Lake Rotoiti, South Island, New Zealand

Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Lake Rotoiti.

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Lake Rotoiti visitor and community guide

Lake Locations: New Zealand - South Island - Marlborough -

Lake Rotoiti, in the Tasman Region of New Zealand is a favorite spot for vacations and holidays. Located within the Nelson Lakes National Park, the deep glacial lake is a favored destination for those wishing to engage in all sorts of water-based activities in beautiful and natural surroundings. The small village of St Arnaud at the north end of the lake is the natural starting point for any activity in Nelson Lakes National Park. The tiny town has been geared for visitors since the first hotel was built in the 1800s to provide shelter to sheep herders taking their flocks to pasture and to market. That original hotel is still in use for the same purpose today, but instead of shepherds, its patrons are trekkers, fishermen, skiers and nature lovers.

Located in the northern part of New Zealand’s South Island, Lake Rotoiti is an hour and a half south of Nelson and the Tasman Bay. Nelson Lakes National Park contains two major lakes, Rotoiti and Rotoroa. As Lake Rotoroa is maintained as a wilderness lake, Lake Rotoiti is the natural destination for those wishing to sail, water ski, powerboat and windsurf. Both lakes are popular for canoeing and kayaking. And fishing, particularly for record-size brown trout, is a favored activity. The heavily forested shoreline and surrounding mountains are native beech forest, with varieties changing as the altitude increases and finally gives way to alpine herbs. The shoreline rises steeply toward Mount Robert on the west side of the lake. Indeed, the entire shoreline is mountainous, scenic and great hiking or trekking country. The lake is exceptionally clean, fed by the Travers River on the south. Lake Rotoiti forms the headwaters of the Buller River, known as one of the premier trout fishing and whitewater rafting rivers in New Zealand. Tourism in the area is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation, which has developed many miles of hiking trails around the lakes and into the surrounding mountains.

Gateway village St Arnaud is rich in vacation rentals, with cabins, cottages, inns, bed-and-breakfasts, youth hostels, campgrounds and luxury private rentals. Two arms of Lake Rotoiti form deep bays at the north end; West Bay and Kerr Bays. Saint Arnaud sprawls along Kerr Bay, where swim docks grace the shallower waters in summer. Real estate is occasionally available at St Arnaud, but the vast majority of shoreline is within the National Park and thus is public land. Saint Arnaud takes its position as vacation headquarters seriously, with fishing guides available to take anglers to their secret hot spots. A water taxi is available to transport fly fishermen to far-flung locations around the shore. Shuttle service transports visitors to locations both along the lake and the Buller River and to the city of Nelson. Two ski areas are located adjacent to the lake, one of which is club-owned but welcomes visitors if they reserve in advance. A glider service provides air tours of the lake and surrounding mountains. Watercraft are available for rental. A visitors center and an educational center provide history, ecology and nature information, particularly for school children who often take field trips here from Nelson.

Just outside of St Arnaud, a large area along Lake Rotoiti is being restored to a pre-civilization natural setting. This ‘Mainland Island’ area is being managed to actively remove all non-native pests and plants to restore the area to its original condition. Here visitors learn that the removal of non-native predators allow rare native birds to increase their numbers. It is hoped that the Mainland Island concept can restore many native species to the New Zealand landscape.

The Lake Rotoiti area is a favorite honeymoon destination. Other visitors come for bird-watching, particularly in the Mainland Island. Hunting is popular in season, with deer, chamois, wild pigs, and rabbits favored prey. Gold Panning is popular in the mountain streams and photographers are never at a loss for subjects. For those who wish to travel a bit farther afield, 4-wheel tracks are clearly marked. Visits above the tree line into the alpine landscape are easily accomplished from Lake Rotoiti. And other visitors travel to Nelson and nearby Abel Tasman National Park with its sculptured granite cliffs and golden beaches. Also popular near Nelson is the Tasman Wilderness in Kahurangi National Park. Parts of Kahurangi are trackless wilderness; others hold multiple trails leading to fishing, kayaking and caving adventures.

A visit to Lake Rotoiti any time of the year will become a favorite memory. Bring your skis or your fishing rod or your mountain bike to the slopes of the St Arnaud Mountains and reserve a vacation rental on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. In fact, bring all three – you may decide to stay and see the lake in all seasons.

Custom Lake Rotoiti house decor

Read our full review of these personalized lake house signs.

Things to do at Lake Rotoiti

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Lake Rotoiti

  • Brown Trout
  • Trout

Best hotels and vacation rentals at Lake Rotoiti

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Lake Rotoiti photo gallery

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Lake Rotoiti statistics & helpful links


Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Shoreline Length: 14 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,896 feet

Maximum Depth: 276 feet

Trophic State: Microtrophic

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