Nelson Lakes

Nelson Lakes Packages

Southern Wilderness offer a range of Gourmet Guided Walk options in the park, ranging from the Five Day Travers Sabine Circuit and Three Day Angelus Alpine Experience, through to Day Walks along the Lake Rotoiti Shoreline and up Mount Robert Ridgeline. Day walks are also available in a package format, The Nelson Lakes Three Day Walks Package for those wishing to take their time over exploring the delights that this lesser-known National Park has to offer.

Nelson Lakes History

Maori legend tells us that there was a powerful chief, magician, and sorcerer named Rakaihaitu. Long long ago, before the great migration of the canoes, he came to New Zealand in his canoe Uruao, and journeyed around the coast. But when he landed near Nelson, Rakaihaitu decided to find a way overland through the rugged heart of the South Island. He and his followers set off across the plains and reached the beautiful wild country of the Buller region and the start of the mighty chain of mountains in the Nelson Lakes area. The chief took his great Ko, his digging stick and began to dig enormous holes in the ground. He worked long and hard, and eventually the holes filled with water, and became the known as Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa (The Nelson Lakes). Rakaihaitu then continued his journey South digging and naming all the great lakes of the South Island. Eventually he reached Foveaux Strait and settled there, and the tribes in that area trace their ancestry back to him…..

Despite Lake Rotoiti (small lake) and Lake Rotoroa (long lake) being the first South Island lakes in Maori mythology, the Nelson Lakes were never settled by the Maori people. However, the lakes and rivers of the area were popular fishing grounds, rich witheels, fresh water mussels, and waterfowl, and were stopover points for parties travelling en route from Tasman Bay to Canterbury or the West Coast to gather Greenstone.

The tribe of Ngatitumatakokiri was the dominant power of the area for a long time, with a rich resource of knowledge and an intimate understanding of the trails, rivers and lakes of the Nelson Lakes area. But this was all but destroyed over a number of years as first pressure from the West Coast tribes and then by warring tribes from the North Island who put the newly acquired musket to deadly effect.

When the Europeans first arrived they viewed the Nelson Lakes as everything they did not want from a new country. They were looking for warm open pastoral lands, and instead found mountainous country covered with thick forests. The Nelson Lakes also marked the start of a mighty chain of mountains which ran southward unbroken for 500 kms; the Southern Alps.Early explorers, geologists and surveyors were the first to chart the valleys and mountains and, as time went on and settlers were looking for more farmable land, sheep and cattle stations were placed in the lower Travers Valley. In fact, in 1922, the whole valley, including the summits of Mounts Travers, Cupola and Hopeless, was offered as one great sheep run. A later dream for the valley came in the 1970’s when several 50 acre sections on the cleared flats were put up for sale for idyllic hunting lodges. Fortunately the National Park acquired the flat lands instead.  However this didn’t stop the enterprising settlers, and in 1848 a gentleman by the name of George McRae took up the 3500 acre block known as the ‘lake run’, situated by Lake Rotoiti. Over the years there have been some farming enterprises around the area, but, as a whole, the mountains and valleys have remained virtually untouched, save for a handful of un-crowded tracks, which take you into areas of vast beauty in a relatively short space of time.


A quick look at the geology of the Nelson Lakes area reveals how young New Zealand is. On a geological time scale the country is still undergoing immense change as the Australian and Pacific plates continually crash and grind into each other forming the jagged mountains as they are thrust upwards from the continental collision. As you hike the through the park the major faultlines can be traced across the landscape, including the main Alpine Fault which passes right through St Arnaud!

Contact us to book your Southern Wilderness Nelson Lakes journey today!

Call us on +64 (0)3 545 7544 or Australia on 1800 355 768