Nelson Lakes National Park is located in the north of the South Island. St. Arnaud is the closest town to the park, situated in a beautiful location on the shore of Lake Rotoiti. St. Arnaud is only 1.5 hours by vehicle from Nelson or Blenheim (State Highway 63).
There are regular bus services to and from St. Arnaud and water taxis are available on both Lake Rotoiti and Rotoroa.
The main features of Nelson Lakes park are the two lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa. These lakes were formed by glaciers scoring out valleys at headwater of the Buller River. The lakes are enclosed by craggy mountains.
At lower levels in the park the vegetation is mainly beech, with the red and silver species growing in warmer sites and mountain beech at cooler levels. As the altitude rises, the vegetation suddenly changes from beech forest to alpine plants at the bush line. In summertime these alpine plants display beautifully coloured flowers.
The lower level beech forests are teeming with bird life, such as tomtits, robins and the tiny rifleman, New Zealand's smallest bird.
Throughout New Zealand, 'mainland islands' are being created as part of a national programme to establish recovery areas for native plant and animal life. As part of this project the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project has been established in the Nelson Lakes National Park. The project plan is to create a pest-free refuge in the honeydew beech forests beside Lake Rotoiti. This refuge will allow the re-establishment of native species in the park.
Tramping is a very popular pastime in the park. As with other national parks there is a large network of DOC maintained tracks and huts. There are a large number of short walks in the vicinity of St. Arnaud including the Bellbird Walk which is suitable for wheelchairs. Longer tramps include the Travers-Sabine Circuit which takes from 4 to 7 days depending on conditions.
Both Lake Rotoiti and Rotoroa are good spots for trout fishing, and water-skiing is permitted on Lake Rotoiti only. No mooring is permitted on either lake.
For snow enthusiasts there is a small club on Mount Robert. There is a 2 hour climb from the road-end to the field.
There is plenty of accommodation at St. Arnaud including campsites, motels, backpackers and holiday homes. At Lake Rotoroa there is a basic camping ground and a tourist lodge.