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Nelson Top Beaches – Things to Do

Nelson, South Island

Finding a beach in Nelson is ridiculously easy. You can hardly move from the regional airport and one of New Zealand’s top family beaches, Tahunanui is within your sights.

The province is coast to coast fringed with long stretches of gold perfection, shallow safe waters for children and plenty of campgrounds adjacent to the perfect summer holiday spot.


Nelson city guide

Nelson wildlife places to go

Nelson top walks

Nelson Abel Tasman National Park guide


Tahunanui beach in Nelson New Zealand Tahunanui Beach

Close to Nelson city and the airport this beach is a family favourite. Over 1.7 km of white sands and gentle waves create a summer staple for a day at the beach for locals and visitors.

The beach is safe for swimming and popular with walkers, joggers and sun-seekers, with the back beach for kite-boarders and dog walking. Low tide exposes rock pools with crabs, sea-snails a prime site for kids to explore marine life.

Look out for a wharf where fishing buffs cast their lines in hopes of snapper, kahawai and blue code. Year round Tasman Bay offers sightings of dolphins and orca feeding in the ebb and flow of the tide. The beach has its own business hub Tahunanui, Nelson New Zealand – Tahunanui, Nelson New Zealand lobbying for the beach, reserve and community. For more information about what to do in Nelson city check out local cafes and what to do in nearby Stoke. 


  • Large grassed areas for impromptu games
  • Extensive public facilities for changing, outdoor showers
  • Cafes adjacent to the beach
  • Cool shady nearby Beach Reserve
  • Picnic seating, BBQ and playgrounds
  • Patrolled by lifeguards
  • Public transport route
  • Adjacent golf course overlooking Tasman Bay

More about Tahunanui Beach


Kaiteriteri beaches, impossible gold sand, turquois water, Nelson, NZ Kaiteriteri Beach

Glimmering gold sand, shallow turquoise water and deep green bush and forest brushing the water creates a magical setting for a summer holiday.

The beach is one of New Zealand’s top summer destinations with its proximity to the Abel Tasman National Park and adventure sports at its beck and call. There are water taxis, kayak hire, mountain biking trails and walks from one glorious beach to another.


  • Abel Tasman National Park is the jewel in the crown. Cobalt blue water, sandy beaches, range of adventures from slow walks to tramps and water activities from diving, cruises, kayaking the bays.
  • Take a leisurely boat trip around the bays looking for marine life and enjoying vistas of the National Park from the water
  • Relax on a beach where jet skis are forbidden
  • Beach activities are supported by a cafe, camping ground, playgrounds and public toilets and changing rooms
  • Cycle and explore Nelson’s Great Taste Trail section from Motuka to Kaiteriteri
  • Waka Tours Abel Tasman operates from Kaiteriteri. Their beautifully painted waka (traditional double hulled canoes) are a great way to test your seafaring skills. All age groups will enjoy time on the water learning how to paddle in unison and gain insights into local Maori culture and history

Read more about Kaiteriteri getting there and what to do and see. For ideas about Nelson check out Nelson Guide, Things to Do and get your walking boots on to explore Abel Tasman National Park.

More about Kaiteriteri Beach


Tata Beach in Takaka Golden Bay Nelson New Zealand @douglasrpaul Tata Beach @douglasrpaul

Impossibly gold sand, soft teal shallow water with barely a ripple and the bush reaching out to nestle against rocks and coastline is the recipe for a beautiful beach. The beach is accessible by water taxi or a gravel road (approximately 30 minutes) from Takaka. The two islands of Motu and Ngawhiti, also known as the ‘Tata Islands’ add to the picturesque scenic beach.  Bird watchers enjoy observing New Zealand’s largest colony of spotted shags. There are seals and penguins on the islands which can be reached for up close observation on a kayak. 


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Spotted shags regard the beach as their own with sunset a popular time to fluff their tails and regurgitate small stones (‘rangle’) in their gizzards on Tata Beach. For more information about the spotted shag check out the travel pack information section


  • Golden Bay Kayaks, a local family business who can show you round their backyard. The kayaking operation has no age restrictions
  • Paddle entire length of the Abel Tasman National Park
  • Bespoke Eco Private tours and Luxury Packages
  • The scenery from the cliffs of Tata Islands, gold sands and aquarium water
  • Within the Abel Tasman National Park, paddle through the nearby granite arches to well known Wainui Bay

More about Tata Beach


Golden Bay access is a sealed road although it is windy, narrow and busy in the summer season. You are nearby Collingwood, a pretty historic town with plenty to do and see. Check out for inspiration about Abel Tasman National Park.


Rabbit Island, the other side of the river from Mapua Wharf. South Island, NZ Rabbit Island, the other side of the river from Mapua Wharf

Discover a hidden gem behind the pine forest. Rabbit Island sandy beaches lie in the quiet water of the Waimea Estuary at the head of Tasman Bay. Find a dinghy or kayak to an island within cycling distance of Nelson. Rabbit Island is the biggest of a group of sandy islands lying in the Waimea Estuary at the head of Tasman Bay. The island’s interior is one of the more popular cycling sections of the Great Taste Cycling Trail. Lycra garbed riders follow the Rabbit Island section. The route runs across Rough Island and into Rabbit Island alongside Ken Beck Drive. It continues to the Mapua Ferry landing site at the western end of the island. For families with a mountain bike enthusiast it is a great place to offer choices of what to do for the day while you collapse on the beach watching kids paddle.


