The Top 10 Things to Do in Nelson, New Zealand

Split Apple Rock, Kaiteriteri Beach
Split Apple Rock, Kaiteriteri Beach | © Ghislain Mary/Flickr
Thalita Alves

Nelson is the ideal destination for those wanting to embrace some of New Zealand’s best features. This includes a stunning coastline setting, close proximity to many cultural gems, and some of the South Island’s finest natural backdrops. If you’re planning on visiting, here are 10 must-dos to add to your itinerary.

Embrace the tranquility of the Queens Gardens

The Queens Gardens are a heritage treasure right in the heart of the city. They were officially opened in 1892 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Naturally, traditional Victorian gardens were the inspiration for this ornamental park. The gardens were designed around a section of the Maitai River known as the Eel Pond – which was once a key food-gathering place for local Maori. Over the years, they have evolved to feature an array of different plant species, monuments and thematic pavillons.

Chinese Pavillon at the Queen’s Gardens in Nelson

1. Discover the historic treasures of Nelson Provincial Museum


Stained Glass Window of New Zealand Wildlife at the Nelson Provincial Museum
© purdyrns/Flickr
The Nelson Provincial Museum has resided on the same central-city block since opening in 1842. Spend an hour delving into two wonderfully diverse exhibition spaces. The lower gallery is where you’ll find the historic wonders of Nelson and the Tasman Bay – covering all things related to the region’s culture and identity. The upper gallery is where you’ll find an ever-changing lineup of exhibitions, and a remarkable stained-glass window that aptly depicts New Zealand’s unique terrains.

Go on a cycle-based wine tour

Combine two things Nelson excels at: cycling and wine-making. There are more than 25 boutique wineries dotted around its rolling hills, with Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays the top features. Because this wine region is relatively small, you can visit all the vineyards in a day – as a bonus, many of them are complemented by restaurants that offer a taste of the local cuisine (FYI seafood is a local speciality).

Nelson Wines

Cast a line at the Motueka River

From freshwater to the sea, Nelson has got plenty of fishing opportunities for keen anglers. Among its numerous networks of rivers and streams, you’ll find the picturesque Motueka River. Trout fishing is the area’s forte, and there are various access points for anglers along its banks. Other nearby places to catch some trout include Lake Rotoroa and the Perolus River.

Motueka River

Unwind at Kaiteriteri Beach

Nelson is home to quite a varied coastline and Kaiteriteri Beach is one of the area’s most beautiful. The beach is rich in marine life, with dolphins, seals and penguins all calling it home. Turquoise waters and long stretches of golden sands also make this a perfect spot for chilling out in the hot summer months.

Split Apple Rock, Kaiteriteri Beach

Explore the incredible Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is one of the best renowned natural reserves on Nelson’s doorstep. The park is home to one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, a handful of secret beaches, and lots of admirable greenery. Abel Tasman is actually the smallest of New Zealand’s national parks – but don’t let that deceive you: there’s more than 225 square kilometres (86.9 square miles) of natural land to explore.

Anapai Beach, Abel Tasman National Park

See the Farewell Spit from up close

At the tip of the South Island, you’ll find New Zealand’s longest sand spit. Known to Maori as Tuhuroa, the Farewell Spit stretches across 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) and is also an internationally-renowned bird sanctuary. There are tours departing from Nelson that will lead visitors to this remarkable nature reserve. For those who prefer to take the self-guided route, just head over to Takaka and take the highway north.

Sunset over Farewell Spit, Golden Bay

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