city on the South Island, New Zealand
Oceania > New Zealand > South Island > Nelson Bays > Nelson (New Zealand)

Nelson (Māori: Whakatū) is the second oldest settled city in New Zealand and the oldest in the South Island. It is in a region often known as Nelson Bays or the "Top of the South" and is actually slightly north of the capital city of Wellington in the North Island.

Nelson is the geographical centre of the country and, together with the satellite town of Richmond, has a population of around 55,000 (2022) ranking it as New Zealand's tenth most populous city.

It's surrounded by three national parks and is the smallest city in the world to have its own symphony orchestra.

Understand edit

Nelson is named after the British Admiral, Lord Nelson. It's a beautiful coastal city set amongst some of New Zealand's most stunning scenery. With over 2,500 hours of sunshine a year, Nelson is also usually New Zealand's sunniest city. The city is the economic and cultural centre for the Nelson-Tasman region and offers an excellent range of shopping, eating and cultural experiences with an abundance of parks, rivers, beaches and nature trails to explore.

The Nelson region covers five distinct geographic areas:

  • The urban agglomeration of Nelson & Richmond
  • The highways of Mapua, Motueka, Moutere, through rolling horticultural land
  • The idyllic coastline of Abel Tasman National Park
  • The heart of the parks, Golden Bay between Kahurangi and Abel Tasman national parks
  • The alpine lakes and rivers around St Arnaud - Nelson Lakes & Murchison including Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi national parks
Its unusual boulder bank protects Nelson from the worst effects of a tsunami

The Nelson economy is based on the ‘big four’ industries of seafood, horticulture, tourism and forestry. Port Nelson is the biggest fishing port in Australasia and there are also a range of growth industries, including arts and craft, aviation, engineering technology, and information technology.

Main street of Founders Heritage Park in The Wood, Nelson

Nelson is New Zealand's oldest city. (Although it was only proclaimed a Bishop's See and city under letters patent by Queen Victoria on 27 September 1858 and after Christchurch's city charter, Pakeha settlement had started in earnest in Nelson in 1841, a full nine years before the good ship Charlotte-Jane arrived in Christchurch on 16 December 1850.)

Nelson is the city where, if asked, most Kiwis say they would like to move to and has a small but rapidly growing Māori population. per capita, Nelson also has the highest settled population of people from Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, the Philippines and the United Kingdom in New Zealand. There are also large concentrations of settled refugees from Bhutan and Burma, in the Victory Square and Wood areas, including the largest population of Kayan (Yan Pa Doung in Shan or "Padaung") outside of the Golden Triangle. The Kayan Lahwi (some of whose high status women used to wear brass neck coils) were treated as a sort of "human zoo" before they left South East Asia because of their long ("giraffe") necks. All this harmonious ethnic diversity means that the shops and Saturday morning market (in Montgomery Square) are a great place to buy foods and delicacies difficult to find elsewhere in New Zealand.

Nelson i-SITE at Millers Acre Centre

The Top of the South region's tourism organisation is Nelson Tasman Tourism, which operates i-SITE Visitor Information Centres in Nelson City, Takaka in Golden Bay and in Murchison.

Get in edit

By bus edit

InterCity is the national coach company, with daily services to Nelson from around the South Island, including from Picton, the port for the Cook Strait ferries from Wellington.

Mareikura (Noble Lady), the oldest known matai tree at 2000 years old, in Happy Valley, near Nelson was felled in a 2014 storm

By plane edit

  • 1 Nelson Airport (NSN IATA). The sixth busiest in New Zealand and yet succeeds in delivering checked baggage very quickly. It has a Koru lounge upstairs (lift access) with a good view of flight operations and the Kahurangi Ranges across Tasman Bay.    

EBus Route 4 connects the airport to central Nelson; every 30 minutes during the day (last departure from airport 6:22pm). Supershuttle offers door-door van services.

By car edit

Two hours driving from Picton, 1.5 hr from Blenheim and 6 hr driving from Christchurch via either SH1 and Kaikoura or the slightly shorter and more scenic SH6 route over the Lewis Pass and via Murchison.

Get around edit

Map of Nelson (New Zealand)

The original city centre, comprising the CBD and The Wood is small enough to walk around, but for access from the surrounding suburbs and around the sites and attractions of the whole city and region you'll likely want to rent a car, take a taxi, or have a fresh set of legs and a bicycle.

