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Nelson Lakes National Park - Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project
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Nelson Lakes National Park
Photographs courtesy: Nelson Lakes Shuttles

Nelson Lakes National Park, which was established in 1956, is situated in the northern part of New Zealand's South Island. This park protects 102,000 hectares of the northern most Southern Alps. It offers tranquil beech forest, craggy mountains, clear streams and lakes both large and small. During the last ice age glaciers gouged out troughs in the mountainous headwaters of the Buller River which have now become Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa.

The dominant vegetation is beech, with the red and silver species growing in lower, warmer valleys and mountain beech at higher altitudes. The bush line, where forest gives way to alpine plants, is abrupt. In summer the alpine fell fields teem with flowers. From January to April, the thick beech forest that cloaks the lower regions of the park, shimmers with a coat of honeydew, filling the air with its sweet smell. The honeydew is created by scale insects, which process the tree sap into pure sugar. For many native birds, lizards and insects, the honeydew is a source of high-energy food.

A feature of the park is the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project, which aims to create a pest-free refuge in the honeydew beech forests beside Lake Rotoiti paving the way for the recovery and re-introduction of native species in the area. While similar restoration efforts have been made for years on New Zealand’s offshore islands, the 825 ha Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project is part of a national programme aimed at extending these successes onto the mainland through the creation of island-like refuges, known as ‘mainland islands’. Take one of the many walks through the project and you’ll see and hear the results of this work; a forest alive with the sights and sounds of birds. Information panels along the way tell the story of the project and the plants and animals that call it home.

Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project is the Department of Conservation’s showcase area for Nelson and Marlborough. The nearby village of St Arnaud is a comfortable, well-equipped base for visitors.

In Maori mythology the lakes were created by the great chief Rakaihaitu digging holes with his ko, or digging stick. One hole became Lake Rotoiti, or "small waters", and the other became Lake Rotoroa, or “large waters”. Both lakes in Nelson Lakes National Park were used as food gathering places by Maori travelling to and from the West Coast to collect and trade greenstone, pounamu.

(page last updated  15 June 2007)