The Seven P’s (a military adage):
Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents P**s Poor Performance.
We all remember Geography lessons; staring at maps and trying to decipher the icons, squiggles and unusual shapes. Imagining what the landscape looked like in reality. That was a few moons ago for most of us… I now love a good map. Further than that; I’m happy to share a few maps to help you plan your adventure when you visit Nelson. Hopefully this will enable you to be better informed when you call us to book a tour involving the Great Taste Trail (GTT).
The Heart of Biking
The official website for the GTT – The Heart of Biking has comprehensive information, maps, services and the latest news regarding Nelson’s favourite cycle trail.
Fun fact: The GTT is the Great Ride that is most heavily used by its locals. A whopping three quarters / 75% of riders who use the GTT are from Nelson / Tasman. Some of whom are able commute to work mostly off-road thanks to the great work by Nelson’s Cycle Trails Trust.
The official map can be found here. It includes the newest section of trail (in bright red) and shows the distances between various sections around the trail. This map also has a pretty comprehensive list of the official partners – cafes, restaurants, arty places, wineries and the like all nicely colour coded for you to peruse.
My Geography lessons pre-date interactive whiteboards and the internet. However, I am savvy enough to get this wonderful app working on my phone. The Great Rides app allows you to download Tasman’s Great Taste Trail | Great Rides App for free. There is comprehensive information about several interesting places along the trail. There are historic sites pinpointed as you move around, and I love the abundance of information in the wildlife section. Including bird songs and information for you to brush up on your avian taxonomy knowledge! Whilst this app does not seamlessly move the map as you progress around the trail (in the manner of Google Maps), I am impressed with the great work that Gary Patterson has done to provide a 21st century navigation option.
We also have extensive information regarding the Great Taste Trail on our website.
Nelson Trails Site
This is a great resource for those who like to do extra preparation. It is split into several sections:
- Richmond to Wakefield
- Wakefield to Tapawera
- Richmond to Mapua
- Mapua to Motueka
- Motueka to Kaiteriteri
Whilst the newest sections of trail have not been added, this is an informative resource with interactive maps and images for you to explore before you arrive.
Places to stay in Nelson
The range of accommodation in the Nelson region includes small luxury lodges and bed and breakfasts, hotels, motels, backpackers and Air BnB’s. There is a good choice of Air BnB accommodation when staying for more than one night. Most backpackers have double en-suite rooms as well as larger shared rooms. If you have a car, consider staying above the Nelson city waterfront, where the views across the harbour are magnificent. If staying in the heart of the city, we recommend the heritage area around the cathedral.
Accommodation in Nelson gets very heavily booked over the peak season and travellers are advised to book well in advance.
Bed and Breakfasts
For luxury bed and breakfast accommodation in Nelson city, we recommend Joya or Ah House. These special places are located in the heritage area, within 10 minutes’ walk of the city centre. For accommodation above the waterfront, we recommend Villa 10.
Places to camp in the Nelson region
Many campgrounds and holiday parks in NZ provide powered sites, un-powered sites, and cabins. From simple bunk style, through to self-contained motel style. During the school holidays, most holiday parks will be extremely busy, as camping is a very popular activity in NZ. There are also many Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites. These campsites have very limited facilities – usually no hot showers – but are generally in very beautiful locations.
We recommend the following camp sites in the Nelson region:
Tahunanui Beach Holiday Park. This is a huge camp, right on the beach just 10 minutes from central Nelson. Plenty of space to find a quiet spot.
Nelson Top 10. This is a small camp located in Nelson city. You will find Top 10 Holiday Parks throughout NZ and they are always very well maintained.
Maitai Valley Motor Camp. This is a council owned campground in the Maitai Valley, 10 minutes from Nelson city. This camp is located beside the Maitai River, where there are many lovely swimming holes. There is also a walking/biking track from the city to the camp. The many trees on the site make it lovely and shady in the summer.
