Nelson travel guide
Nelson travel guide
Nelson travel guide

Travel to Nelson, things to see & do — trip guide, tips

Meet one of New Zealand’s rock stars in the visitor experience market. Nelson is a great year round destination where visitors return for a second or third holiday to indulge themselves in magnificent Nelson.

Image a region where snow capped mountains frame vineyards and where gold sandy beaches showcase rock sculptures. Nelson’s natural landscape offers adventure, leisure and relaxation all within a stone’s throw of each other. The area is spoiled with a stunning backdrop where one of New Zealand iconic great walks Abel Tasman walk tempts visitors to further explore the horizons. Creative artists and crafts have made Nelson their home making the place a destination for visitors focused on culture and arts.

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 Wine Trail. Winter offers relaxation and indulgence in spas, opportunities to explore the extensive art and craft trail and ski fields. As icing on the cake the area boasts one of New Zealand’s premier ski fields.

Nelson is a seasoned host with an extensive range of food / craft markets, cafes and award winning restaurants for visitors to sample. This mix is stirred and mixed in food and wine where the taste buds are tantalized by the bounty of the sea and land. No wonder Nelson is a perennial favourite place for a holiday.

Nelson, New Zealand @Never Ending Voyage

Best time to visit

Year round


Nelson Weather Forecast and Observations.

Getting there

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.

What to see and do in Nelson


Nelson is ridiculously spoilt for beaches, you can hardly move from the regional airport and you are at one of the popular family beaches in Nelson city. 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.

Tahunanui Beach

Nelson 7011, New Zealand

The Glen & Cable Bay

Nelson, 7071, New Zealand

Kaiteriteri Beach

Tasman Bay 7197, New Zealand


Marahau, 7197, New Zealand

Motueka Beach Reserve

17 North Street, Motueka 7120, New Zealand

Rabbit Island

Rabbit Island, 7081, New Zealand

Abel Tasman Park Beaches

South Island 7183, New Zealand

Abel Tasman Park Beaches – Totaranui

Tasman 7183, New Zealand

Abel Tasman Park Beaches - Te Pukatea Bay

Tasman 7183, New Zealand

Abel Tasman Park Beaches – Anchorage

Tasman 7183, New Zealand

Nelson regional areas

Motueka and Takaka are the great way to take a break on your way to and from the Abel Tasman National Park. There are vibrant cafes and craft main streets supporting the large numbers of visitors to the Abel Tasman National Park. The area is known for its strong focus on great food and sustainability. Local producers from the Moutere Valley are a vital part of the visitor food experience in this area.

Marahau, is a visitor focused settlement for the Abel Tasman National Park. Several water taxi companies are based in Marahau.

Moutere Valley

Inland the Moutere Valley is where the fruit, vineyards and artisan goods producers live and work. Nelson Tasman is more than golden sand beaches. Travel inland to the Moutere and you will find an undulating landscape that’s rich with award-winning wineries and artisan producers. The Moutere Hills were formed from the weathered gravels of an ancient river system and are renowned for producing aromatic and flavoursome wines. The small villages of Upper and Lower Moutere offer stunning views of the area and Upper Moutere is home to the oldest New Zealand pub still operating in its original building, The Moutere Inn. The Inn, which was established in 1850, showcases a range of locally-made craft beers, wines and ciders, and features an exciting live music calendar. There are numerous open studios for sculptors, ceramic artists, woodworkers and artisan food producers who have made their home in the valleys.


‘Kahurangi’ is ‘treasured possession’, the perfect way to describe New Zealand’s second-largest national park, spanning 450,000 hectares from Golden Bay in the North, to Murchison in the South, right across to the wild meets west, West Coast. Kahurangi National Park has 570km of tramping tracks which behold some of New Zealand’s oldest and most stunning marble and karst landforms, including the famous Heaphy Track, designated an official “Great Walk” by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. The 82 km Heaphy Track traverses a diverse landscape from rugged mountains and descends into valleys of native palms then you ascend through alpine grasses with coastlines sketching the horizon.