By bus edit

Ebus is Nelson's city bus service. Four routes in Nelson city operate at 30 minute intervals. Less frequent regional routes to Wakefield and Motueka. Fares $2 in Nelson/Richmond with a Beecard.

  1. Richmond via Tahunanui and Stoke
  2. Richmond via Bishopdale and Stoke
  3. Atawhai via The Wood and central Nelson to Victory Sqare/Hospital
  4. The Brook via central Nelson to Washington Valley/Port Hills and Airport.
  5. Nelson to Richmond, Mapua, Motueka (4/day Monday-Friday).
  6. Nelson to Richmond, Brightwater, Wakefield (6/day Monday-Friday).

For late night party goers there is also an excellent "Late Late Bus" which runs on the hour Friday and Saturday nights only from 11PM until 3:15AM from Trafalgar Street to Richmond. The outbound service travels via Tahunanui and stops as required at designated, well-lit stops. The inbound service leaves Richmond on the half hour and travels into the city via Bishopdale. (There is no midnight service from Nelson and no 12:30AM service from Richmond). Fare: $4.

By bicycle edit

Nelson has a network of cycle routes for leisure and mountain biking.

See edit

Church Steps (sometimes called the Cawthron Steps) from Trafalgar Street up to the 60s bell tower of Nelson's Christ Church Cathedral
  • 1 Christ Church Cathedral Nelson. viewing 9AM-6PM. a historic and often photographed Nelson landmark. Features iconic granite steps from Trafalgar Street to the Cathedral. Sunday Eucharist and Evensong services, usually with Choir.    
  • 2 Elliott Street heritage precinct. To quote the most relevant website: "Elliott Street in Nelson is one of the earliest, and most complete examples, of state housing in New Zealand. The special heritage area includes homes that date from the 1860s through to the 1940s, spread over thirty four properties on Trafalgar, Elliott and Collingwood Streets. Within the precinct are well-preserved houses showing a progression of architectural design. Twenty three original houses of the 20 four-lot, Winearls Settlement for Workers Homes, still remain, and thirty one houses are listed heritage buildings."
  • 3 Founders Park. daily 10AM - 4:30PM. A collection of historic buildings that were re-located from sites in Nelson, many with interior mini-museums or historical displays. There is an organic brewery (the only one in the Southern Hemisphere) with an attached cafe that serves good meals. There is also a craft bakery, a chocolate shop, and a railway that runs on weekends. A great place to spend a half day or more. Adult $11, child $5.
  • 4 Melrose House, 26 Brougham St, +64 3 548-9179, . Summer: daily 9AM-5PM; winter: W-Su 9AM-5PM. Highly polished, native rimu floors, high ceilings and crystal chandeliers, this grand old Victorian lady hosts a cafe and is owned by Nelson City Council so you can rubber neck its classic features such as deeply moulded sash windows and fire surrounds as well as ornate balustrading on the timber staircase to your heart's content without paying an admission fee. A self-tour garden map details the extensive sheltered, private gardens surrounding the house, including its historic specimen trees. There's a great view past the Cathedral's tower to Tasman Bay if you're having a picnic on its sloping lawns.    
  • The 5 Museum: Town Acre 445 (The Nelson Provincial Museum), 266 Hardy St (corner of Trafalgar and Hardy Streets), +64 3 548-9588, fax: +64 3 548-9589, . M-F 10AM-5PM, Sa Su public holidays 10AM-4:30PM, closed Christmas Day. A terrific local museum utilising the very latest display technology. Free for Nelson residents, otherwise $5.
  • 6 WOW The World of Wearable Art and Collectable Cars. A museum dedicated to the fashion show that was held in the Trafalgar Centre over seven nights in September each year until 2004. (The shows are now held in Wellington, but the museum remains in Nelson.) Thousands of people come from all over the world to see the most amazing (and sometimes bizarre) fashions made out of all kinds of materials. There is literally no limit to the exhibiting designer's imaginations.
  • 7 Suter Art Gallery, 208 Bridge Street. daily 9:30AM – 4:30PM. Has a large collection with emphasis on works by such 19th century artists as Gully, Lindauer and Van der Velden. free.
  • 8 Miyazu Japanese Garden. Inspired by Nelson's sister city Miyazu in Japan, is a traditional Japanese stroll garden creating a tranquil environment. Look out for the cherry blossoms in spring.
  • 9 Natureland, 1 Hounsell Circle, Tahunanui (near Tahunanui Beach). daily 9:30AM – 4:30PM. A relatively small and amateurish zoo. Good for children due to low fences and short walking distance around the zoo. Contains wallabies, monkeys, meerkats, otters, llamas, a small aviary and more. Adult $12.
  • 10 Tahunanui Beach. one of the safest and finest family beaches in NZ. The ever popular and reported Beach Cafe lies adjacent to it for great food and drinks. Bus transport to and from Nelson available - see timetable.
  • 11 The Centre of New Zealand. A short walk up a hill close to the city centre and reachable from the Botanic Garden (where the first game of Rugby was played in New Zealand). Good view from the top and an interesting walk through exotic and native vegetation to get to the Trigonometrical Point and Marker at the top.
  • 12 Queens Gardens, Bridge Street. Pleasant park, with a small Chinese garden. The park was opened in 1892 to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  
  • 13 Isel House and Park (16 Hilliard Street, Stoke). house: Tu-F 10AM-3PM, Sa noon-4PM. Victorian house with antique furnishings and original Marsden ceramic collections. Nice gardens with aged trees. $7 suggested donation.
  • 14 Broadgreen House, 276 Nayland Road, Stoke. Daily: Oct-May 10:30AM–4:30PM; Apr-Sep 11AM–3PM. The house is an excellent example of early colonial cob construction. It was built in 1855 for a family with six daughters.The house has various 18th and 19th century furniture and fittings, including a quilt made in Ireland in 1776. Next the house, the Samuels Rose Garden has 3,000 plants. $7.

Do edit

  • 1 Cable Bay Adventure Park, 194 Cable Bay Rd, Hira. All sorts of outdoor activities, including a 3.2-km flying fox, mountain biking, quad biking, horse riding, paintball, archery and riding an amphibious 8-wheel all-terrain vehicle.
  • 2 Fly a kite. Afternoons are best. The annual Kite Festival brings enthusiasts from all over the world to Neale Park because of its consistently steady northerly breezes that come from Tasman Bay. These are "Goldilocks" winds - not too fierce and not too slack. Fun for all ages and, once you've begged, borrowed or bought a kite, free of further charges! There are public toilets where you can also get drinking water. Ample free parking in North Road where there is also a children's playground with a flying fox, swings and climbing frame. Free.
  • 3 Haulashore Island. This island was formed when The Cut was blasted through the Boulder Bank to make access to Nelson's Haven easier for shipping and has a small pond and stands of wilding pines.
    • 4 toilet. Worldwide, one of the better legacies of being colonised by the British was the provision of public parks and toilets and Haulashore Island maintains that cultural legacy by having a single, Unisex, DoC-type long drop
    • 5 seals. Haul themselves ashore to sunbathe and relax. In New Zealand, it is a crime to disturb or move any marine mammal and you should not approach too near as they can inflict a nasty bite.
    • 6 sand beach. The foreshore is mostly rocky or with pebbles but there is a tiny sandy beach where wind surfers and yachtsmen like to come ashore.
      • 2 The Ferry, Wakefield Quay, +64 3 539-1116, +64 21 634 608. As well as the Styx bistro, the quay has the early settlers' memorial listing the first few years' worth of ships that arrived here 1841-1850, so there is plenty to keep you occupied if you just missed The Ferry sailing.
  • Nelson wineries. Visit and taste 23 wineries located around the district.
  • Nelson walkways. Over 22 walks around and in the surrounding district.
  • Skydive Abel Tasman. Nelson is one of the best places in the world to sky dive because the jump is on the border of the Southern Alps and Abel Tasman. When you jump, you soar over snow capped mountains, and then hover over a marvellous beach. It's so pristine and unique.
  • 7 Riverside Swimming Pool, Riverside Dr, +64 3 546-3221. Lane swimming M-F 6-9:30AM, noon-1:30PM, 5-7PM; Sa Su 9AM-noon. Public swimming M-F 9:30AM-noon, 1:30-5PM; Sa Su noon-5PM. Heated 30-m main lane pool, toddlers' pool and spa pools with jets together with a gym and weights room. $4.80, 5-18 yr $3, <5 yr $2.
  • Participate in a 8 bone carving workshop, 87 Green St (close to Tahuna Beach), +64 3 546-4275. Design and create your own bone carving with guidance from an experienced bone carver. It takes about half a day and you end up with a polished product of your own creation. $79.
  • 9 Rodeo, A & P Showgrounds, Queen St, Richmond, +64 3 522-4667. Typically summer Saturdays 11:30AM-4PM. Events usually include Bareback, Saddle Bronc, Calf Roping, Barrel Race, Steer Wrestling, Bull Ride, Team Roping, Steer Ride and Calf Ride. This Nelson venue participates in the New Zealand Rodeo Cowboy Association circuit and regularly features cowboys and cowgirls from all over New Zealand together with Australia, Canada and the US. $15, 5-18 yr $5, <5 yr free.
  • 10 Rugby union (Trafalgar Park). Home of the Tasman Makos won the ITM Cup championships in 2013. $10 and up, children 12 and under are free.
  • Go swimming in the river up the Maitai Valley or Lee River Valley. You can hitch hike up there if you don't have a car. Take a sandwich and some water.

