Nelson, a sunny spot of paradise in the centre of New Zealand, is arguably one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations. The region is best enjoyed during New Zealand’s summer but for the snow season junkies, Nelson is a great stay if you wish to visit the Rainbow ski field. Boasting golden coastlines, a sense of freedom, award-winning walkways, an arty town centre and an abundance of crafty gourmet cafes and restaurants; it’s a must-stop on your Summer New Zealand tour.
What to Do in Nelson
The Abel Tasman
A stone’s throw away from Nelson City, the region is home to one of New Zealand’s best attractions; The Abel Tasman National Park. World-famous for its golden beaches, lush nature tracks and outstanding views, the coast track is estimated to take around 3 to 5 days and attracts thousands of tourists each year. Cleopatra’s pool, a natural rock pool with a moss-covered waterslide, is a highlight of the track and during the spring/summer season you may also spot fur seals and lots of New Zealand wildlife. If you don’t feel like doing the whole walk, parts of the track are accessible via road and a small walk into the bays; a perfect day-trip.
Campsites are dotted along the track for those who wish to camp by the beach and the track is also lined with a range of huts however, taking your own sleeping bags, food and necessities is a must for this trip so go prepared.
The Nelson Lakes
Kayaking, boating or walking around the lakes will give you the ‘pure New Zealand’ experience that everyone talks about. There is nothing better than being out at the lakes, listening to the wildlife and experiencing the serene, quiet beauty that the lakes give you. The Nelson Lakes are a 1 to 2 hour drive from Nelson’s centre but they are worth the trip. The lakes themselves are surrounded by lush New Zealand bush and hidden within it are huts with bunk beds. Wake up to the sun rising over the lake, the birds chirping and the smell of fresh air and the trip is definitely worth it. This trip is one you won’t forget.
Again, visit prepared with warm clothing, food and bedding.
For the Beach-goer
- Try out stand-up paddleboarding along the Kaiteriteri, Tahunanui and Marahau coastlines.
- Kayak or canoe around the famous Abel Tasman bays.
- Sunbathe on the golden sands of Kaiteriteri beach.
- Kitesurf the waves at Tahunanui Beach.
- Fish off the wharf or take a charter fishing tour.
- Ride a sea-biscuit, ski or jet-ski in the bays.
For the Sightseer and Cultural Explorer
- Head down to the local Saturday Market. There’s a lot on offer with locally made arts and craft to the original stall which made ‘Pic’s Peanut Butter’ New Zealand famous.
- Visit the local bead gallery.
- World of Wearable Arts museum. With a world-class collection of classic cars and Wearable art award-winning outfits from all across the globe, this attraction is a must-see.
- Look out for entertaining plays and dramas at Nelson’s Theatre Royal.
- Enjoy a gourmet drink or meal outside of Nelson’s arty pop-up cafes.
- Take in the sights of Nelson’s Christ Church Cathedral; the monument which makes Nelson a ‘city’.
For the Adventurer
- Nelson offers many walking and mountain biking tracks. They suit any adventurer with tracks ranging from Beginner to Expert. Check out Kaiteri’s Mountain Bike Park and DOC’s track maps for locations.
- Horse trek over beaches and Nelsons farm tracks.
- Hike Nelson’s mountain tracks, stay in DOC huts and enjoy extreme views over the Nelson/Tasman area to experience a real New Zealand adventure.
- Paraglide off of the Nelson ranges or skydive in Motueka.
- If you have access to a vehicle, Nelson’s rivers are a hidden gem and a favourite with the locals. Just a 30 minute drive out of the city, take a picnic and enjoy ‘the Lee’ or the Aniseed swimming holes.
For the Family
- A day out at Nelson’s Fun Park is a favourite among local and visiting families. The park sits on the beach and has enough for a whole days entertainment; with a hydro slide, speed slide, bumper boats, go-karting, mini golf and roller skating. Kids love it.
- Across the road from the fun park sits Nelson’s Natureland. The local animal park with monkeys, otters, farm animals and much more. The park makes up for its small size with enough variety for a family to enjoy.
- Happy Valley Adventures offers the world’s only Skywire; not only do you get to experience the most amazing views but the ride is exhilarating. The park is the perfect New Zealand ‘farm experience’ with Quad bike rides, Horse treks and paintball.
Where to Stay
The Nelson Region has many campgrounds that are popular with freedom campers, including a Top 10 Holiday Park situated on Tahunanui Beach. There is also no shortage of hotels and motels in the city centre and in surrounding suburbs, or try Bookabach for a bach near the beaches.
What to Eat
For a small town Nelson has a lot of yummy cuisine on offer, from Chinese takeaway and kiwi fish n chips to fancy upper class restaurants there is no shortage of dining options. Enjoy a drink in a nice bar by the beach or sit outside in the centre of town on a clear night.
My Top Picks
- Fish and chips on the beach, you can’t beat it; a kiwi favourite.
- Melrose House Cafe. If you like High Tea then don’t miss this cafe and their beautiful High Tea. It also boasts a lovely outdoor setting around a stunning heritage house.
- Stefano’s Pizza– the best gourmet pizza in town! Situated above the town cinema.
- Indian Cafe– an Indian restaurant in town, this is a local favourite and a personal favourite!
- Mint Dining Room- enjoy a tasty, flash meal in a cosy heritage cottage in town.
Nelson is one of New Zealand’s gems and for a small town it has a lot to offer for any traveller. Locals are friendly and happy and the town is bustling in the summer creating a fun and vibrant atmosphere. Events such as Light Up Nelson and the Buskers Festival are also a must-see if you’re visiting at the right time. Everything central is easy to visit with buses for public transport and it’s only a short stroll to get around the whole town. If you’re taking the ferry into Picton from the North Island you’ll be missing out if you don’t bus or drive into Nelson. Make it one of your stops.