Highlighting the best things to do in Nelson New Zealand, this article was written by local Amanda Horak. She guides us through the city of Nelson, shows us where to relax or to hike, and then leads us into the surrounding region for adventure and panoramic natural beauty.
Nelson is known for many things, including being the geographical centre of New Zealand. It’s called the “Sunshine capital of New Zealand” for a reason! In 2019, Nelson recorded 2,859 hours of sunshine.
It’s a great stop on your tour through New Zealand. Stay for at least 4 nights so you have time to tour Nelson and take one-hour day trips to see the surrounding Nelson/Tasman region.
Nelson’s central business district (CBD) is alive and easy to navigate. Trafalgar St is the main drag, and the top of the street is closed off with outdoor seating for restaurants. Don’t forget to also venture down the cross streets of Hardy and Bridge as they have great restaurants and shopping.
Be inspired …
Relaxing things to do in Nelson
When you start to explore Nelson, you get the feeling of a quaint beach town where time slows, and you can take a moment to breathe in the easy life. The sunshine beckons you to sit outside.
If you are a beach person, then Tahunanui Beach is a great place to sit or take a walk. The photo highlights Tahunanui Beach at low tide with the Port Hills of Nelson in the background. Just on the other side of the hills is the CBD.
Wineries, breweries, and art
You should also relax at one of the 30+ wineries or the 10+ craft breweries. Did you know that Nelson region is the only place in New Zealand where hops is commercially grown? Talk about local fresh craft brew. If you like beer, then you will love it here.
To work up your thirst, you can visit some of the 40+ art galleries. Beautiful arts and crafts are created here in Nelson by some talented artists, potters, weavers, and woodturners. After a day of looking at art and drinking wine and beer, save room to fill your belly.
Where to eat
The Nelson CBD has so many wonderful places to eat. Trafalgar, Hardy, and Bridge streets all have great restaurants with a variety of cuisine to choose. There are even some nice bars if you are up for an after-dinner cocktail.
Nelson activities: Outdoor things to do in Nelson
If you have done enough relaxing, you may want to do some tramping around the region. Around Nelson, there are many other nature walks.
Hike to the centre of New Zealand
Trek up the hill to the centre of NZ, where you will have panoramic views of Nelson. Don’t forget to take a picture of your feet next to the plaque at the Centre of New Zealand in Nelson.
Gardens in Nelson
Don’t forget the beautiful gardens in Nelson. Near the entrance to the centre of New Zealand, walk are two popular parks, Queens Garden and Miyazu Japanese Garden.
Enjoy a bicycle ride
You can also rent bicycles (electric or not) and ride around the area, doing Great Taste trails for wine, beer, and food.
A fun and easy ride is to drive to Mapua Wharf (approx. 30 minutes away), rent a bike, and hop on the little ferry that takes you to Rabbit Island, where you can ride around a forest. Take the ferry back, where you can have dinner and drinks on the wharf.
If you don’t have a car or a bicycle, you can do this with a self-guided tour.
Try to stay over a weekend so you can experience the Saturday morning market. It’s a great place to shop and mingle with the locals.
Day trips from Nelson
Nelson is the largest city in the upper South Island, nestled on the shores of Tasman Bay. If you want to get back in the car and do some quick day trips, Nelson is a great central point to set up base camp.
Abel Tasman National Park
(One hour drive from Nelson)
Tramps range from easy to difficult in Abel Tasman National Park, and you are guaranteed some of the most beautiful scenery in all of New Zealand. At 22,530 hectares, it is hard to believe it is the smallest national park. The golden sand beaches and turquoise water won’t disappoint. Discover the park with this full-day professionally guided hiking adventure that includes lunch and a scenic cruise.
Havelock for greenshell mussels
(One hour drive from Nelson)
Visit the city of Havelock and take a Greenshell mussel tour to see how mussels are farmed and have a glass of wine and some fresh steamed mussels on the boat. An added bonus is that you get to see three of the four Marlborough Sounds!
Nelson Lakes National Park
(Ninety-minute drive from Nelson)
Nelson Lakes National Park is 102,000 hectares of the northernmost Southern Alps, with amazing natural beauty to enjoy in the summer and winter. If you like to fish, the town of St. Arnaud is at the entrance of Nelson Lakes National Park. There, you can fish the lake or many of the pristine rivers.
(About ninety minutes drive from Nelson)
Even the town of Murchison, at Four Rivers Plain, is another popular spot for fly fishing.
Takaka and the Te Waikoropupū Springs
(Two hours drive from Nelson)
Don’t miss the quaint town of Takaka and the world-famous Te Waikoropupū Springs. Also known as PuPu Springs, where there is an easy 0.4 kms walk to see some of the clearest and freshest water in the world (but don’t touch the water! It is spiritually significant to Māori).