Buy edit

  • Nelson Saturday Market, Montgomery Square car park, central Nelson. Sa 8AM-1PM. Stalls overflow with local products - fresh organic vegetables, fruit and flowers, locally farmed organic salmon, goat cheeses and many kinds of crafts including silk painting, jewellery, pottery, weaving and wood turning. The variety of sculptures, artisan furniture, bone carvings, pottery and forged blades are a testimony to the concentration of artists and craftsmen that live in Nelson and come to chat and sell their wares. There are food stalls and many Nelsonians meet for a late leisurely breakfast at one of the many coffee stalls. Not to be missed, but don't sleep in too late as the market is usually over by 2PM.
  • Jens Hansen Gold and Silversmith, 320 Trafalgar Square, +64 3 548-0640, . M-F 9AM-5PM (5:30PM in summer), Sa 9AM-2PM, Su (summer only) 10AM-1PM; closed public holidays. Makers of the "World's Most Famous Ring". Visit the workshop where the original "One Ring" prop for Peter Jackson's The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies was designed and created. This studio is well-known for producing beautiful, hand-finished jewellery that is uniquely crafted 'to-be-worn.'
  • 1 Organic Green Grocer. Nelson is famous for its fresh and tasty local produce and this rather "alternative" emporium showcases much of the best. Interesting and useful community noticeboards are inside and out and just opposite in Tasman Street, on the corner of Grove Street, are three of the oldest and smallest cottages in Nelson.

Eat edit

Nelson has a wide variety of excellent cafes and restaurants using fresh local produce. Nelson is the largest fishing port in Australasia, so the fresh seafood is always great!

For the best fish and chips within 10,000 miles (according to the Wikimapia author, click the highlighted link to see the exact location right next to Guytons Fisheries Ltd on Wakefield Quay.)

  • Akbabas Turkish Kebab House, 130 Bridge St, +64 3 548-8825. One of Nelson's most popular take-away restaurants. They offer wicked veggie and meat kebabs that come wrapped in flat tortilla-like bread. $7-12.
  • The Beach Cafe and Bar, Tahunanui Reserve, Tahuna, +64 3 546-4617. daily. Reviewed in the Sunday Star Times as the place to go - enjoy this all year round beach location with finest home-made food and drink on offer. Always the warmest of welcomes. Best coffee [see New Zealand Coffee Guide] and right on the beach. Kids friendly. Highchairs. Parking. Zoo. Tennis and Parklands. From $8.
  • The Hot Rock Gourmet Pizza Pasta Bar, 8-10 Tahunanui Dr, +64 3 546-4421. By the beach this restaurant serves the region's only wood-fired gourmet pizza as well as delicious pasta, healthy salads, hearty ribs, mussels and wicked desserts. Casual and friendly - a must visit in Nelson. From $15.50.
  • 1 The Styx, 272 Wakefield Quay, Stepneyville, +64 3 548-1075, . 10:30AM-late.

