Two glacial lakes characterize the Nelson Lakes National Park, around 120km southwest of Nelson, Rotoiti (“little lake”) and Rotoroa (“long lake”), nestled in the mountains at the northernmost limit of the Southern Alps. Both are surrounded by tranquil mountains and shrouded in dark beech forest and jointly form the headwaters of the Buller River. Tramping (see Nelson Lakes hikes) is undoubtedly the main event and you could easily devote a week to some of the longer circuits, though the short lakeside walks are also rewarding.
The park’s subalpine rivers, lakes, forests and hills are full of birdlife, but it has offered little solace to humans: Maori passed through the area and caught eels in the lakes, but the best efforts of European settlers and gold prospectors yielded meagre returns. Now, recreation is all.