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The Nelson-Tasman region is undoubtedly one of the adventure capitals of New Zealand. With three epic national parks on its doorstep and plenty of other amazing wilderness areas, the region is packed full of great hiking for people of all abilities. Whether you're looking for a day walk, an overnight hike, or a deep wilderness hunting adventure, you'll find what you're looking for within a 90 minute drive of the Nelson city centre. It was a challenge to pick only 5 hikes for this article so we've included a few bonus extras in each section so you can take your pick and make the most of your time in the region.
The Blue Lake is the crown jewel of Nelson Lakes National Park. But be warned, it's not easy to get to. It's remote location is part of its unique appeal and probably why it's remained so pristine over the years. The Blue Lake (Rotomairewhenua) has the clearest known freshwater in the world. You can spend hours just sitting next to the lake taking in the stunning landscape. The Department of Conservation and local iwi ask visitors to respect the lake by not coming into contact with the water. That includes swimming, washing up, or even dipping your GoPro in to capture underwater imagery. It's not worth the risk. I'd recommend just leaving the lake as it is and having a cool off 100 metres or so downstream if you feel the need to rinse the sweat off. The Blue Lake is a one-of-a-kind and it would be great if it remains that way for future generations. The Blue Lake Hut is a great spot to spend the night and there are also spots to put up a tent. A short walk away you'll find Lake Constance, which feeds into the Blue Lake.
St Arnaud Village, about 1 hour south of Nelson, is the gateway to Nelson Lakes National Park. You have a few options for getting to the Blue Lake, but all of them require a fair amount of effort.
Option 1. The easiest option is to arrange a boat ride from Lake Rotoroa Jetty to Sabine Hut and follow the Sabine River to West Sabine Hut (5 hours). You then continue from West Sabine Hut to Blue Lake Hut (3.5 hours). If you're fit, you can knock it off in a day, making it an overnight trip. But I'd recommend staying at West Sabine Hut on the way in to break it up. Option 2. You can also access Blue Lake Hut as a side trip on the Travers-Sabine Circuit, a popular multi-day hike that takes in the best that Nelson Lakes National Park has to offer. If you're an experienced hiker, you'll see on the map that there are other ways to get to the Blue Lake, including access from the Lewis Pass Road, but the options provided here are the most commonly used routes.
If you haven't got time for a multi-day adventure in Nelson Lakes, here are a few other options for exploring the area. There are many shorter walks that start from St Arnaud or the Lake Rotoiti car park, which range from about 15 minutes to 1 hour.
A 2-3 day return hike to a stunning alpine lake. Stay the night at Lake Angelus Hut (6 hours one way, advanced)
Mount Robert Circuit:
A loop track around the northern face of Mt Robert with stunning views over Lake Rotoiti (5 hours return, moderate)
Lake Rotoiti Circuit:
A long, but mostly flat walk around the edge of Lake Rotoiti. You can shorten the trip by taking a boat to Lakehead Hut or Coldwater Hut (7-10 hours, moderate)
If you'd like to combine hiking and hunting, there are 12 hunting blocks within Nelson Lakes National Park, which are known for red deer, goats, pigs and chamois. Learn more here. There are also many private hunting blocks in the Nelson Lakes area, which you can find in the Hunting HQ app.
Kahurangi National Park may be the most diverse wilderness area in the Nelson-Tasman region with an abundance of amazing hikes, but if you're looking for a spectacular, challenging overnight tramp it's hard to look past Mount Owen. Unlike Kahurangi's other popular summit hike, Mount Arthur, the trailhead to Mount Owen is much more accessible by vehicle. You're not gonna lose your hub caps or break your suspension on your way to the track. Mount Owen is also the highest peak in Kahurangi National Park at 1875m. Most people choose to approach Mount Owen from the north as it's a less challenging and dangerous route. There are two options here - a more exposed ridge track or an ascent up tree roots through the forest. Both are quite steep, but manageable for hikers with reasonable fitness and experience. DOC reckons it takes 6 hours to get from the trailhead at Courthouse Flat to Granity Pass Hut (8.3km), but this depends a lot on your speed and fitness. Granity Pass Hut is a nice place to spend the night before summiting the next day. The hike from the hut to the Mount Owen summit is truly spectacular. You'll cross epic karst limestone formations and navigate sinkholes, shafts and crevasses. Watch your step. It's one of the most unique landscapes you'll find in New Zealand. On a good day (and you should really only attempt this hike on good days), you'll be treated to incredible 360-degree views of Kahurangi National Park.
From the north: The Mount Owen trailhead starts at Courthouse Flat. Take the turnoff from Tapawera, west of Nelson, and follow the Wangapeka Valley. Be warned, there is a ford to cross over the Dart River near the start of the track. This can be impassable after heavy rain. From the south: About 16km east of Murchison on SH6, turn onto Owen River East Rd. Follow the road for another 13km and you'll come across the track signposted to Sunrise Peak. This is where the route to Mount Owen starts.
