Spread around mountains and two spectacular glacial lakes, Rotoroa and Rotoiti, the Nelson Lakes National Park also extends to high alpine passes and rocky peaks, clear-running rivers, and bush-lined trails. The native beech forests pour down to the lakeshore. On cloudy days, mist swirls through the trees, wetting the draping mosses. On sunny days the intense green shines through and the birdsong resounds. Lake Rotoiti is also the site of one of the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project, through which long-term intensive pest control has helped the recovery of native birds and the reintroduction of some, including great spotted kiwi.
Of the two lakes, Rotoroa is less developed, with just a few fishing cottages, a campsite, and a lodge on its northern shore. The village of St. Arnaud, at the northern end of Lake Rotoiti, is the main gateway to the park. An accommodation lodge, a handful of B&Bs, a general store, a café, the DOC Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre, and a host of private holiday homes are located here. Each year in late February or early March the Antique and Classic Boat Show is held at Lake Rotoiti with close to 200 antique boats congregating for several days of boat racing and boat talk. The DOC Visitor Centre (03/521–1806 www.doc.govt.nz) is particularly good, with information on the area's geology, ecology, and human history. Maps and details and advice on the hiking trails are available, and a mountain weather forecast is issued daily. DOC also administers two excellent campgrounds near the lake frontage. Bookings for these, at Kerr Bay and West Bay, can be made online or at the visitor center.