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Travel Guide

Things to do in Nelson & Tasman region - travel guide

South Island, New Zealand

In this Article

Nelson & Tasman region Travel Guide

Imagine a region where snow capped mountains frame vineyards and gold sandy beaches showcase natural rock sculptures. The area is the stunning backdrop for one of New Zealand iconic great walks, the Abel Tasman.  Creative artists and crafts have made Nelson city and the surrounds their home with local talent on display in galleries and weekend markets. All the while the taste buds water at the seasonal bounty from orchards, the sea and land.

Historic Nelson viewed from Cathedral steps, New Zealand
Historic Nelson viewed from Cathedral steps


Meet one of New Zealand’s premier destinations for a visitor experience.No wonder Nelson is a perennial favourite place for a holiday.


Cable Bay Adventure Park

Quad bike tours, the skywire experience, the world's longest flying fox, mountain biking, climbing wall, paintball, family fun: feeding the tame eels or petting the animals. Wide range of adventure activities!

Book now
Cable Bay adventure park
Cable Bay adventure park
Cable Bay adventure park, New Zealand
  • Art scene, from world class Suter Gallery to artisan pop up stalls in weekend markets. Nelson city has an absorbing art trail from riverside walks to the coast.
  • Foodie joy in restaurants and cafes capturing a contemporary Pacifica fusion cuisine
  • City beaches with sweeps of gold dusted sandy foreshores with cafes and facilities at your fingertips
  • Vibrant festival season nestled in heritage Founders Park, Isel Park and public spaces
  • Well established theatre and arts culture with live entertainment, nightlife and attractions
Marahau beach at Abel Tasman national park in New Zealand
Marahau beach at Abel Tasman national park
  • A gateway city to the iconic Abel Tasman National Park with its attractions from beaches, walks, waterfalls and water sports
  • Day trips to Moutere Valley vineyards and artisan stores, Tasman Village galleries and Mapu Wharf attractions
  • Nelson city is a hub for the region’s Great Taste Trail, a shared cycling / walk experience exploring the best the region has to offer
  • Heritage Nelson has Founders Park village, Isel Homestead brings the past back to life with exhibits, displays and 19th century main street atmosphere.




Year round.


Nelson Weather Forecast and Observations

If that wasn’t good enough Nelson is blessed with a great climate.  The weather is one of the sunniest in New Zealand.  Sun drenched summers attract visitors to the beaches and the Great Taste Trail.  Winter offers relaxation and indulgence in spas, opportunities to explore the extensive art and craft trail.  As icing on the cake the area boasts one of New Zealand’s premier ski fields.


Heritage buffs are in for a surprise with a stash of historic buildings (pre-1860) lived in and functioning today in the city of Nelson. The buildings include Bishop Suter Art Gallery; Nelson School of Music; Bishop’s School, Fairfield House, Melrose House, and Warwick House.


  • Botanics Reserve and the Centre of New Zealand
  • Wakefield Quay and Rocks Road Chain
  • Isel House and Park
  • Broadgreen Historic House and Samuels Rose Garden
  • Queens Gardens (heritage Victorian planting style)
  • Albion Square
  • Anzac Park
  • South Street heritage precinct.



South Street Heritage Precinct

Cute attractive cottages are an instagram favourite.

Originally known as Town Acre 456 the initial cottages were built in the 1860’s. Forget having a front yard the cottages are generally built up to the road boundary. Local tradesmen did not have time to grow roses. South street is the oldest preserved street in New Zealand that people actually live in. Learn more from the residents community voice, HISTORIC SOUTH STREET, NELSON. Note: There are a few late 20th century buildings on Nile Street West however the character of the area is homes dating from the 1860s and 1870s.

View of buildings on a historic south street, Nelson, New Zealand
View of buildings on a historic south street
Centre of New Zealand monument at sunset, Nelson
Centre of New Zealand monument

Botanic Reserve and the Centre of New Zealand


Nelson is proud of the title as the first place a game of rugby was played. Learn about the story of rugby at Botanics Reserve as you walk Maitai River valley. Find the Botanics Reserve, set aside by the early settlers, at the end of Hardy Street. An interpretation panel, shaped like a rugby ball and goal posts, will tell you all about the history of the playing field. The first game of rugby in New Zealand was played in Nelson on 14 May, 1870, between the Nelson club team and Nelson College.


