The Richmond Range, an irregular mountainous ridge with several rocky ‘island’ peaks rising above 1700 m, forms the backbone of the park, separating the north bank tributaries of the Wairau River from other river systems.
A number of lesser ridges lie along the western sector of the park separated by the major west-flowing rivers, the Waimea and Motueka, and the east-flowing Pelorus River.
The park was gazetted on 4 March 1977. It has an area of 166,000 ha and is the second largest forest park in New Zealand. It is named after Mount Richmond (1760 metres), one of the highest peaks in the park. The park forms a backdrop to Nelson City, the Waimea Plains, and surrounding country. In Marlborough, the mountains are a dominant feature of the Wairau and Pelorus Valleys.
The northbank of Wairau River provides access to Mt Richmond Forest Park in the South Marlborough area.
The Wairau Valley runs along the Alpine Fault, which has formed the mountainous Richmond Range. The lowland vegetation is mostly mixed beech and podocarp, with tussock grasses and shrubs on sub-alpine ridges. Alpine plants cling to high rock faces. Lake Chalice, created by a slip, is unusual in that its only fish are the native koaro.
The park has an interesting history, particularly of mining (gold and chrome) and timber milling. Maori occupation of the sheltered coastal sites around Nelson and Marlborough is well known.
Maori use of the less accessible backcountry areas was probably limited to the use of tracks around the perimeter and the working of a number of argillite quarries within the park. Argillite is a very hard metamorphosed mudstone used by Maori to make tools and weapons.
At different times from the 1860s to the 1930s, gold was panned and mined in this area. European settlers cleared vast areas for farming. To stabilise the eroded soils, pine plantations began in the mid-1960s. Today, access to the forest park is through these plantations.
The park is between Nelson and Blenheim in the South Island of New Zealand, both of which are gateways to the park.
Roads from both lead to carparks within the park and to a network of tracks.
Bus services through both regions can also drop people at a number of points from which visitors can make their way into the park. There are also companies in most of the local towns that offer on-demand shuttle services.
Many of the access roads into the park are through exotic forest plantations. Forestry contractors could be working in an area requiring the road to be temporarily closed or limiting access to just weekends.
If you going to make overnight trips in the park make sure you are properly equipped and well prepared.
Make sure your group has a capable leader and that everyone is carrying a sleeping bag, cooking utensils, sufficient high energy food (with some extra for emergencies), a waterproof raincoat and over-trousers, gloves, a hat, and several layers of warm (wool or fleece) clothing.
A permit is required – contact the DOC Wairau / Renwick Office. Dogs must be on a leash at all times.
Isolated carparks are prone to theft. Don't leave any valuables in your vehicle. A bag storage facility is available at the Rotoiti/Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre.