The best Nelson walks offer visitors diversity. Scenic sights vary from Te Waikoropupu springs, Wainui waterfall, Medlands Beach lush forest and gold beaches, Split Apple Rock awesome shape, the staggering beauty of remote Wharariki beach, and Grove Scenic Reserve’s moss-filled karst limestone.
The bonus, the option of spending time strolling past cafes and galleries on a Nelson city walk.
Abel Tasman National Park is a drawcard for many visitors. If you are short on time the park’s breathtaking views is showcased as you walk from Medlands Beach to Bark Bay.
1. Te Waikoropupu Pupu Springs – Takaka Walk
Explore one of New Zealand’s premier wetlands, Pupu Springs. You will see a gigantic volume of upwelling crystal-clear water. Te Waikoropupu Springs is impressive, and the surrounding regenerating forest encourages visitors to ponder our natural spaces.
Pupu Spring is a conservation in action destination, The springs feature as one of the NZ wetlands South Island best places to visit and things to do on your New Zealand holiday.
- Excellent wide firm easy to navigate boardwalk with information plaques explaining Te Waikoropupu Springs origins
- Photographs and descriptions of how Pupu Springs was degraded in the last hundred years and current conservation efforts to restore the springs
- Significance of Te Waikoropupu Springs for the Maori iwi (tribe)
Pupu Hydro Boardwalk is located nearby and well worth a visit. Pupu Hydro Walkway begins 9 km from Takaka at the end of Pupu Valley Road. Follow the road towards Te Waikoropupu Springs, turning off to the right just before the bridge crossing Waikoropupu River.
2. Wainui Waterfall, Abel Tasman National Park
A celebrity waterfall featuring in: Best 10 short walks in New Zealand and Top 10 short walks chasing waterfalls South Island – Best Bits requires its own star billing … Impossibly beautiful Abel Tasman National Park naturally is home to a picturesque waterfall, the Wainui Falls.
- Short easy 3.4 km (loop) well-formed track
- Suspension bridge for added delight on the Wainui Falls track
- The falls drop is over 20 metres onto granite boulders making for an impressive roar of water
- Nearby Takaka, with its flair for unusual things to do
3. Split Apple Rock – Kaiterteri, Nelson
Split Apple Rock is a magnificent, enormous split rock. Split Apple Rock is located in Towers Bay. The Bay has natural caves to explore, a glorious gold sandy beach, and is firm favourite for selfies and photographers alike. Split Apple Rock looks as though it is floating at high tide. Low tide provides more beach space and you can check out the rock up close as well as the caves at the northern end of the beach.
Split Apple Rock is a regular feature on kayak, paddleboard, and cruise tours based in either Kaiteriteri or Marahau.
Drive: 15 minutes
Distance: 6.8 km
Note: narrow winding road; in summer there is a surprising amount of traffic all intent on visiting Split Apple Rock.
Want a bite of natural paradise in the Abel Tasman National Park? Walk a small section of the park with the aid of easily accessible (scurrying water taxis). Medlands Beach is a great choice to dip your toes into a New Zealand scenic experience as you explore one of New Zealand’s great walks.
The picture-perfect Medlands beach track section is a coastal walk brushed with scented Manuka bushes and native ferns. Enjoy outstanding views as they swing into sight. A bucket list destination could be a forest pool with its intriguing rock slide, Cleopatra’s pool.
Cleopatra’s pool is a short detour, and remember to plan your walking distances around your scheduled water taxi pickup.
Abel Tasman National Park has wide, well-maintained trails and is very well-signposted. Torrent Bay has composting toilets, a beautiful beach, and picnic spots under mature trees. There are no shops in the National Park.
Medlands Beach to Torrent Bay Abel Tasman short walk is 12.5 km.
Excluding Cleopatra’s pool detour the walk from Medlands Beach to Torrent Bay is 3.6 km.
Wharariki Beach is a popular destination for photographers as the spectacular, extraordinarily beautiful landscape flatters the camera lens. Soak in views of lush farmland and coastal seascapes. Wharariki Beach is one of New Zealand’s best beaches for good looks.
Windswept sand dunes, a beach where sculptured rocks are perched among the waves, and an incoming tide are artistic position pieces with the light creating shadows and depth.
The beach is only accessible at low tide. The thrill of playing catch up with the tide is a challenge, and then there is the half-hour drive from Collingwood to the camping grounds car park.
There could be snoozing seals, perhaps covered in a fine layer of sand blending the seal into the surrounding gold sand. Keep at least 20 metres from wildlife and always leave space between the sea and seal for their exit plans.
Safety: monitor Wharariki tide, and do not swim at this beach due to its powerful rips. The high tide can cut access off at either end of the beach. Beauty can sometimes be dangerous.
6. Grove Scenic Reserve – Takaka
The fantasy world comes to life in the mossy, maze-like surroundings of the Grove Scenic Reserve.
Nestled amongst karst limestone outcrops and trailing northern rata (NZ native tree) is one of Golden Bay’s spectacular walking tracks. Discover a labyrinth of intriguing landforms, a gently sloping staircase, and a viewing platform taking in the open plains and Nelson beaches.
7. Maitai River Walk – Nelson City
Enjoy exploring Nelson City on one of its best walks wrapped around the Maitai River with sculptures, cafes, galleries, and rural views.
Maitai River walk is a shared pathway (bikes/walkers). The walk threads a route through Nelson following the Maitai River. Discover a walk woven into Nelson City. The 7 km pathway passes sculptures, murals, shady picnic spots, swimming holes with river beaches, and riverside cafes. Relax, revive, and enjoy scenic Nelson on the Maitai river walk.