During the walk find out where the centre of New Zealand is actually located.

Wakefield Quay and Rocks Road Chain

The Rocks Road graceful Victorian chain fence is the story of the expansion of the growing city towards Tahunanui at the turn of the century and of the industrial base of the port city.  The chain fence is ornate and a very rare example of Victorian streetscape ornamentation that has survived. The fence has a heritage category 1 classification. It is a beautiful cast iron decorative street furniture.

Isel Park & Homestead

Wealthy Marsden family in the 19th century built the Isel homestead and created 4 hectares of gardens. The interior has a considerable collection of antiques, paintings and domestic homeware of the period. Entry to the gardens is free. The homestead is open to visitors, however check beforehand to avoid disappointment.

Isel House and Park in Nelson New Zealand
@Isel House and Park

Broadgreen Historic House

Discover an early colonial era cob home built in 1855 for the Buxton family. The large cottage is furnished in the original style and restored to showcase family life in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Look for a child’s straight-backed chair made from teak salvaged from the wreck of the Fifeshire. The cottage has rare original wallpaper from the 1878 Paris World Fair. For lovers of historic fabric there is a significant textile and period costume collection.


Broadgreen has in its possession one of New Zealand’s oldest quilts made in Ireland in 1776.

Samuels’ Rose Garden

The grounds contain the highly regarded Samuels’ Rose Garden that boasts an extensive collection of over 3,000 plants. There is an annual Among the Roses event where the community enjoys music, performances, markets and free guided tours of the house and garden. The Rose Walk is a fantastic way to discover some gems amongst this wonderful collection. Samuels Rose Garden, established in 1968, contains 560 named varieties and over 3000 plants including Slater’s Crimson China Rose – the first variety of rose grown in New Zealand.


Broadgreen’s Samuels’ Rose Garden hosts an annual rose day every spring (November).


Nelson is a treasure trove of historic cemeteries to wander through. An outstanding example is Wakapuaka Cemetery Walk where many of Nelson’s early settlers are buried. For more information check TOP-10 Nelson short walks, trip guide, things to see & do: Best Bits. You can search the Nelson City Council Early Settlers Database to find information about your ancestors who made the long voyage from Europe to settle in the Nelson Region. This information is based on original NZ Company Passengers To Nelson manifests and shipping lists published in The Colonist newspaper 1841-1850, supplied by the Nelson Provincial Museum.

Albion Square

Albion Square was the site of provincial government for the Nelson region from the late 1850s to the 1870s. Today it’s an historic reserve – protected for the significant number of historic remnants it contains. The fire engine house, trout hatchery and a survey chain test marker are protected as Category 1 historic places for their outstanding historical significance.

Check DOC resource for up to date information.

Albion Square Historic Area, New Zealand @Doc
Albion Square Historic Area @Doc
Nelson Volunteer Fire Brigade Engine House built in 1867 at the Founders Park, Nelson, New Zealand
Nelson Volunteer Fire Brigade Engine House built in 1867 at the Founders Park

Fire engine house

The fire engine house (1866) was built to mirror the design of the nearby grand provincial buildings. It’s the only remaining reminder of these buildings, which were later demolished. For a short time it was used to house a fire engine specifically purchased to protect the provincial building from fire. It’s now mainly remembered for serving as a morgue at the time of the Maungatapu Murders trial, where the victims of the notorious gang of bush rangers were laid out.

Trout hatchery (1867)

The trout hatchery (1867) ranks internationally as an early example of fish acclimatisation to establish populations of exotic plants and animals. It’s one of the few remaining structures like this left in the world. Acclimitisation of plants and animals from Britain and Europe to New Zealand was prominent in the efforts of provincial governments. The building was used to hatch thousands of trout ova from Australia, and in turn these young fish were used to populate streams and rivers around the province. The interestingly shaped hexagonal building was built to the specifications of Frank Buckland, an internationally recognised artificial fish hatching expert from England.