Where to stay in Nelson
There are so many more things to do in Nelson and its surroundings. It is a great place to set up base camp and spend a week taking it all in.
My husband and I run Heights House at the Cliffs, a Bed & Breakfast. We often have guests stay for four to seven days. They leave their luggage and take off to tour Nelson, or do day trips, returning back in time for dinner at one of Nelson’s great restaurants.
Come to Nelson for a visit, and leave with memories of a lifetime.
Save on your NZ trip with these resources
These are our go-to companies when we travel. We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels) or BookABatch (self-contained).
- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Activity discounts: we check Bookme.com for discounts of up to 70% on activities.
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
*World Nomads provides travel insurance for travellers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
Nelson is the final stop on Albom Adventure’s recommended west coast South Island road trip itinerary.
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About Amanda Horak
When Amanda and her husband travelled around New Zealand together in 2017, they had planned to live in the USA. But, they fell in love with Nelson, and have since made it their home. Together, they run Height House B&B overlooking the beautiful Tasman Bay and the Port Hills and have even been featured on House Hunters International. Never regretting their decision to move to New Zealand, they love finding new things to do and see around the Nelson/Tasman region and sharing it all with their guests. Learn more by following them on Instagram.
What will you do in sunny Nelson?
More from the South Island you might also like … or check out 18 Extraordinary Things to Do in the South Island.
Ooo, greenshell mussels, do they taste different than “regular” mussels? I love the color of the shell!
No, I think they taste the same.
Rob + Ann
So many great options that we think we’d love! Didn’t know Nelson is the geographic center of the country. That just makes it that much more interesting! Would love to tackle some of the hikes and day trips in the Nelson area. Thanks for all the info!
Nelson looks like a great base to head out and explore the town and surroundings.
I have never been to New Zealand. Sounds like some amazing hiking opportunities there. This is a great guide to all things NZ. Also I did a group tour last year that was so worthwhile. We saw so much more that way with the informed guide.
Can I just say that I love how you introduce this town in the beginning of this post? I was practically hooked after learning that this is the geographic center of NZ and the sunshine capital of the country! The Japanese garden in Nelson looks so quaint, and I would not be able to pass up a day trip out to Te Waikoropupū Springs. That water is unbelievable! Also very good to know that it should not be touched out of respect for Maori spiritual traditions!
So many things to do in Nelson! However, I was more intrigued by the day trips within the area. Especially Abel Tasman National Park and Takaka. The color of Te Waikoropupū Springs is insanely gorgeous.
Your picture of Nelson Lakes National Park was enough to convince me to visit Nelson! What a beautiful place – love that there is so much to do in close proximity to it. I’m hoping to move down under soon so let’s hope I get to visit Nelson sometime in the near future.
Beautiful! I would love to go on the Greenshell mussel tour. We have never visited New Zealand but my Dad went a couple of years ago and loved it!
This looks like such a cool place to visit. We missed it during our time in New Zealand, but would love to visit again!
Hi Rhonda – it’s a part of the world I’d love to visit … looks beautiful with lots on offer. Enjoy the ease into Spring … take care – Hilary
This looks like a marvelous place to visit. I’d love to be able to check it out!
Mei and Kerstin
We’ve never visited new Zealand but it’s on our bucket list. We’ve never heard of Nelson though. It seems like a beautiful area, especially the crystal clear waters in Takaka. And then, when it gets the nickname of “Sunshine capital of New Zealand”, one has to spend some time there, right?! 🙂
Ahh what a great article! We love your blog..
Looks like you had a wonderful time in Nelson! Gorgeous views and the weather looks just fine
Nelson looks like a beautiful city! NZ is still on my list to visit one day so I will definitely have to add Nelson to the list for when I do 🙂 Thanks for this guide!
We were in Nelson last December, nice place but growing so fast.
This looks like a gorgeous place! I definitely want to rent a bike and take the ferry to Rabbit Island. I haven’t been to New Zealand…yet. But now I have to include this when I finally get to go!
Alex J. Cavanaugh
I’d definitely take the drive to see those mountains covered in snow.
Nelson looks wonderful, but that’s no surprise! I think the first thing I’d check out would be the National Park 🙂
I’ve never heard of this part of New Zealand but it looks like there are a lot of things to do here!
Wow! What a great intro to Nelson! I love places that have a claim to fame, ie being the geographical center of NZ! Looks like a great place, with great opportunities for day trips!
This is such a useful post for the area. I am also insanely jealous because when we visited Te Waikoropupū Springs last year, it had rained ALL day and we couldn’t see anything!! Such an amazing place and you’ve done it justice in your descriptions!
I’m definitely going to New Zealand when it’s safe to fly again– you had me sold on the seafood and turquoise water!
New Zealand is super high up on my travel bucket list!! I’d love to hang out at the beach and hike all over the place there. The gardens + National Park would be awesome to check out too!