Our house bus Suzi had been parked up for a couple of months, so we took her for a run down to Nelson Lakes on the weekend. The whole family went along for the ride, and it was only when we were about half an hour away that I discovered that all of the freedom camping spots listed in the NZMCA Directory were inside the National Park, which meant pets were prohibited. I tried explaining this to our little four legged fellow Lappie, and he wasn't impressed.
Most of St Arnaud's and Lake Rotoiti's facilities are set inside the National Park, including the Kerr Bay Campground, Rotoiti Lodge Outdoor Education Centre, the Visitor Centre and the extraordinarily beautiful lakeside area, where you can watch the eels from the pier and converse with the ducks at the picnic tables. We discovered there wasn't even a commercial camping ground alternative.
Luckily the CamperMate app listed a freedom camping area about 1.5km out of town, which we found pretty easily by following the map (forewarned that it was not very obvious or well sign-posted). We discovered when we arrived that while it was called 'Nelson Lakes Freedom Camping DOC' on CamperMate, it's actually called 'Teetotal Recreation Reserve' and is home to five mountain biking trails.
Best of all, dogs are welcome here, so as soon as we found one of the few flat spaces to park our nine metre bus (the freedom camping area was already quite full when we arrived around 5pm), we set off on a walk along part of the Skating Pond loop track. After following a stream, we came across an open field with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains (pictured below).
As the name of this track suggests, there's even a pond here that freezes over in winter and can be used for ice skating.
Three of the MTB trails were closed last weekend because they pass through forestry area and presumably there's some logging happening, but the 4.8km Skating Pond loop is a great for beginners (with a few technical challenges thrown in, to cross the stream in several places) - and dog walkers!
It's also an easy ride into St Arnaud - cross Teetotal Road and State Highway 63 and you'll find a track that runs parallel with the highway to Rotoiti Lodge and on to the Visitor's Centre.