Mapua, Ruby Coast

This area is where food lovers are to be found. And Rabbit Island is a perfect place for a picnic. Mapua Wharf is a pedestrian area where original cool-store buildings have been repurposed into galleries, restaurants and ice cream shops. Mapua also connects with the Great Taste Trail and Rabbit Island via a cycle ferry that runs on a seasonal timetable, crossing the picturesque estuary to take riders to the other side.

Nelson is the gateway to the region.

Known as a vibrant and welcoming city, Nelson is a walkable city with clearly signposted directions and a vibrant main street supporting retail stores, cafes and restaurants. In summer there is alfresco dining on cobblestone streets.


Richmond is only minutes away from Nelson City but has its own unique character and micro-climate. Many of Tasman’s best wineries and fruit growers are situated on the outskirts of Richmond, and the nearby Appleby area is internationally famous for its real fruit ice cream and boysenberry crop, holding the title as the largest in the world.

Kahurangi National Park access

Wakefield, Brightwater and Tapawera (the gateway to the Kahurangi National Park) are also within easy reach of Richmond township.


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.

Geothermal hot springs

Not surprising Nelson has its own hot springs at Maruia Hot Springs. This is a Haast Pass temptation to stop and soak in the warm mineral water at Maruia.

St Arnaud

This popular spot is the base to access the nearby Rainbow Ski Field, which offers a diverse selection of slopes and snow-based activities for all ages and skill levels. During the summer months, the Ski Area opens for hiking and mountain biking.

Nelson festivals

MarchFest in Autumn, Moveable Feasts in Winter and the Cider Festival in Spring. More recently, pop up markets and quirky side street fare has become a feature of the central city with a microbrewery on New Street and market stalls at Kirby Lane. The city has a very popular weekly Saturday Market. The market has been operating for 40 years and is a ‘must do’ activity for visitors and locals.


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.

Suter Art Gallery

208 Bridge Street, Nelson 7010, New Zealand

Wolter Art Studio

39 Kaiteriteri Road, RD 2, Motueka, Nelson Region 7197

Mahana Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

243 Old Coach Road, Upper Moutere 7152, New Zealand

Höglund Art Glass Gallery

7081/52 Lansdowne Road, Appleby 7081, New Zealand

The Point Studio

221 Brook Street, The Brook, Nelson 7010, New Zealand

South Street Gallery

10 Nile Street West Nelson, City, Nelson, New Zealand

Craig Potton Gallery + Store

255 Hardy Street, Nelson 7010, New Zealand

Nelson Provincial Museum

Cnr Trafalgar St and Hardy Street, Nelson 7040, New Zealand

Red Art Gallery

1 Bridge Street, Nelson 7010, New Zealand

Bill Burke Gallery

15B Ajax Avenue, Nelson 7010, New Zealand

Maria Middlebrook-Wells Art Studio

159 Stringer Road, Redwood Valley 7081, New Zealand

Korimako Studio

10 Range View Road, St Arnaud 7053, New Zealand

Moutere Artisans

1380 Moutere Highway, Upper Moutere 7173, New Zealand

Great taste trail cycling route

Cycling is a popular visitor experience, encouraged by the network of trails known as Tasman’s Great Taste Trail. The loop stretches from the city to Kaiteriteri, through vineyards and past cafes and galleries, 175km of nature, food and art. Tasman’s Great Taste Trail is organised for bike hire, pickups and deliveries, a leisurely multi-day trail bike holiday or a holiday where it is shared with our activities. Urban Cycling Routes get up and biking as soon as you hit the Nelson streets.


Winter Skiing

Rainbow Ski Area is high in the north of this great mountain chain within the world famous Nelson/Marlborough lifestyle region. Reaching a height of over 1760 metres, Rainbow captures regular winter snow, complemented by extensive snow making, all superbly groomed to create a stunning winter playground.

Occasion: The ski area is serviced by St Arnaud Village, which is on the edge of the Nelson Lakes National Park and only one & a half hours drive from Nelson Airport 85 kilometres (52 miles), one & a quarter hours from Blenheim 100 kilometres (62 miles) and 35 minutes 40 kilometres (24 miles) from Murchison.

