Nelson City Guide
One of the oldest cities in New Zealand, Nelson was named after the Admiral who defeated the French and Spanish fleets back in 1805. In fact, many places around the city pay homage to that same battle! While Nelson is home to some great historic charm, it is also home to some great beaches. The most famous one is Tahunanui, on Nelson's southern side. Tahunanui is great, whether you love to lie on the sand or take in more exciting activities like windsurfing.
About an hour outside of Nelson, you will find the Nelson Lakes National Park. Whether you want to explore the lakes, the forests, or the mountains, there is something for everyone here!
Depending on what you want to see, there are a variety of walking trails. Some focus on the flowers, while others will take you amongst the birds. There are also tougher trails that will take you over river valleys.
For something a little more action-packed, rent a boat, go waterskiing, or take advantage of the snow sports in the colder months.
Whether you want to stay for a few hours or a few days, you will fall in love with Wilsons Abel Tasman National Park. Developed by the Wilson family back in the 1970's, today the park is a great place to go boating, kayaking, and hiking. There's even a beach to sunbathe on! There also a couple of lodges inside the park so that your fun doesn't have to end when the sun goes down.
Nelson's climate makes it the perfect place for growing grapes - so it's a prosperous wine region. Whether you like red or white, Nelson's wineries have something you'll love. The area is particularly known for its Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Merlot.
If you are looking for a place to unwind after a long day of wine-tasting, several of the area's wineries - including Ruby Bay, Neudorf, and Moutere Hills - offer overnight accommodations.
If you're passing through town in February, be sure to check out the Taste Nelson Festival - where you can eat and drink local goodies.
For something totally different, head to the World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum. All of the wearable art is on display year-round, but it comes to life during the museum's annual Awards Show. As for the cars, some of them are more than 100 years old!
Lots of the action in Nelson lies on Trafalgar Street. That's where you'll find several hotels, the State Cinema Centre, and a variety of restaurants and bars.
On upper Trafalgar Street, you'll see the Christ Church Cathedral - complete with its tall tower that can be seen from most places around city centre. The Cathedral has a unique colour that comes from combining marble and plaster. Officials believed that pure marble was not strong enough to withstand earthquakes, so they ground it up and mixed it with plaster.
When you eat out in Nelson, there is a certain international flavour. You'll get to dine on gourmet goodies from all corners of the world. No matter what you're in the mood for, be sure to take advantage of the city's many waterfront restaurants. That way, you'll get a great look at Tasman Bay and Tahunanui Beach, while you feast on a great meal!
One thing that's popular here? Olive oil. Nelson's climate makes it the perfect place to harvest olives. In fact, Nelson locals call olive oil "Liquid Sunshine".
Something else that's popular here? Seafood. If you're lucky enough to be in town when the Tasman Bay oysters and scallops are in season, you won't believe your tastebuds!
For some great food year-round, head to:
- Boutereys Restaurant
At Bouterey's, everything is made with local produce. In fact, Bouterey's chefs are the ones who head out to the farms to personally dig it out!
- The Smokehouse
Located right in between three national parks and several wineries, the atmosphere at The Smokehouse is one-of-a-kind - and so is the food! Everything on the menu is smoked in brick kilns with natural manuka shavings.
- The Boat Shed Cafe
The owners here pride themselves on being "fresh and simple". The menu has a variety of seafood, meats, and cheeses to choose from. If you can't decide, go for their "Trust the Chef" option, and get a sampling of the day's specials.
If you're in town on a Saturday, check out the Nelson Saturday Market – a one-of-a-kind market that sells everything from local foods to local crafts.
If fine art is more your thing, then you will love The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatu. For more than 100 years, The Suter has been one of the premier art galleries in New Zealand. Outside, you'll see that the gallery sits in the middle of the Queens Gardens. Inside, you'll find New Zealand art that dates back to the 17th century, as well as treasures from all over the world.
Plus, The Suter is always coming up with temporary exhibits that are more "fun" - like featuring New Zealand's rugby players and installing pictures of the gallery's founders on the front windows with creative thought bubbles.
If you're in town in October, be sure to check out the Nelson Art Festival. That's when the city turns into a haven for theatre performances, dancers, musicians, visual artists, comedians, and even literary events. The festival kicks off with a parade, which sets the stage for the rest of the "arts celebration".
Nelson offers a great look at nature. There are all kinds of flora and fauna that are unique to the area. And luckily, you can see it mostly untouched – just as the city's founders saw it back in the early 1800s.
For a unique look at Nelson's nature, head to Motueka. Located north of Nelson, it is New Zealand's main tobacco-growing region. Since Motueka lies right on the shores of the Tasman Bay and at the mouth of the Motueka River, it is a popular place for tourists.
If you want to get a look at everything the city has to offer, ride the Haulashore Island Ferry. On it, you will get to cruise around Nelson's Harbour and see the waterfront sights – including the Lighthouse and the Boulder Bank. Then, you will get to head to nearby Haulashore Island for a picnic.
If you're looking for a great seaside spot to relax, you'll find it at Tahunanui Beach. Located southwest of Nelson's city centre, Tahunanui Beach is a favourite of both locals and visitors. Luckily, it's a very long beach, so it will never seem very crowded.
But there's a whole lot more to do here than just sunbathe! Tahunanui Beach is perfect for swimming, windsurfing, and fishing. There's even a small zoo that your kids will love!
Once you work up an appetite, you won't have to go far. That's because Tahunanui Beach is chock full of restaurants, casual cafes, and bars that cater to any taste.
If you're looking for a place to stay, many of the hotels in Nelson are in the central part of the city, overlooking Port Nelson.
By staying right in the heart of the city, you'll get more than just a great view, though. You'll also be within walking distance to Queens Park and Trafalgar Street.
If you want to stay near the water, there are plenty of hotels to choose from. The accommodations along State Highway will put you next to the water and Nelson's most gourmet restaurants.
Tahunanui Beach is also yup popular place to stay - especially in the summertime. There, you'll be right next to Nelson's most popular beach and only a short drive to city centre.