Nelson Lakes National Park New Zealand

Nelson Lakes National Park can be found at the top of the north of the South Island and at the northern end of the Southern Alps.

This park was founded in 1956 and is just over 100,000 hectares of stunning mountains, lakes, streams, and forests.

Nelson Lakes NP Forest Track
Nelson Lakes National Park Forest Track with a walker resting on a log
Image by Nicholas Rean

Nelson Lakes

It was named because of the presence of two large lakes in the mountainous surroundings called Lake Rotoiti (small waters) and Lake Rotoroa (large waters).

How Nelson Lakes National Park was Formed

The National Park’s glacial land formations, including the lakes, were formed during ice ages that played a part in creating some of the South Islands unique landscapes.

Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project - Conservation in Nelson Lakes NP

Five thousand of these hectares are set aside for a conservation project that aims to reintroduce native species, the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project.

One of the issues that plague native species in New Zealand is the necessity to make any conservation area ‘pest free’ to prevent introduced predatory animals from wiping out native fauna.

The Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project is one of many across New Zealand that aim to create pockets of land where threatened species can thrive in safety.

St Arnaud

At only a one or two hour drive away from Nelson or Blenheim there is a village called St Arnaud that can be used as a base to enter and explore the park along with its beech forests and alpine fields.

St Arnaud has cafes, bars, accommodation, a visitor centre, and you can get transport and tours from there too.

Activities in Nelson Lakes Park


There are plenty of short and long walks catering for varied fitness levels.

A 3 day looped hike to Lake Angelus, and a 5 day circuit called the Travers-Sabine, provide more serious hiking in the Park.


Lakes for boating and/or fishing (Brown Trout), water skiing at Lake Rotoiti, mountaineering and climbing, and even snow sports during the winter months (Rainbow Ski field), you will be spoilt for choice!

Mountain Biking

Unfortunately for mountain bikers you will have to stick to roads as biking within the boundary of the park is not permitted, although there some designated areas outside the boundary I believe. Namely, the Teetotal Trails, Mt Robert Road, round the Lake Rotoroa, Porika Road, Braeburn Road, Glenroy Valley, and Matakitaki Valley.

Outdoor Safety

Be safe by checking the outdoor Land Safety Code.

Accommodation in Nelson Lakes National Park

At St Arnaud you’ll find holiday cottages, a couple of campsites, and motels from which to base your visit to Nelson Lakes National Park.

For trampers wanting to walk the tracks there are quite a lot of huts you can stay in without booking and a couple of huts that can be booked with the Department of Conservation (DOC).

There are campsites at Lake Rotoroa (no booking), Kerr Bay, West Bay, and at Angelus Hut (note these three all need to be booked).

There is a lodge for backpackers at Lake Rotoroa.

There are 21 more huts that do not need booking. You can obtain a list and locations from the DOC.

Tourist Information

Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre can be found on View Road, St Arnaud

If you want to visit more than one national park taking in the north of the South Island, there are a few to choose from in the Tasman Region. Abel Tasman and Kahurangi are the most northern, Arthur’s Pass is just south of Nelson Lakes National Park, and Paparoa is on the west coast.

Map of Nelson Lakes National Park Location