered markers that along the Otira River. Some could be found way above us from the land deteriorating through washouts and storms. Others were tucked away under bushes that had not been trimmed. It certainly helped to follow the markers than to continue along the river at times. It did require us to be eagle-eyed spotting some of these markers whilst hiking the Otira River.

Top Left: A washout in the track leading up to an orange marker up the river
Top Right: A cairn marker along the way up the river that we spotted through the marsh
Bottom: Thomas squeezing himself and pack between the bush and bush as we hauled our way up the river

Rolleston River Route

The Rolleston River route starts as soon as you make it to a red rocked sidestream. It’s a difficult stream to miss. The river enters a tight gorge straight after the stream making it very difficult to carry on along the river. It’s then a boulder scramble up the side stream following the interspersed cairns towards where the track enters the bush. If you can’t find the cairns, hug the bushline until you spot a large orange triangle high up in the bush.

Top: Ascending the dried-up riverbed from the stream, the Otira River below | @inspired_by_the_outdoors
Nathan making his way rock-hopping up the dried-up river bed | @inspired_by_the_outdoors

The track is very much a bash in the bush as you climb steeply through the scrub. It’s hard to find your way through the bush at times when much of it is overgrown. A large orange triangle marks the track into the bush. It’s then a matter of determining the location of the track, overgrown by the flax. As you climb you can see right the way back to the railway bridge where you began from. It’s the first decent opportunity to see the progress that you made from the start of the day.

Top Left: Scouting the orange triangle, which can be seen in the top right-hand corner of the picture | @inspired_by_the_outdoors
Top Right: Looking back from the track at the distance we had made, the railway bridge where we crossed at the start
Thomas battling with the bush to make his way up through the track

Deep in the bush

The forest soon embraces you, the bush much larger yet the track only slightly easier to follow than before. This had us battling with the bush to push through it, while constantly keeping our eyes peeled for orange markers. It was tough going at times, however, when the track fell away from scree slides we were grateful.

Top: The track looping around one of the many trees as it winded it’s way through
Middle Left: Nathan (the author) swamped by the bush wading our way along the track
Middle Right: Following the track around swings and roundabouts we were constantly battling the overgrown bush right the way through the hike
Bottom: Thomas balancing himself on the route down along the track

Each time we reached one of these scree slides, it provided a well-deserved break. The constant bashing of the forest branches and the heavy packs make for a huge effort. In the heat of summer, we recovered on the fringes of the forest. It’s important to continually keep refuelling your body on such a strenuous hike.

Thomas walking through to an opening in the bush

Climb to Lake Florence

The climb up is a long, steep climb that is not the easiest at the best of times. It begins with ascending a small stream with slippery rocks until you reach a point where you look up and you can tell that you are going to be bluffed out. At this point, sidle across to the scree slope to your left. Do your best to make the ascent without damaging yourself. It’s loose and unbearable at times as you make your way up towards the chossy ridge that you then ascend. The ridge takes a while to ascend and can be frightening as the rock from above or can come crashing down the valley. Take care throughout all of these sections. I would highly recommend wearing a helmet for this section to minimise any risk of head injury from rockfall.

Looking up the sidestream of the Otira River soon after crossing the river
All smiles that we made it finally to the scree slope | @inspired_by_the_ourdoors

Stream Send

The real climb to Lake Florence begins here. A small valley with two small streams cascading down towards the Rolleston River. The wet rock did make for some slippery climbing at the start. There were a couple of close calls and a lot of route selection decisions that had to be made on the climb up this route. The heavy packs we carried didn’t help much either. The poles that we carried would have been one of the biggest blessings. In one hand I would keep my balance with a pole, the other I would attempt to capture the scenes.

Top: Thomas making his way towards the start of the stream where we would begin our scramble towards the scree
Bottom: Making my way up the first one of the first sections of the stream | @inspired_by_the_outdoors

Scree Scramble

The second part of the ascent to Lake Florence is a steep scree slope that had us battling right the way to the top. Each time rock would slide underneath our feet and would never give a chance to find a solid footing. Even when we attempted to sidle across the rock would give away under our feet and have us crashing onto our sides. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience but the views in the area were incredible. We did out best to stick to the vegetated areas for better stability and grip on the ascent but eventually, these sections would run out. We would then do our best to sidle across to another section.

Top: Getting onto the scree slope and starting to make my way towards the choss | @inspired_by_the_outdoors
Middle: Looking back down the scree slope, near the bottom it bluffs out hence why we took the river route
Bottom: Views towards the head of the Rolleston River towards Waimak Col

Chossy Ridges

Eventually, our fears became real and we were faced with these gnarly chossy ridges. We already knew in places that the rock was unstable, and at times would break off starting scree avalanches beneath us. Between my brother and I, we managed to avoid getting cleaned out by the rocks with one helmet between us. The one climbing below would wear the helmet while the other would do their best to not dislodge any rocks on the way down. The rock was sharp and would deal some nasty cuts on the climb up. At times we would end up front pointing and rock climbing sections with our big 20kg+ packs on our backs, poles on wrists and cameras on belts. It wasn’t easy.

