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.
A great option for those travelling with kids. Natureland may not be as big as, say, Wellington’s Zealandia, but it’s got an array of interesting animal life to share with its visitors. This includes native New Zealand birds, various fish species, monkeys, farm animals, cute little piglets, and even a porcupine (in case you didn’t know, these prickly critters are a rarity on Kiwi shores).
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.
Get a glimpse of the past at Founders Heritage Park
Ever wanted to time travel? Then this family-friendly attraction might be for you. Founders Heritage Park looks just like an old-time village – with artisan shops, cafés and a craft beer museum adding a contemporary flair. If you’ve got little ones in tow, the tram line tour is bound to be a highlight. The gardens and the windmill are a few other places that should be on your must-see list.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.