Drink edit

Craft brewing edit

Early settlers from both England and northern Germany found the hops that they had brought with them grew well in this region and they soon started to develop and propagate peculiarly New Zealand varieties such as Motueka, Nelson and Riwaka. Within a century or so, Nelson grown hops became valued as both high quality and disease free. Nowadays, all of New Zealand's commercial crop is grown in a triangle roughly formed by Brightwater, Motueka and Tapawera. The six week harvesting period in early autumn provides seasonal work for backpackers.

How natural then that Nelson is now renowned as the craft brewing capital of Oceania. A baker's dozen of craft breweries of varying size now stretch from the Mussel Inn Brewery of Onekaka in Golden Bay to the swanky new bar of Founders Brewery opposite the windmill in Founders Park, Nelson. Most of these breweries welcome visitors for tours and subsequent sampling at their in-brewery bars.

  • 1 Founders Brewery, 87 Atawhai Dr, +64 3 548 4638. Six generations of family brewing history have culminated in this bar and café where you can watch the brewing process through the glass wall, while enjoying a meal or sampling their production

Bars edit

Many bars are located in the Central Business District on Bridge Street between Collingwood and Trafalgar Streets.

  • The Free House, 95 Collingwood St (Opposite the Indian cafe), +64 3 548-3887. M-Th ~3-10PM, F ~3-11PM, Sa ~noon-11PM, Su ~noon-10PM. a fine pub that serves brews from mostly local micro breweries (Mussel Inn, Moa, Founders, Twisted Hop, Emersons etc.) The beer menu changes regularly. Wine, soft drinks and light food also available.
  • 2 Milton Street Sprig and Fern Tavern, 134 Milton St, The Wood (just round the corner from Amber House). Awarded New Zealand's 'Best Bar' in the 2012 Hospitality New Zealand Awards for Excellence after winning Nelson 'Bar of the Year' Although they don't do meals themselves, they have a sort of symbiotic relationship with the Takeaway right next door and will even supply cutlery to your table. No piped music - just good beer and conversation. Their unusual blackcurrant cider is a very pleasant tipple.
  • Pheasant Plucker in the Bush Tavern, 87 Grove St, The Wood (down the road from the Organic Greengrocer), +64 3 548-1424. Su-Th 11AM-9PM, F Sa 11AM-10PM. Oldest in Nelson and possibly the South Island (1858); also does home style cooked meals
  • The Oyster Bar (115 Hardy St) has fancy drinks and a small menu of seafood items. Fresh oysters are available most of the time while the bar is open Th-Su.
  • Stingray, 8 Church St. Until 3AM. Has dance music and two bars.
  • Hardy Street Sprig and Fern Tavern, 280 Hardy St. It is a pub in the old-fashioned sense. A place for serious beer drinkers, there are up to 16 types of beer on tap. There are no TVs or pokies (gambling machines).

Sleep edit

Nelson offers an range of accommodation including backpackers, bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), holiday homes, hotels, lodges, resorts, serviced apartments and motels.

Budget edit

  • Maitai Valley Motor Camp, 472 Maitai Valley Rd (6 km from central Nelson). Camp sites from $10, cabins from $40.
  • 1 YHA Nelson Central, 59 Rutherford St, +64 3 545-9988. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. In the heart of the city this 5 star hostel is ideally situated for exploring the city of Nelson and the surrounding area. The friendly and helpful staff can assist with anything from advising on local shops, cafes and restaurants to activities and tours. The hostel has excellent kitchen facilities with all you could need, as well as large dining and relaxing areas. The garden is great for summer BBQs and relaxing in the afternoon. They offer a selection of accommodation from shared rooms to double en-suites. $32 (dorm bed) to $119 per person (double en suite room).