Hunting, fishing and backcountry exploration

Follow the link to our Murchison guide for inspiration on adrenaline adventures in Nelson’s backcountry including white water rafting, kayaking rapids, caving, multi-day tramps and walks in majestic National parks.


Accommodation ranges from hunting lodges, to quiet meditation retreats or natural spas located in picturesque settings, from basic backpacker lodges to everything in between.

Getting around

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.

Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles | Full Day & Half Day Tours | Abel Tasman National Park specialises in Abel Tasman beach locations, offering guided tours as well as water taxi services to Abel Tasman National Park by boat with our customised fleet of ferries and with our sea kayak company, Kaiteriteri Kayaks.

Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi: Get closer to New Zealand’s most iconic National Park. Based in Marahau, The Abel Tasman Village, we provide scheduled water taxi, private charter and scenic trips all year round, with smaller boats take passengers into areas not accessible with larger boats.

Marahau Water Taxis Transport in Abel Tasman National Park New Zealand

Located right Abel Tasman Village, we provide water taxi and scenic tours. Daily departures from Marahau into the Abel Tasman National Park. Operating year round, we have options for short walks, scenic trips, day walks and hiker transport.Free off-street car parking available. We also offer accommodation, kayaking, fantastic waterfront dining & a general store.

Kaiteriteri boat charter

Kaiteriteri Boat Charter is owned and operated by Abel Tasman Kayaks. We offer a range of half, full day and overnight charters in the Abel Tasman National Park, Marlborough Sounds and Durville Island.

Mapua Ferry – Nelson.

Mapua to Rabbit Island Ferry.

Ferry Crossing in NZ’s Cycle Trail. Built to accommodate cyclists and foot passengers, the ferry is only a ten minute trip from Rabbit Island to Mapua wharf and back again. There are also plenty of cruising options available and the ferry can be hired for private functions.

Golden Bay Air— Flights, Shuttles and Rental Cars

Shuttle buses between Nelson, Takaka, Brown Hut, Wainui Bay and Marahau to connect to the Heaphy Track and Abel Tasman Track ends. Charters available to other destinations.

Nelson Coachlines, Charters & Bus Services. The region’s primary town and country bus network.

Abel Tasman National Park Is Where You Want To Be – ScenicNZ Abel Tasman – ScenicNZ Abel Tasman

A private operator travelling between Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park via Motueka, Kaiteriteri & Marahau

Intercity Bus Service.

Travel from Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park via Motueka, Kaiteriteri & Marahau

National bus company operating in Nelson

The Heaphy Bus: Heaphy Track Bus Service specialising in access to the Heaphy Tramping Trails.

Nelson | Nelson Airport | Spooners Tunnel | Mapua Wharf | Motueka | Kaiteriteri, specialising in the transportation of bikes and the Great Taste trail

Heaphy Track Shuttle Bus Transport, Nelson. Trek Express… the longest operating tramper transport service in the Nelson Region. With many years experience we can advise and accommodate your tramping needs.

Golden Bay Coachlines | Nelson Bus & Coach Services | New Zealand Leading local bus operator offers an extensive transport service throughout Nelson.

Travel Pack

Great Taste Trail map

Beaches in Nelson:

  • Grossi Point, Tahi Street, Mapua
  • Pinehill Reserve, Nelson
  • Stafford Drive, Ruby Bay
  • McKee Domain, SH 60, Ruby Bay
  • Tapu Bay Reserve, Tapu Place, Stephens Bay
  • Stephens Bay Reserve, Anawera Crescent, Stephens Bay
  • Alex Ryder Reserve (Little Kaiteriteri) Rowling Road, Little Kaiteriteri
  • Breaker Bay, Breaker Bay, Kaiteriteri
  • Ligar Bay Reserve, Ligar Bay, Golden Bay
  • Tata Beach Reserve, Tata Beach, Golden Bay
  • Patons Rock Reserve, Patons Rock, Golden Bay
  • Pohara Esplanade, Selwyn Street, Pohara
  • Miles Reserve, Parapara Bishops Road, Parapara, Golden Bay
  • Kings Reserve, Parapara Esplanade, Golden Bay
  • Tomatea Point, Pakawau Beach Road, Golden Bay
  • Wharariki Beach, Puponga Road, Golden Bay
  • Rangihaeata Esplanade, Rangihaeata Road, Golden Bay
  • Cornwall Place Reserve, Tata Beach, Golden Bay


From Geology and landforms  Carl Walrond, ‘Nelson region – Geology and landforms’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 July 2020)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 7 Sep 2010, updated 1 Aug 2015.