Trout hatchery
Trout Hatchery


A chain test marker on the site is now a very rare remnant of the work of early surveyors carving up land to be sold to European settlers. These markers consisted of a series of small bronze tabs set along a concrete strip. They defined the standard length of the survey chain (literally a long length of chain) used to measure distance. The chain was important to the drive for accuracy and standardisation in surveying around New Zealand.

The small brick magazine (ca. 1861) that still stands on the site is likely to have been used by local militia to store munitions.

SOURCE Albion Square: Nelson area

Old St Peter’s-by-the-Strand Church served the Anglicans of the Atawhai area of Nelson from 1874-1983, when it was moved to Founders Park, Nelson, New Zealand
Founders Park


A must-go destination for many visitors with its Victorian main street frontage, workshops, galleries and shops. Heritage is a winner in an ethnographic village with authentic character buildings nestled in the extensive gardens of Founders Park. The colonial past is replicated with relocated original buildings including a fire truck. Read more about the park Nelson – Culture & Art Activities and Events – Best Bits.


Nelson supports numerous artists and galleries than most other places in New Zealand and is home to three of New Zealand’s cultural treasures – the Suter Art Gallery, the Theatre Royal and the Nelson Centre for Musical Arts. Nelson’s combination of sunny weather, glorious scenery, and food culture is greatly enhanced by its cultural scene. This is a powerful drawcard for visitors. Start your exploration by checking out Nelson – Culture & Art Activities and Events – Best Bits. It is an excellent reference to key cultural attractions and places of interest.


  • Suter Art Gallery
  • Art trail consisting of street murals, sculptures and public installations
  • Nelson Provincial Museum
  • Theatre Royal



Nelson is one of the strong contenders for weekend market superstar. The city boasts several well regarded markets. Founders Heritage Park hosts a number of pop up market days with a focus on artists and creative energy. Nelson regional towns from Murchison, Motueka, Takaka, Collingwood are known for their summer weekend markets.



Nelson market (Saturday morning)

Over 40 years and still going strong the veteran market showcases artisan goods, gifts and is a great place for cheap eats.

Nelson farmers market (Wednesday)

A great market for fresh fruit and vegetables. Visit a market where the locals shop for their groceries

City shopping districts

  • Morrison Square is a reimagined space for upmarket boutique clothing stores, speciality stores and giftware
  • Old Factory Corner, specialising in waste free shopping with a focus on organic food, clothing and goods (located in outer district of Appleby)
  • Trafalgar Street is the traditional main shopping / retail street, Nelson city

TIP: For gifts and souvenirs you can’t go past the art galleries, museums and markets



TOASTY CLIMATE, LAID DOWN ATMOSPHERE WHO WOULD NOT WANT TO BE AN ARTIST IN NELSON? Nelson attracts visitors from around the world to its festivals. Due to the pandemic festivals have been the victims of postponement or cancellation. Check festival online resources for up to date opening dates.

  • Nelson Heritage Festival (private historic homes open to the public, public talks and events)
  • TAHUNA SUMMER SOUNDS. Tahuna Summer Sounds getting the beach vibe rocking with two pop up venues one month apart. A varied entertainment programme suitable for all ages groups and tastes at the well known beach, Tahuna.
  • NELSON SUMMER MOVIES AL FRESCO. Another visitor favourite is the Summer Movies Al Fresco with outdoor movies with over 14 screenings throughout the region. The giant screens have English subtitles for the deaf, hard of hearing and second language viewers. Temporary screens are positioned in parks with plenty of flat grassy surfaces and accessible toilets. With Nelson’s balmy warm summer evenings a perfect visitor free experience to watch a movie, savour the sunset and picnic with friends.
  • NELSON ARTS FESTIVAL. The arts festival is a visitor must with open studios and galleries joining the fun of art and artisan talent in full party mode
  • MARCHFEST (Founders Park) is where a weekend market meets festival vibe. The atmosphere rocks with entertainment, music, street performers and stalls showcasing local creative talent.
  • CIDER FESTIVAL celebrating the liquid joy of apples and berries
@MarchFest Nelson
@MarchFest Nelson


Nelson city and beyond is peppered with craft breweries, vineyard courtyards for a leisurely night out and venues with live entertainment. The city is a great place to start exploring a craft brewery trail. Enjoy local bands while admiring the vibrantly coloured taps at the FREE HOUSE.