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Ten minute ferry ride from Mapua Wharf on a local ferry transporting bikes and holiday makers. 


  • BBQ, picnic seating, toilets and changing rooms
  • Shallow safe estuary water
  • Glorious wide gold sandy beach
  • Mountain bike trails, part of Great Taste trail
  • Perimeter tracks with treats such as royal spoonbill birds feeding in the tidal estuary. 

You can drive from Nelson to a car park across the causeway to the ‘island.’

More about Moturoa (Rabbit Island)


Archway rock at Wharariki Beach, Golden Bay Archway Rock at Wharariki Beach

Uncover a remote beach with its iconic SPLIT APPLE ROCK at the beginning of Farewell Spit. Wharariki Beach access is a journey in itself with a considerable drive to gain access to the beach’s walking track. This is a beach where the scenery dominates. Forget about swimming as there are dangerous undercurrents on the unpatrolled beach. Absorb the caves, the rocks and sculptured weathered rock arches. Your walk to the beach passes farmland, coastal bush reserves and transverses a large tussock dune landscape before unfolding into a wild natural beach.  One of the most photographed beaches in New Zealand, the landscape captures the raw beauty of the seascape. For ideas of what to do in the area check out Collingwood: Things To Do and See in Golden Bay – Best Bits and consider a Farewell Split guided tour. 


  • Dramatic coastal scenery
  • You did it, found Split Apple Rock and have the instagram photo to prove it
  • Nearby Collingwood and Farewell Spit

More about Wharariki Beach


You are spoiled for choice with numerous beaches located within the National Park. For ideas and holiday inspiration about what to do in the park check out Abel Tasman National Park options. The park is a pink sized national treasure that punches above its size with its global appeal. This is due to the glittering gold beaches, shallow turquoise waters, spectacular ocean views and range of wildlife. And then there is the glorious weather … read more Abel Tasman National Park trip guide & tips, things to do: Best Bits.


Beach @Totaranui Camping ground, New Zealand Totaranui Beach @Totaranui Camping ground

The beach is approximately 1 km in length, gold sand, with substantial camping grounds supporting a wide range of activities. It is very popular and gets booked out during the peak summer season. Accessible by boat, car or even kayak. It is probably the most popular spot in the Abel Tasman. It is also a useful spot to access the Northern section of the park and is the last water taxi point.

More about Totaranui


Te Pukatea bay on Pitt Head Loop Trail Abel Tasman National Park Nelson New Zealand Te Pukatea bay on Pitt Head Loop Trail

A hidden gem and not difficult to access, you can kayak from Anchorage and it is a 10-minute walk from water taxi scheduled drop off points. Camping is permitted with space for 7 tent sites, 14 campers, 2 long drops and picnic tables! Water is here too but must be boiled. As Anchorage is only 10 minutes away, fresh water is just a short stroll up the beach.


Pohutukawa at Anchorage Bay Abel Tasman National Park - Instagram @aya_morris_nz_fulbrighter Pohutukawa at Anchorage Bay

Very popular, it is long, picturesque and in the perfect location for services. A popular way to access the beach is walking from Marahau (12km).  The facilities are a large campground with fresh drinking water, toilets and kitchen facilities. It is usually fully booked several months in advance during the peak summer season. Anchorage being the most well-known as well as being a transport hub for water taxis and kayaks.

More about Anchorage Bay


For more to do and see in the region check Nelson guide, things to do from walks, nearby day trips and highlights.


Motueka Beach Reserve, New Zealand @Motueka Top 10 Motueka Beach Reserve @Motueka Top 10

Motueka is a popular beach side holiday destination with its cafes, art & craft community combined with the top-notch beaches in the vicinity. 

  • The quirk of Motueka Beach Reserve is the vintage feel to the public salt water baths adjoining the beach.
  • Motueka Beach Reserve in turn links to the Trewavas Street Foreshore reserve giving visitors continuous access to the coastline.

More about Motueka Beach Reserve


Cable Bay Nelson, Nelson, New Zealand Cable Bay

Cable Bay has a great cafe, a walkway and you can walk the entire beach (5.5 km) to connect with Glen Beach.


Marahau beach at Abel Tasman national park in New Zealand Marahau Beach

At the southern entrance to Abel Tasman National Park is a coastal park fringed with ’golden sands, clear water, native forest and abundant wildlife.

A licensed restaurant sits at the hub of this colourful diverse community.


In Nelson, Nelson City Council monitors 11 swimming spots. The areas include five coastal beaches and six rivers, which are monitored from November 30 to March 15 on a weekly basis. For more information check Bathing water quality Nelson.

Behaviour and Ecology of NZ Spotted Shag 

Spotted shags dive from the sea surface to catch fish and marine invertebrates with their slender hooked bills, propelling themselves underwater with webbed feet. Outside the breeding season they form large feeding and roosting flocks of up to 2000 birds. Elaborate male display movements include wing-waving, swing-pointing, bowing, darting, sky-pointing, gaping, kink-throating, hopping, and various other body postures. Displaying males grunt; females are silent.


Spotted shag diet consists of small fish and marine invertebrates, including squid and plankton. They feed in deep water up to 16 km offshore. Longest dive recorded was 70 seconds. Spotted shags often have a mass of small stones (‘rangle’) in their gizzards, the function of which is debated, with possibilities including to function as ballast, to grind up food, and to create an inhospitable environment for gut parasites. Roosting birds often regurgitate piles of rangle stones that are obvious on sandy beaches but overlooked at rocky sites.

Source Spotted shag (NZ birds online)

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