Nelson’s limestones, marbles, granites, mudstones and ultramafic rocks are geologically part of rock groups found west of the Alpine Fault. These are quite diverse and complex compared to the greywacke mountains of the Southern Alps, east of the fault.

At Red Hill in the Richmond Range, there is an outcrop of ultramafic rocks, which have a striking red colour and are rich in minerals containing iron and magnesium. They form poor soils and support little vegetation. Similar rocks are found on the southern West Coast, some 480 km away – movement on the Alpine Fault has displaced them. The coarse golden-sand beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park are derived from granite.


Nelson is largely mountainous. The only extensive areas of flattish land are the Waimea Plains, the floodplains of the Motueka, Riwaka, Tākaka and Aorere rivers, and narrow coastal strips between Nelson and Motueka in Tasman Bay and Farewell Spit and Pōhara in Golden Bay.

Moutere Depression

South-east of Nelson city the Richmond Range rises to over 1,700 metres. Between these mountains and the western Arthur Range is a 25-kilometre-wide basin of lower hills, which reach 500–600 metres inland and 200–300 metres near the coast. This basin, known to geologists as the Moutere Depression, was formed by faulting. It was filled with gravel by rivers flowing northwards from the Spenser Mountains between 2.8 million and 500,000 years ago (the Buller River originally flowed north into Tasman Bay). The Motueka and Waimea rivers and their tributaries have cut into these gravel hills, creating many small valleys.

Tunnelling to Tākaka

A tunnel through Tākaka hill was first mooted in 1912. In the early 1990s a large white semi circle appeared on the rock face above Eureka Bend on the Golden Bay side of the hill – graffiti marking a proposed tunnel entrance. A 1992 investigation estimated that the cost of a 4.4-km tunnel would be uneconomic, at $200–435 million. The tunnel was never built.

Western landforms

West of the Motueka River are the Arthur Range and the Tasman Mountains. Mountains (typically 1,500 metres high) incised by rivers extend to the West Coast, making up Kahurangi National Park. Farewell Spit, New Zealand’s largest sandspit, stretches for 32 kilometres, protecting Golden Bay from Tasman Sea swells. On the western coast is Whanganui Inlet, a river system which was drowned when sea levels rose after the last glaciations. The Tākaka River valley separates the Tasman Mountains from the Arthur and Pikikiruna ranges (Tākaka hill) to the east. South of Mt Arthur, Mt Owen has New Zealand’s longest cave, Bulmer Cavern, which has been explored to over 50 kilometres in length.

Near Murchison, north of the Buller River, are huge marble and limestone outcrops in an earthquake-shattered landscape. In Kahurangi National Park many lakes have been formed by earthquake-triggered landslides blocking rivers. The Matiri Range, north of Murchison, has two spectacular plateaus – a rare New Zealand landscape. The Thousand Acres Plateau and nearby Hundred Acre Plateau (both considerably smaller than their names suggest) are unusual tussock-covered benches 800 metres above the surrounding valley floors.

Eastern landforms

Inland, the upper catchment of the Buller River dominates. Flattish land is found along the river and in tributary valleys, with settlements, farmland and roads along these narrow corridors. Nelson Lakes National Park – one of three in the region – contains Lake Rotoiti (the source of the Buller River), Lake Rotoroa, and mountains rising to over 2,000 metres in the south. These large lakes are flooded depressions carved by past glaciers, although glaciation here was less severe than further south in the higher Southern Alps.

The journey is worth it.

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