Top: Looking partway down the ridge as we got onto the knife edge and had the chance to continue climbing| @inspired_by_the_outdoors
Middle: Getting closer to gaining the main ridge | @inspired_by_the_outdoors
Bottom: All smiles after finally making it up onto the main ridge towards Lake Florence | @inspired_by_the_outdoors

Ridge to Lake Florence

Once we had finally made it onto the ridge we were both absolutely battered from the physical and mental stress that we had been subject to climbing the chossy ridge. At the same time, it was a huge relief knowing we were able to make it to the lake before nightfall. We were absolutely exhausted. It took some time to hobble our way down to the lake. At times this involved backtracking from where we had come up from, then slowly making our way around the ridge to the lake. It wasn’t until we could see the lake that all senses of worry were relieved. It was a fast hobble from there on.

Making the final turn into Lake Florence, one of our first views of the lakes| @inspired_by_the_outdoors

Lake Florence

Lake Florence was a beautiful sight to meet our eyes. Although the lake wasn’t as pretty as others that I had spent time at before, the outlook was gorgeous. The ridges and the steep drops around the area along whilst looking out over waterfalls cascading into the valley made up for this. The setting sun on the western side of Arthur’s Pass always offers some of the most beautiful sunsets, even in the height of summer.

Top: Looking out from our tent campsite
Bottom: A panorama at sunset of the area looking out from the lake | @inspired_by_the_outdoors

Lake Florence is large and situated so high up in the mountains. Sitting around an elevation of 1480 it’s a great opportunity to go onto summit Mt Armstrong or Anderson Peak to south and south-west. There isn’t much ground that isn’t covered by rock apart from a few small spots with a little more grass than others. There is even a memorial propped up next to the lake explaining that the lake was named after Florence Stinear (Pettigrew) who lived from 1917 – 1996.

Lake Florence basking in the morning sun, Mt Armstrong seen to the right of the image

Day 2

Day two saw us returning via the same route that we had taken the previous day apart from an easier route along the ridge. It made a lot more sense this time to climb up the scree slope directly to the east of the lake then followed the ridge along until we reached the second scree and rock slope that we ascended the previous day and then along the same track all the way back to the car. It took a huge toll on our legs keeping balanced and watching our every step.

Thomas making the morning ascent up towards the ridge of pt 2010 to descend back to the car

Return Journey

Although it was easier ascending this scree slope, still, the rocks weren’t an easy ascent. Often they would roll out under our feet or even shudder or creek as we made our way up to the ridge. It was tough and we were grateful for the poles that we had in hand to keep us balanced on the way up. The view back to the lake was always a joy to see, smaller with every step.

Hiking out of the basin from Lake Florence up to the ridge up the rolling scree slope | @inspired_by_the_outdoors

When we had made it up onto the ridge we could see out over the lake and back out to the rail bridge where we began the hike. It was just a matter of making it there. Walking back along the tops in the morning light was easy going, it wasn’t hard to find our way and probably the easiest terrain we walked over the entire hike (apart from the road).

Top: Thomas making his way down the grassy ridge, probably one of the easiest parts of the entire hike (apart from the road)
Middle: Looking down towards the end of the ridge towards where the bluffs were
Bottom: Looking out over the ridge that we were to descend shortly

Descending the Ridge

The descent to the bottom was tough going. The whole time we were clutching onto the rocks and front pointing around the edges of the ridge right the way to the bottom to ensure that we could make it safely down. The scree was on such a steep slope, every time that we would try and slide down one of the shoots we were scared we would end up getting bruised, battered and destroyed by falling rocks.

Looking down the ridge that we had to descend down towards the river below

It takes a while to make it around the rocks and then coming back down the scree was very hard on the knees and feet trying to maintain stability over the terrain. It was a serious descent, with heavy packs it didn’t make it any easier. Often the rock that would crumble with very little force in our hands or under foot.

Top: Nathan (the author) above descending some rocky parts of the ridge | @inspired_by_the_outdoors
Bottom: Looking back up the ridge and scree slope that we had just descended | @inspired_by_the_outdoors

For the rest of the hike, it was slightly easier going as we made our way through the forest and back along the river following the exact same route that we had come in on right the way through to the river. It was a matter of negotiating the boulders right the way to the end, then taking the walking highway back along to the gate where we had left the car. A site we were all so very pleased to see.


  1. Looks gnarly but so worth it. Thanks for providing all the great info for wayfinding!

    1. Thank you! I’m glad that you found the route description helpful. Definitely not the easiest spot to blog about but I really hope it will help those looking for some more information about the area.