Check what’s happening at local beaches and venues in the summer season.


@Abel Tasman Kayaks
@Abel Tasman Kayaks


Romance is warm nights, a balmy climate with plenty of attractions and things to do. Nelson ticks all these boxes and more. Impossibly beautiful scenery is a great ingredient for romance. Nelson delivers in spades with scenery, attractions and adventures from adrenaline laced excitement to leisurely vineyard meals where the world slows down. For inspiration what to do check Romantic places, things to do for couples in Nelson.


Nelson dining does not get any better than the Boat Shed Cafe, Wakefield Quay. The destination overlooks the harbour and the mountains beyond.






Nelson is surrounded by lush gardens, parks and reserves. Tasman Bay, the hills and lure of the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park make the area a must-go destination for lovers of nature and the outdoors. In the city there are several gardens offering visitors a chance to stroll or jog in peaceful surroundings.

Queens Gardens

Queens Gardens is an excellent showpiece for a classical Victorian ornamental park. Centrally located information panels placed around the garden. Top sights in the garden include:

  • The Cupid Fountain is the spirit of a formal Victorian garden and is modelled after four lions heads
  • The Water Wheel is crafted from 50,000 swamp kauri; the style represents the Nelson Rotary Club who funded the wheel.
  • The Boer War memorial is a reminder of emerging nationhood in the colony and the loss of life supporting Imperial efforts in Africa.
  • Sentinel sails steel sculpture was inspired by the base of the Nikau palm frond. It refers to the waka and ships which brought waves of people to Aotearoa New Zealand.
  • Memorial memorial gates at both main entrances.

Queens Gardens formally opened in 1892 to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It was designed around the residual part of the Maitai River called the Eel Pond – a food gathering place for the Maori.

Queen`s Garden in Nelson, New Zealand with Victorian ornamental park and cupid fountain, New Zealand
Queen`s Garden in Nelson, New Zealand with Victorian ornamental park and cupid fountain

Huangshi Chinese Garden

Delve into the world of feng shui (wind & water balance) in the Huangshi Chinese Garden. The garden is part of the Queens Park footprint and connected via a Rainbow Bridge. The small compact Chinese garden has the walled entryway channeling good energy flows into the spaces where camelias, peonies and butterflies flourish. At the centre is water energy reflected in a pond and waterfall.  The pavilion is made from genuine Chinese roofing tiles sourced directly from Hubei Province, and the upturned roof is based on ancient Chinese design principles. Free entry.

Anzac Park, Nelson, New Zealand
Anzac Park, Nelson


The war memorial used to be part of the old bridge that crossed Saltwater Creek on the port side of the park and consists of three pillars and a central cenotaph and now is the central piece in ANZAC Park. The names on the plaques at the ANZAC Park Cenotaph were compiled by the Nelson Returned Services Association. They only include those who were residents of Nelson prior to enlisting for services and they observe the boundaries of Nelson as they were at that time … read more ANZAC Park Nelson local government online resource.

Christ Church Hill, Piki Mai Park

In town shopping or visiting the weekend market then take a short stroll up Trafalgar Street to the small beautifully reserved Victorian park surrounding the Cathedral. The towering phoenix palms framing the steps are original Victorian showpieces for a garden. Trees include  sequoias now a magnificent height and two Californian redwoods. The Cathedral is built in the art deco style.


A great spot for a photo of the main street and Victorian fronted shops leading up to the Cathedral steps.

Isel Gardens

Acres of garden and a local favourite. The place is often the venue for events, weekend markets and functions. It is not unusual to peek at a wedding party as they pose for photographs. The gardens and homestead have a category I historic rating. Free entry into the gardens.

Isel House and Park in Nelson New Zealand
@Isel House and Park

Washbourn gardens

Checking out the Richmond Mall where all serious shoppers hang out and need a break. Washbourn gardens is a hidden delight behind pine and oak trees creating a great place to sip your coffee and relax. Enjoy the rose garden and the Begonia House is a great place if there is a nip in the air. Housing over 200 potted begonias and hanging baskets, visitors will breathe deeply to absorb the fragrance.


