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Sun Rays Over Tahunanui Beach, Nelson | © Tim Mcnamara/Flickr
Sun Rays Over Tahunanui Beach, Nelson | © Tim Mcnamara/Flickr

10 Reasons Everyone Should Visit Nelson, New Zealand

Picture of Thalita Alves
Updated: 5 September 2017

Nelson is a city that lies on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay. As one of the oldest settlements of New Zealand’s South Island, the area has its fair share of interesting sites and attractions to share. If you want to know why so many visitors are enticed by this city, check out these 10 great reasons to head on over.

The Sunshine

The Nelson-Tasman region consistently tops the list of sunniest spots in the country. In fact, it’s generally agreed that of all the major centres, Nelson is the one that enjoys some of New Zealand’s best climate conditions – even in the crisp winter months. So, if you like a bright dose of sunshine with your travels, Nelson is definitely a place to add to your bucket list.

Sun Rays Over Tahunanui Beach, Nelson | © Tim Mcnamara/Flickr

New Zealand’s home of Wearable Art

Nelson is filled cool artistic gems but the World of Wearable Art is definitely its most famous. A fashionable art exhibition is what started Nelson’s love affair with these remarkable creations. The show may have shifted to Wellington but the winning designs are still showcased in WOW’s home turf. If you like a bit of contrast with your creative endeavours, the World of Wearable Art Museum also comprises a collection of classic cars that’s bound to impress all vintage enthusiasts.

World of Wearable Art Display | © Tony Hisgett/Flickr

Golden beaches and bays

Nelson is adorned by two expansive, shallow bays – the Tasman and the Golden Bay. These are known for their pristine sands, turquoise waters and largely secluded setting. A hilly, mountainous interior, surrounded by lakes and caving systems add to the bays’ serene, sheltered appeal.

Whakariki Beach, Golden Bay | © life in still/Flickr

Three national parks

Indeed, there are three national parks within a 90-minute driving distance from Nelson. Abel Tasman National Park is the best known. With a blend of walking tracks and secluded coastlines, the area is a true treat for hikers and beach lovers alike. Kahurangi National Park is another nearby favourite – keen trekkers will know it for housing the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. Further south, you’ve also got Nelson Lakes National Park, which is quite unique with its majestic alpine and mountainous landscapes.

Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park | © sam_glover/Flickr

The world’s clearest freshwater springs

Located in Golden Bay, Te Waikoroupupu (or Pupu, for short) springs are said to produce the world’s clearest waters. They are also the largest freshwater springs in both New Zealand and the wider Southern Hemisphere. A twice-daily tidal flux, very similar to what you’d expect from the ocean, is one of the key reasons why this is a site of scientific significance. Local Maori also view the site as a place with high cultural and spiritual regard – a taonga (treasure) to the people and the land.

A cyclist’s dream come true

There’s a good reason the Nelson-Tasman region calls itself a ‘cycling mecca’. Two of New Zealand’s Great Rides, the Dun Mountain Trail and the Tasman’s Great Taste Trail, are right on its doorstep. The region is also home to Spooners Tunnel, New Zealand’s longest decommissioned rail tunnel which now serves as a walking and cycling route – earning the fifth place among the longest network of its kind in the world. Bring a torch if you want to ride the tunnel and, if you feel like adding more of an eerie flair to your journey, make sure to check out the Old Ghost Road mountain biking trail too.

The Lyell Range seen from the Old Ghost Road Trail | © Bobby Ketchum/Flickr

There’s something for all ages

If you’re travelling with kids, make sure to check out some of Nelson’s friendliest attractions like the Natureland Wildlife Trust, Founders Heritage Park, and the Nelson Provincial Museum. The first has a mix of farm animals and native wildlife to see – ideal for nature lovers of all ages and affinities. As for the other two, they’ve got plenty of historic displays and attractions to keep the entire family entertained, with the added benefit of being quite educational too.

Stained Glass Window of New Zealand Wildlife at the Nelson Provincial Museum | © purdyrns/Flickr

And for all adrenaline levels

New Zealand’s main caving regions are the King Country (where you’ll find the Waitomo Caves), the West Coast (particularly Fiordland), and northwest Nelson. In fact, northwest Nelson is touted as the most popular caving destination in the country. Nettlebed Cave on Mt Arthur is Nelson’s steepest, coming in a 889 metres (2916 feet). Bulmer Cavern, near Nettlebed Cave, is New Zealand’s longest. Mt Owen and Takaka Hill are some of the other caving spots around the region.

Descending into Harwood’s Hole, Takaka Hill | © Paul Rowe/Flickr

Want something gourmet? Try one of the vineyards for size

The photogenic hills and plains around the Nelson-Tasman region have been blessed with various boutique wineries. As one of the smallest wine producers in the country, it is quite easy to explore the vineyards in a single day. Which is great in itself: many of the local wineries also pair their tastings with the local cuisine, so a fresh seafood meal is never too far within reach. Because Nelson enjoys cooler conditions, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are among its top varieties.

Or visit one of the area’s famed craft breweries

While we’re on the subject of food and drink, if you’ve a soft spot for craft hops, Nelson should be the number one spot on your visit list. The region is home to 11 craft breweries which, for perspective’s sake, is more per head of population than anywhere else in New Zealand. These breweries are spread around Founders Heritage Park, right through to Onekaka in Golden Bay. You can add a historical bend to your tasting by heading to Moutere Inn, which is New Zealand’s oldest pub, or go for a contemporary local favourite like the Vic Mac’s Brew Bar.

Vic Mac’s Brew Bar, Nelson, New Zealand | © Jane Nearing/Flickr