- Maitai River mouth (Nelson City) marks the start/finish of the walk.
- You can walk as far as you desire, with cafes tempting you to people watch and soak in the holiday spirit.
- Enjoy several popular swimming holes, with their picturesque river beaches and picnic tables along the river.
- The pathway finishes at the Maitmai Valley campground.
Find out more about Nelson City popular short walks
Relish the song of New Zealand native birds as you transverse the Lake Rotoiti Circuit, Nelson Lakes National Park. An ultimate day hike experiencing the best of alpine South Island or a shortcut for those short on time or you really don’t feel like a rigorous day hike.
Enjoy St Arundel’s village hospitality and stroll on short walks with welcoming names such as:
- Bellbird walk (15 minutes one way)
- Honeydew walk (45 minutes one way)
- Various walking lengths with the longest 4.2 km
Capture the glory of a beech forest alpine walk with a stunning Lake Rotoiti peeking between trees.
- South Island, NZ alpine scenery with snow-capped peaks and dense bush
- Sound of bird song in the forest
- Chance to brave an alpine lake and take a dip (perhaps in a wetsuit)
- Photogenic and popular with photographers for the contrast between mountains, the lake, jetty, and sunset
- Lake Rotoiti is approximately 1 ½ hours drive from Nelson city
Read more about Lake Rotoiti and weather conditions.
For tips on recommended clothing and supplies, check South Island ultimate day walks, what to wear, supplies, and fitness required. Remember to check the local weather report before departing.
Managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC), the Rotoiti/Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre is in the village of St Arnaud, off State Highway 63. St Arnaud is 1 hour 30 minutes by road from Nelson
Glorious swimming holes, scenic river reserve, and plenty of short walks define your roadside stop at the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve. There are several short walks on both sides of the (busy) highway.
The circle loop track delivers a suspension bridge over the Rai River, looping back to where the track started.
For visitors short on time, a mere 900 meters on the Tawa walk is a delightful introduction. The Tawa walk starts and finishes at the camp ground side of the highway. The podocarp forest is a beautiful introduction to tawa, rimu, beech, and kahikatea native trees. Enjoy the sight of mature trees over 40 meters in height. For waterfall buffs, at the end of the track, there is signage to Elvey Stream waterfall.
Pelorus is a very special New Zealand scenic landscape which is not actually located within the boundaries of Nelson province. Picton to Nelson is a much travelled route due to the Interislander ferry disembarking in Picton.
The state highway (six) is busy as holidaymakers flock to Nelson’s beaches and forests. Take a break at the top of the South Island at the Pelorus Scenic Reserve. Pile the kids out of the vehicle, and you will not regret the break.
45 min from Nelson | 40 min from Blenheim; this walk belongs to the top of the South Island.
10. Maruia Waterfall & Buller River Suspension Bridge – Murchison
Experience trepidation as you cross New Zealand’s longest swing bridge over the Buller River. Nearby is the dramatic Maruia horseshoe waterfalls with a scenic lookout on the way with great views of the Buller suspension bridge and Buller River.
As you depart from Murchison you will notice signs for Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park. It’s the home of New Zealand’s longest swing bridge. Crossing the white water magic of the Buller River on a swing bridge is an adventure. The suspension swing bridge leads to a park where you can pan for gold and learn about the gold mining heritage of the area.
The 10-metre horsefalls are dramatic and easily viewed from the base viewing platform. An easy 10-minute walk from the car park. Murchison is part of the administrative region of Nelson, although you feel a world away from the gold sandy beaches, the wine trails, and urban Nelson city.
The distance between the Buller Swing Bridge and the Maruia waterfalls is 14 km. There is not a separate walking track between the two points, meaning any walk would entail hiking on a busy highway.
… and we can count up to ten, however, let’s keep on going with a list of great Nelson walking trails!
11. Nelson Heritage Cemeteries & Victorian Architecture
Amble through historic graveyards, read information plaques about people long forgotten, and enjoy the elaborate wooden facades of Victorian gold rush era architecture.
- Stories of epidemics, farming accidents, and fortitude
- Find out where infamous murderers are buried
Nelson city 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.
Collingwood has a rich legacy of buildings, from government post offices, police stations and courthouses.
COLLINGWOOD HERITAGE TRAIL HIGHLIGHTS
- Victorian and Edwardian town buildings in Collingwood, from the police station to a courthouse
- Gold trail with evidence of sluicing and caves worthy of exploration
- One of NZ’s oldest continuously operated grocery stores with ownership in a single family. Definitely worth the time spent devouring homemade scones and a coffee
- Cemeteries where the stories of the past are writ large on suitably moss-covered tombstones
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.
12. Rawhiti, Museum Cave
Takaka is home to Rawhiti, Museum natural cave. The cave is striking for its large stalagmites and twilight flora. Rawhiti, Museum Caves are enormous with a very wide 40 metre opening allowing the sunlight to penetrate. The dramatic entrance is a highlight on a beautiful walk through the original forest.
CLOSED DUE TO ROCK FALL – CHECK RAWHITI CAVES Department of Conservation online resource for updates.
- A walk through native forest, nikau trees providing a shady canopy to the entrance
- Viewing platform with twilight zone plants, algae, stalactites and stalagmites
- Unlit natural caves with uneven ground
- Steep staircase to the entrance
- Torches, and hiking boots required
BEST BITS TRAVEL GUIDE