Melrose House

A Victorian era garden with a mature woodland whose shady spots are a great place for a leisurely stroll in summer. The beautifully manicured grounds are the home to a popular place for brunch / lunch in the historic home’s cafe.

Miyazu Gardens

Discover a Japanese treasure next to the Founders Heritage Park. Expect to find water features, carefully sculptured plantings and fountains with footbridges leading visitors to explore further. The cherry trees in spring are a favourite spot for photographers and expect to see wedding parties showered in blossom. Entry is free into the public garden.

Gardens of the World (Hope)

Gardens of the World is a perennial entry into garden tours with its native and exotic plantings. The garden has created rooms representing New Zealand, Australia, Africa, America, the Orient and Europe. There is an English style formal rose garden, an English style herbaceous area, herbarium, white garden, amphitheater, water garden with Asian inspired influences and a woodland zone featuring a rhododendron walk. The garden is 2.4 hectares.



Finding a beach in Nelson is ridiculously easy. You can hardly move from the regional airport and you’ve located one of New Zealand’s top family beaches,Tahunanui. The local Nelson city beach is a drawcard for many visitors with its extensive facilities, safe shallow water and across the road cafes and restaurants. For beach fans check out Top 5 Beaches in Nelson. In the busy summer months accommodation can be fully booked, check beforehand to ensure you have a place to stay before turning up.



Scenic view over Tahunanui Beach and Tasman Bay, New Zealand
Scenic view over Tahunanui Beach and Tasman Bay

Tahunanui highlights

  • 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


Wanting a classic summer holiday by the beach, Nelson offers plenty of choices. Get the kids outdoors in a pocket handkerchief sized national park with kayaking, water sports and swimming in freshwater rivers a bonus. The proximity of natural spaces to urban comforts makes Nelson an attractive destination for families as creature comforts are not sacrificed.


  • Convenience to shopping and urban comforts. Families can visit the Richmond Mall for an afternoon shopping and spend the evening in Kaiteriteri which is less than an hour’s drive.
  • An outstanding national park that is easily accessible for a day trip giving the smallest kids a chance to get into natural spaces
  • Adrenaline adventure attractions for families from horse riding on remote beaches, to skydiving for teenagers and above or snorkelling trips to marine reserves



@Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park
@Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park
@Waka Abel Tasman
@Waka Abel Tasman
  • Plenty of markets and pop up stalls where pocket money goes a long way. Cheap delicious street food and artisan small objects for a holiday souvenir are the ingredients for great memories enjoying family time together
  • A visitor hospitality culture that is focused on all age groups and an awareness of kids energy levels and safety requirements
  • Open spaces, gardens and parks for impromptu cricket or frisbee games. The region is largely rural with plenty of space to kick a ball or simply relax on a rug
  • Beaches, rivers and walks that are world class, check out Abel Tasman National Park for information about getting around and about.


Gardens and parks are leafy shady spots for jogging and walking. The city has several impressive walking trails

  • Boulder spit walk. Boulder spit is an extraordinary natural stony outcrop jutting into the Tasman Bay.
  • The Centre of New Zealand walk is fun finding out if you are really at the centre of New Zealand.
  • Waimea Basin walk is through the plains and low farmland surrounding Nelson. It is largely rural and a chance to get immersed into the landscape
  • Cable Bay Walkway. Enjoy the coastal views on this walkway between Rotokura/Cable Bay and The Glen, near Nelson. Boating, sea kayaking, and snorkeling are all options

For further information check out Department of Conservation ideas for Nelson area: Places to go in Neslon/Tasman.