The Great Walk from west of Golden Bay to the West Coast north of Karamea. There's a reason it's a great walk
(4-6 days, moderate).
Note: As of October 2022, can't be completed due to bridges being destroyed in a storm
An alternative to the Heaphy Track, but just as stunning. Starts from the same area as the Mount Owen hike (4-6 days, advanced)
Mount Arthur Summit:
A shorter alternative to the Mount Owen summit. Epic views, but the road up there is rough. 4WD should be used. (3.5-4.5 hours one way, moderate)
Starts from the same carpark as Mount Arthur summit. Beautiful walk, fairly easy for people of reasonable fitness (2 days, easy-moderate)
Beautiful area with lots of historic huts. Many options for day and overnight hikes (easy-moderate)
There are 10 hunting blocks in Kahurangi National Park if you have a permit for hunting on conservation land. Plenty of deer (red and fallow), goats, pigs and chamois to be had here. Learn more here. There are also many private hunting blocks in the Kahurangi National Park area, which you can find in the Hunting HQ app.
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of New Zealand's most popular hikes. On a good day, it's like New Zealand's very own tropical paradise - golden sand and crystal clear water. Because of its beauty and accessibility, the trail is usually pretty busy during summer, but if you can deal with the crowds it's well worth checking out, even if you just go for a day trip. Take your pick of the countless bays and find your own piece of coast to relax, swim, and take in the views. You can do the full Great Walk from Marahau to Wainui or make use of one of the boat services to get dropped at a bay in the morning and walk back (or vice versa). A trip to Nelson-Tasman is not complete without visiting this national park.
The most popular entrance to the park is from Marahau about 1 hour drive from Nelson, but you can also start from the opposite end, Wainui car park, which you access from Golden Bay. There are many tourism operators offering water taxi services and kayak hire, which you can use to access the bays. Click here for the topo map
Abel Tasman Inland Track:
Avoid the crowds on the inland track from Marahau to Wainui. Great coastal views, but no access to the beaches from up there. (2-3 days, moderate)
There are three conservation hunting blocks in Abel Tasman National Park where you'll find deer, goats and pigs. Learn more here.
Not many cities have epic hiking trails right on their back doorstep. While the Dun Mountain Trail is mostly used by mountain bikers, it's also a popular hiking track - and it starts on the outskirts of suburbia. The 38km loop links Brook Valley with the Maitai Valley and is famous for its unique geology, known as the Nelson mineral belt. This means the trail is quite dry and rocky and there isn't much vegetation to speak of. But you will be rewarded with awesome views of Tasman Bay from many different vantage points. The Dun Mountain summit at 1129m is marked by a cairn. There is a very basic emergency shelter if you fancy making it an overnight hike (it is quite long to do in one push), but I'd recommend carrying a tent for a more comfortable stay. The Dun Mountain Trail is an awesome hike and a great way to connect with Nelson's geological and mining history. There are many other options for shorter walks in this area, too (see below), but the Dun Mountain Trail loop is the best way to take in everything the area has to offer.
If you're starting from the Brook Valley, the trailhead is Codgers Trail on Tantragee Rd off Brook St. If you're starting from the Maitai Valley, you'll set off from a car park just before the Maitai Motor Camp on Maitai Valley Rd. For walkers, it's probably best to start at the Maitai Dam, which is about 11km up Maitai Valley Rd. Click here for topo map
Known as “The Gramps” to locals, this short walk starts from the city centre and zig-zags up to a nice lookout. (1-2 hours, moderate)
Centre of New Zealand:
Feels wrong to call this a hike as it’s a short walk, but it’s the most iconic short walk in the city (30-60 minutes, easy-moderate)
Cable Bay Walkway:
About 30 minutes north of Nelson, this is a stunning walkway with views of the Boulder Bank, Nelson City and Kahurangi and Abel Tasman National Parks (3-4 hours, easy-moderate)
Mark Holder is Marketing and Events Manager at Bushbuck. His job is to plan, create and execute all of Bushbuck's marketing and organise the events and shows we attend. Mark's the host of Bushbuck's "Tech Talk" video series where we provide in-depth gear reviews. He also gets roped into a fair few Bushbuck photoshoots. Mark was born in Geraldine and now lives in Christchurch. Outside of work, he's a keen outdoorsman. He enjoys snowboarding in the winter, wakeboarding in the summer, and tries to get out hunting with mates as much as possible. His favourite wilderness spot is the Orari Gorge waterfall in Geraldine. It was his local swimming spot as a kid and an amazing place to hang out over summer. He's also a big fan of the lakes around Twizel. Something that not many people know about Mark is he used to be a professional wakeboarder.