If you’re looking for a scenic spot to see snow-capped mountains (in winter at least) close to Nelson, a trip to Lake Rotoiti is an easy choice. There are some great places to appreciate the views at lake-level, but I’ll also show you some options if you want to head to the hills and see Lake Rotoiti from above.
Lake Rotoiti – Lakeside Viewpoints
Lake Rotoiti is a great place for a day trip from Nelson, or as a little stop-off when driving between Christchurch and Nelson. The most obvious place to visit first is the main pier, which is a short drive / walk from the centre of St Arnaud, the biggest town in the area (Kerr Bay Road). This is the most iconic photo spot at Lake Rotoiti, and it’s easy to see why. You might even see some big eels swimming beneath you.
You can walk along the edge of the lake towards the start of the St Arnaud Range if you want to stretch your legs quickly, or check out some of the proper hikes below.
From the main pier, you can head anticlockwise around the lake (Mount Robert Road) to another pier. This spot was far quieter when we visited. There are some short walks in this area as well.
The other lakeside viewpoint I think you should check out is on the walk to Whiskey Falls. It’s a mostly flat track and offers up some awesome views towards the end. Apparently, you can also take a water taxi to the spot pictured below, and from there it’s a very short walk to the falls.
Hikes Above Lake Rotoiti
There are a couple of excellent hikes above Lake Rotoiti, but which one should you choose? The St Arnaud Range Track and the Mount Robert Circuit Track both start close to St Arnaud and take you above opposite sides of the lake. The St Arnaud Range Track is a bit harder and more consistently uphill (which is mostly through the forest for the first couple of hours), but you can’t argue with the views from the top!
The Mount Robert Circuit Track is a little easier and a lot more open, the views are just as spectacular though, so I guess if I’d probably recommend it just above the St Arnaud Range Track. You really can’t go wrong with either though (or just do them both!).
Other Hikes Nearby
If you’re after an overnight or multiday hike there are some good options near Lake Rotoiti. You could hike up to Speargrass Hut for an easy taste of overnight hiking, or you could tackle the 4-7-day Travers Sabine Circuit.
Getting to Lake Rotoiti
It should take around an hour to reach Lake Rotoiti from Nelson. It’s easy to find and the road is pretty in places. If coming from Christchurch, you’ll want to turn off the main road near Kawatiri. If you’re driving between Christchurch and Nelson (or Nelson and the West Coast) and want to visit something a little closer to the main road, consider Lake Rotoroa. It’s almost as nice as Lake Rotoiti and it’s a lot shorter detour.
Are you planning a road trip around New Zealand? Check out our South Island itinerary!