Boulder Bank is natural rocks and pebbles stone structure at Nelson Beach.
Boulder Bank is natural rocks and pebbles stone structure at Nelson Beach


10 great ideas for a day in Motueka

Motueka is a bustling regional centre for Nelson and a popular gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. A cafe culture, the holiday buzz and energy has developed into a comprehensive range of accommodation choices, boutique shops and an area showcasing artists and artisans. The town center is the home to the well known Motueka Sunday Market where pop up food stores, emerging creative talent have a vehicle to market their wares. From craft breweries in nearby Riwaka to a game of golf at Tasman Village golf course there is something for everyone.

learn more
Kaiteriteri - one of the New Zealand's favourite summer holiday destinations on a beautiful morning. In the background are the towns of Mapua, Motueka and Nelson.

10 reasons for a day trip to Mapua

Relax and rejuvenate with a day at Mapua. The wharf is the hub of a vibrant visitor experience. Once the wharf housed apple stores and pack houses is now a bustling destination to while away a summer’s day revelling in the arts and hospitality of the Wharf. The Waimea Estuary and Rabbit Island are picturesque backdrops to the cafes, restaurants, artisan shops and microbrewery. Hire a bike from a local to explore Rabbit Island via the Mapua Ferry. The list of things to do is extensive.

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A panorama including Kaiteriteri camping ground in the foreground, kaiteriteri beach, Mapua, Riwaka, Motueka and Nelson are in the background. Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand
@Māpua Boat Club & Maritime Museum
Rabbit Island, the other side of the river from Mapua Wharf. South Island, NZ


The loop trail starts in Nelson city reaching as far as Kaiteriteri. The trail wanders past estuaries, wetlands, vineyards, rolling farmland and past numerous cafes and galleries. The length of the trail is 175 km and is broken into sections to allow for pick up and delivery of services. Check out the Urban Cycling Routes: get up and biking as soon as you hit the Nelson streets. The trail map helpfully annotes routes where the ascent and descent could be an issue for families with children. Check with your bike hire provider for local tips and advice before embarking on the trail.


Originally separate communities, Richmond and Stoke are now part of the expanded urban development of the city.



Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Late Afternoon Light, Richmond, South Island, New Zealand.
Richmond. Holy Trinity Anglican Church


Richmond is approximately 15 minutes drive from the city centre. The outlying areas of Richmond are home to wineries and orchards. The nearby Appleby area is famous for its fresh fruit ice cream, pick your own berries and Hoglund Glass Gallery.


Stoke is home to Pic’s World of Peanut Butter where you can meet the makers, watch the process of peanut butter creation in action, and even try your hand at creating your own. Nearby, the National WOW Museum is home to spectacular displays of wearable art garments, and one of Australasia’s largest private collections of classic cars.  McCashin’s Brewery for a brewery tour and tasting, an iconic business that played a key role in New Zealand’s craft beer revolution.  Thursday night is a foodie heaven with the Isel Park Twilight Market from 4.30pm, which is set amongst stunning Victorian grounds and features an array of local food and craft stalls.


Nelson (Māori: Whakatū) is a city and port in Tasman Bay / Te Tai-o-Aorere. The city is the oldest in the South Island, New Zealand. Established in 1841 the city was built on pre-European Maori lands purchased under dubious circumstances which did lead to later conflict. The city’s name is in honour of Lord Nelson and the battle of Trafaglar. Source Nelson, New Zealand – Wikipedia.


The Nelson region accommodation ranges from hunting lodges, to quiet meditation retreats nestled in picturesque bush locations, from basic backpacker lodges to luxury overlooking private beaches. Nelson city is home to a busy port exporting seafood and food products throughout the world. The city itself has a number of comfortable hotels catering to the business market. The outskirts and beyond is where the holiday makers throng. For ideas where to stay check out Nelson Regional Guide for ideas.



@The Hotel Nelson
@The Hotel Nelson
@Nelson Airport
@Nelson Airport


Nelson is a major gateway to the region with a busy domestic airport and intercity bus depot. The city is walkable and compact with excellent signage.

By InterIslander Ferry (Picton), vehicle for South Island based visitors or the domestic airport located in Richmond.  Nelson is connected, by road, to both the west coast and east coast of the South Island.


A vehicle / bike  is needed otherwise during peak season (summer) there are public bus services linking beach and inland communities. Previously it was advisable to forward book transport during the peak season.  In 2019 approximately 1.3 million guest nights in Nelson.


Bus service

Water taxi

Travel pack information


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