Queen Street Holiday Park. This holiday park is located in Richmond, 15 minutes south of Nelson city. This is a very tidy campsite, popular with camper vans. This holiday park is located very close to the Great Taste Trail Coastal Route.
Cable Bay Holiday Park. This is a small, family-owned camp site at Cable Bay, 30 minutes north east of Nelson. Cable Bay is a great spot for swimming as you can swim at any tide, and it is popular with locals.
Mapua Leisure Park is a large camp site at Mapua, 30 minutes west of Nelson city. There are a wide range of cabins and motels here. The Leisure Park has a private beach and also a swimming pool and sauna. There is a lovely café on this site, the Mapua Boatshed. It is a very quiet location. Mapua is located on the Great Taste Trail Coastal Route.
Motueka Top 10. This is a medium-sized campground located in the Motueka township. It is very well-kept, and facilities include a swimming pool. Motueka is located on the Great Taste Trail Coastal Route.
Kaiteriteri Beach Camp. This is a medium-sized holiday park located directly across the road from Kaiteriteri Beach. It is very busy during the summer, particularly during school holidays. Kaiteriteri is located at the eastern end of the Great Taste Trail Coastal Route.
Bethany Park Kaiteriteri. This is a large camp site at Kaiteriteri. It is located 5 minutes’ drive from the beachfront in a sheltered valley.
Marahau Beach Camp. This is a medium sized camp site close to the beach at Marahau. Marahau is right on the boundary of the Abel Tasman National Park track and from here, you can walk into the Park.
Kerr Bay Campsite. This is a DOC campsite at St Arnaud, on the shores of Lake Rotoiti, and on the boundary of the Nelson Lakes National Park. This is a very scenic camp in an alpine environment.
Our favourite Nelson activities
Nelson is a beautiful place. The climate, landscape and culture of this region make it a magical destination. With everything from heritage city walks peppered with art galleries and cafes, to stunning beaches, coastal hiking and kayaking, and rugged alpine landscapes, Nelson is a place to linger a little longer.
Getting to Nelson
Nelson is the geographic centre of NZ. It has a busy domestic airport, with up to 600 domestic flights in and out per week.
- There are direct flights between Nelson and Auckland (1 hr 25 mins)
- There are also direct flights between Nelson and Wellington (35 mins) and Nelson and Christchurch (50 mins)
- Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are international airports
- A ferry service operates from Wellington to Picton (3 hours). There is a bus service from Picton to Nelson (2 hours 15 mins)
- Once in Nelson, we recommend you visit the Information Centre to find out more about local activities
Driving in New Zealand
When travelling by car, driving times may be significantly longer than you expect due to the hillier terrain and slower roads. New Zealand has many slow, winding roads so take care to check the recommended travel times when you are planning a trip.
Nelson city walks
There are some lovely walks in Nelson city including a charming walking track up the Maitai River, where the stony-bottomed swimming spots are popular with locals in summer. The hill in the city called the Centre of NZ has a track to the summit, providing great views across the city to the sea. Walking in the heritage part of the city, behind the cathedral, takes visitors past the large old Victorian houses, many with charming gardens and big trees. Nelson City Council has a great list of city walks on their website. Our favourites from the website shown below are:
- Trevor Horne Heritage Trail (stop in at the charming Melrose House Café for a cup of tea/coffee and cake served on antique china)
- Maitai Walkway & Lower Botanics (you can go a lot further than described here if you wish, swimming optional)
- Centre of NZ which can be combined with Sir Stanley Whitehead Walk to pass a local Sprig and Fern pub on the route back into the city
Take a day driving through the countryside. Our recommended day trips are:
First, drive from Nelson to Mapua, a charming coastal village with an old wharf, cafes, a brewery and galleries. Mapua is great for morning tea or lunch on the wharf. Next, drive to Motueka via the Coastal Highway rather than the State Highway. The Coastal Highway passes through Ruby Bay and Tasman village. Be sure to stop at the Jester House Café in Tasman, to feed the tame eels and wander in garden. And just down the road is the fabulous Steve Fullmer Ceramics Gallery.
