Nelson Lakes

The Nelson Lakes region provides outdoor enthusiasts with what is essentially a natural adventure playground. Visitors are treated to superb hiking, tramping, kayaking, skiing, bird watching, snowshoeing, walking, fishing, wildlife appreciation, camping, mountain biking and water sports opportunities all within easy driving distance from Nelson, Blenheim, Hanmer Springs and even Christchurch.

The area is centered around extensively protected bush land encompassing wild native beech forest, stunning clear lakes and rugged mountain peaks, with many townships and scenic camping grounds to stay at exploring by rental car is easy. 

hiking in south island nz - Nelson Lakes National Park

Nelson Lakes National Park

At the very heart of the Nelson Lakes district lays the protected Nelson Lakes National Park. Covering an impressive 102,000 hectares, the sprawling native beech forest, rugged alpine landscapes and multitude of lakes along with a wide range of beautiful New Zealand birds make this top of the list for many outdoor adventure seekers when visiting New Zealand.

There are many activities to partake in, ranging from kayaking and swimming on the lakes in summer through to skiing the Rainbow Ski Area at St Arnaud during winter along with Department of Conservation maintained walkways and tracks.

If wishing to camp within the Nelson Lakes National Park you are in luck, the Park is home to around twenty Department of Conservation (DOC) huts with facilities ranging from very basic (there is the need to be self-sufficient, but it is free) through to “serviced” (meaning they will contain toilets, running water, cooking facilities, hot showers and rubbish collection but there will be fees charged).

Lake Rotoiti And Lake Rotoroa

Surrounded by steep mountain ranges and native beech forests the two largest glacial lakes in the Nelson Lakes National Park are Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa. Accessed from St Arnaud-Kawatiri State Highway (63), Lake Rotoiti is perfect for water sports and swimming with a dedicated water ski lane, swimming raft and several boat jetties. There are two substantial camp grounds located on its shores offering powered and unpowered sites.

Lake Rotoroa is the designated “wilderness lake”, offering travellers a quiet, peaceful wilderness experience. With access along Howard Valley Road, off State Highway 63 near St Arnaud, or Mangles Valley Road near Murchison, Lake Rotoroa provides access for hikers along the northeast side of the lake, with the option of a water taxi ferry to and from the tracks at the head of the lake. A small basic campground is located next to the lake.

lake rotoiti nz - Nelson Lakes National Park


A popular Nelson to West Coast pit stop, Murchison caters for both the adventurous and the weary. Its close proximity to various lakes and rivers has led to a reputation for white water adventure and some of the world’s best fly fishing opportunities.

St Arnaud

The charming lakeside village of St Arnaud is the perfect base from which to explore the Nelson Lakes region either for its beautiful scenic wonders or for winter skiing at the Rainbow ski field. Renowned for the incredible surrounding scenery, St Arnaud has a general store with postal services, petrol station, camping facilities, motels, chalets and a local restaurant/café along with a water taxi service operating from a jetty at the northern end of Lake Rotoiti.

Things To Do In Nelson Lakes National Park

nelson lakes - Nelson Lakes National Park

It is important to expect increased travel times over the winter months due to potentially hazardous road conditions and it is recommended to consider hiring a 4WD vehicle especially if planning on heading up to the Rainbow Ski Area. Enjoy your stay and remember to leave no trace of your presence in this beautiful New Zealand countryside.

Nelson Travel

Need transportation to make the most of the area? View our full range of affordable Nelson rental cars and explore the best of Nelson at your own pace.

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