Nelson city, located on the northern part of the South Island of New Zealand, is the perfect break if you’re travelling through the country. It gets pretty touristic in the summer, but still has a nice atmosphere and quite laid back vibes. Like most of the places of this beautiful country, there are many amazing spots to see, things to do and loads of events going on throughout the year. Beach, river, parks, and the surroundings are beautiful and will fill your days, in surplus the town got its charm. You can stop for a craft beer or a glass of local wine, and find good food for any taste. On the top of Trafalgar Square, there’s the iconic church of Nelson, where you can shoot your picture! For the ones who are just passing by, Nelson is the perfect spot to get some comfort while crossing this beautiful country, and for the others who are staying longer, it’s also great. It’s small enough to get to know people and places quite fast, you can just cruise around with your bicycle (don’t forget your helmet!) and is quite an active town. If you are here for the weekend, you can enjoy the Nelson Saturday market. It’s a social environment where people from around sell good products, everything you need from food to clothes and accessories, decoration things etc. Very happy atmosphere and great quality at the same time! Nelson is not a nightlife city but you can still hang out and find pubs where spend your time dancing and playing pool.
Centre of New Zealand
If you like walking, you can start with the centre of New Zealand. It’s a twenty minutes walk, that is a bit steep but definitely worth it for the eyes. You have there a breathtaking view of Nelson city, the Tasman Bay and the mountains in the background. Of course, you have astonishing sunsets and sunrises on the top of this hill.
Queen’s & Miyazu Gardens
There are few parks in town, to get a bit of nature. First of all, the Queen’s garden is right in the heart of the city, has nice pathways lined with beautiful trees, a few pools where ducks and fish lead a happy life. I recommend to go to the cafè, delight-in a drink and have a look at the art gallery too. The Miyazu gardens are also worth the visit: cruise in the Japanese style pebbles path while enjoying the varieties of flowers and some beautiful bonsai trees. Nelson is small and never gets too crowded, but it always feels great to chill in the nature surrounded by all these shades of green.
Dun Mountain trail and Mai Tai River
If you feel like hiking or mountain biking and you’re fit, you can’t miss the Dun mountain trail. This trail climbs up the Old Dun Mountain railway from Nelson to Coppermine Saddle and then goes down to the Maitai Dam. A good fitness condition is required as it’s a one day trip (with the mountain bike), and the path gets steep, rocky and narrow in some parts. Check this out on the web, I highly recommend cause it’s definitely worth it to be done. Instead, if you’d rather have an easier (and shorter) hike, just follow the Maitai river until the dam. If the day is hot enough, you can also jump into one of the few pools to refresh yourself!
I really enjoyed pushing the walk until the Maitai cave. Even though the cave is not the most impressive, the vegetation along the track is particularly green, and it feels like being in a jungle!
It’s sunny and you want to enjoy the beach? 5 minutes drive from the city centre and you arrive at Tahunanui beach. Here you can easily spend the whole day, just chill out on the sand, have a walk, jogging, do some water-sports, and loads of other activities. There are cafès, restaurants and some barbecue in case of a picnic. Tahunanui got enough room for everyone, it’s definitely the best place to be when sun is here, or just enjoy the ocean and its beauty on quieter and fresher days.
Founders Heritage Park
Founders Heritage Park is another icon of Nelson city, perfect for families and also nice between friends. It shows Nelson’s heritage, how looked the first settlement, with artisans working onsite that you can also visit meanwhile. Then there is the shop where all the handicrafts are on selling at the windmill. There’s a really pleasant atmosphere, some festivals and events going on (check the website), good craft beers, and lovely kids activities during the weekends.
Nelson Provincial Museum
On a rainy day, there is of course.. Nelson provincial Museum! It shows the story of Nelson and some Maori craft, with also some temporary exhibitions. If you prefer movies, there’s a great Theater with a lot of movies going on all the time, and I deeply advise you to try the good Italian pizza at the top floor in Stefano’s restaurant (the best I’ve had in NZ)!!
Journey in Nelson region
What should be in your bucket list really is what is all around the town, because the Nelson region is an emblematic image of New Zealand. This whole area will give you a unique picture spot, and a magical adventure. To cruise around it is preferable to have a car, but indeed if you’re travelling in New Zeland you’d better have your own vehicle to reach all these incredible spots spread all over the country.
A must do if you have a bit of time is to spend at least a day in the Abel Tasman national park. It is the most famous place in the Nelson region and is absolutely stunning. You can just walk, ride a bike or have different activities like kayaking. It’s really beautiful to see the coast by the ocean and you can cross eventually some seals laying down in the rocks. Abel Tasman and its colours are definitely worth the time and I would say it should be seen in the South Island!
A short drive out of Nelson city and you can find Cable Bay. I personally love this place. There is a great loop walk where you have this typical New Zealand image of green hills, sheeps, cows, and the ocean melting in the sky. Usually, it is pretty quiet and you can really enjoy the colours of nature and the animal’s sounds.
Beautiful and known Nelson Lake is also a nice weekend to have while being in the Nelson region. Enjoy this beautiful and immense lake while walking a great track. Be aware of sand flies ( especially during the summer), these beasts can be a pain, so just take with you some repellent not to ruin your time there. There is a proper campsite, and you can spend easily one night, on a clear day the stars are amazing. Nelson is also known to be one of the sunniest places in New Zealand, hope you will find this region outstanding as I did! Of course, there are many other things to do for any taste.. that is what I loved the most.