B&Bs edit

1897 Amber House with the Centre of New Zealand visible above the roof line.)
  • 2 Amber House - at the centre!, 46 Weka St (when entering Nelson from the SH6 roundabout, turn first right from Trafalgar St opposite Rugby Ground and then Wainui St becomes Weka St after 300 m), +64 3 539-0605, +64 21 202 4961 (Mobile), fax: +44 7005 963 437 (fax server in Northern Ireland), . Check-in: by arrangement, usually after 2PM, check-out: usually before 10:35AM. Open all year, clean B&B in a lovely 1897 villa that used to be a school for girls and little boys. Traditional Rose Garden with the oldest walnut tree in the South Island hidden away at the back of the plot. One of the few that still offers a full cooked breakfast. Full board and room service available. Has satellite HD TV, Wi-Fi, double glazing and air-conditioning. Bedrooms have en-suite showers. Quiet fringe of CBD location. Smoking or smokers not allowed(!) The Amber family first came to Nelson in 1842 but can understand some French, Fukien Chinese, German, Malay and Spanish. $79-249, party of 4 from $37 each.
  • 3 Retiro Park Lodge, 152 Teal Valley (coming from Nelson City: take SH6 direction Blenheim. When you arrive in Hira (13 km from Nelson), pass the school (on your right hand side) and then take the second turn off the main road (approx 1.5 km from the school) on the right side (Teal Valley). The Lodge is 1.5 km from the main road. Coming from Blenheim towards Nelson on SH6: At the bottom of the Whangamoa Saddle after you cross the Teal River Bridge, turn left sharply into Teal Valley. If you miss the turn off and you arrive in Hira you've passed the junction. Turn back at the petrol station and take the second turn off the main road to the right into Teal Valley.), +64 3 545-0118, . Check-in: 2:30PM, check-out: 10AM. Exclusive B&B set in a park on a 70-acre property 17 km from Nelson CBD with its own vineyard, olive and almond groves and a swimming pool. Dinners, featuring the best of the local Nelson and New Zealand’s seasonal produce and wines, are made by arrangement. Smokers welcome. Hosts speak native French and Spanish. $235-345.
  • Meadowbank Homestead - Awaroa, +64 3 528-2027, toll-free: 0800 223 582 (New Zealand only), 1800-139 341 (Australia only), . Check-in: 2:30PM, check-out: 10AM. Awaroa and Torrent Bay Lodge are both on the beach frontage in Abel Tasman National Park. Hosted by the Wilson family, direct descendants of the first European settlers to the area. Wilsons’ uniquely isolated beachfront lodges can only be accessed on foot by walking along the coast. All rooms twin/double with en suite bathroom; all bedding and towels provided; drying room; central heating and open fire for winter comforts. Meals are freshly prepared by your hosts at the Lodge and there is a bar serving hand-picked local specialities. $935-2035 includes all transfers into the National Park.

Mid-range edit

  • Awaroa Lodge & Cafe, Postal address only: PO Box 422, Motueka 7143 (Awaroa Bay, Abel Tasman National Park), +64 3 528-8758, toll-free: 0508 488 066, fax: +64 3 528-6561, . a beautiful lodge inside the Abel Tasman National Park offering amazing food in a very beautiful place, accessible via the Abel Tasman NP track system, or by water taxi from Nelson or Takaka. (There is also now a cheaper summer time service direct from Nelson Port. The previous service went bust so might be a good idea to ring first.)
  • Harbourside Motor Lodge. In Nelson Port with marina views from most of the units. Continental or cooked breakfast available. Close to restaurants, cafes, galleries, shopping.
  • Haulashore Views (Port Hills Holiday Home), +64 4 899-0548. Stunning sea views from one of Nelson City's finest locations. A comfortable and modern home offering peace, space and true convenience with all the comforts of home. A short stroll from the waterfront's award winning restaurants and cafés and less than 5 min drive to the city centre or Tahunanui Beach. Both short and long term enquiries welcomed. Up to 8 guests.

Splurge edit

Connect edit

The local public library offers both free Wi-Fi and free Internet connected computers to locals and non-locals alike!

Cope edit

Consulates edit

  •   Iceland, 5 Noel Jones Dr, +64 3 545-2944, fax: +64 3 545-2942, . Mr Sigurgeir Pétursson is the Honorary Consul but if you are at Port Nelson, 30 Vickerman St may help you contact him.

Go next edit

North edit

East edit

South & west edit

  • Wakefield – small town 25 km to the south-west
  • Nelson Lakes
  • Murchison - visit the district museums in Murchison
  • Reefton
  • Westport
Routes through Nelson
BlenheimRai Valley  N   S  WakefieldMurchison

This city travel guide to Nelson is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.