In Motueka, stop for lunch at Toad Hall, with Townshend Brewery right next door. The Motueka Museum is a great place to go to find out more about the hop industry. If time allows, go on to Kaiteriteri for a swim at this stunning golden beach. Leaving Motueka, take the Motueka Highway back to Nelson. Stop off at the Moutere Inn at Upper Moutere, which is the oldest pub in NZ and serves a great range of craft beer. While in Upper Moutere, visit the Old Post Office Store, home of Moutere Gold preserves, local cheeses and a contemporary design gallery. There is also an interesting historic church at Upper Moutere and look out for hop gardens along the road.
For more information on artist studios in the Mapua Ruby Bay area visit this website.
St Arnaud Village and Lake Rotoiti
St Arnaud is an alpine village, where snow falls to the lake edge at times during the winter. Drive to St Arnaud village for lunch at the Clinker Café. Great food, including bread and continental cakes made on the premises. At the lake, check out the massive eels living under the jetty, swim in the crystal-clear alpine lake (yes it’s cold, but we recommend trying it during the months of February and March when it is less icy.) Choose one of the lake-side walking tracks to experience the birdsong of the tui and bellbirds. Jan Thomson’s Korimako Studio is also located in St Arnaud.
Mr Arthur is the highest mountain in the Kahurangi National Park and walking to the Mt Arthur hut is a wonderful and relatively easy day walk. It takes an hour to drive from Nelson city to the Flora car park (930m) which is the starting point of the walk. The mountain road can be icy in winter, so we recommend you check with the Department of Conservation before undertaking a winter trip. The last section of this gravel road to the car park is narrow and steep, so it is not recommended for those who are not confident when driving in more challenging conditions. For summer trips, drive to the Mt Arthur car park then walk approximately one hour to the Mt Arthur Hut for amazing views down to the sea and across the Nelson plains. This walk is not as well-known as the Abel Tasman walks, but the views and vegetation make it an absolutely wonderful trip for those who are a little more adventurous.
Beaches around Nelson
There are three main beaches within one hour of Nelson city
This is the city beach, located 10 minutes by car from the city centre. Tahunanui Beach is a long, sandy beach enjoyed by walkers, paddleboarders, families and community groups. It is great for swimming off the beach, particularly towards high tide. Many locals also choose to swim off the seawall here around high tide. There are also steps from the road down to the water at numerous locations between the city and Tahunanui Beach. You can hire paddleboards at Tahunanui Beach.
This is a sheltered beach 30 minutes northeast of Nelson city. This beach is also very popular with locals, as you can swim here at any tide. It is a great spot for a picnic at any time.
This is a recreation reserve, 30 minutes southwest of Nelson city. This is a huge beach, so you can always find a private spot here. It is also best at high tide. There are barbeques here, but no shops or cafes.
At Mapua, locals (especially kids) love to swim off the old wharf. You can also swim here at Grossi Point at high tide. This is a lovely, sheltered inlet area.
There is a very scenic sandspit at Motueka, where you can swim at high tide. This is a beautiful golden sandspit, rich in birdlife.
This is the jewel in the crown for swimming in this region. Kaiteriteri is a golden sand beach. The main beach gets very busy with boats and people during the summer season, so we recommend you check out Little Kaiteriteri, which is a smaller beach on the right hand-side of the main beach. Breaker Bay is another smaller beach; this one is on the left-hand side of the main beach. You can hire paddleboards and kayaks at Kaiteriteri.
Things to do with kids in Nelson
Get the kids out into the fresh air in Nelson
- Cycle our “Family-friendly Loop” route or complete a fun GooseChase game using the app on your phones. Completely off-road, flat route, passing 3 playgrounds, a beach and a pub with a beautiful sunny outdoor area. Check out our single day tours here.
- Tahunanui Beach, the city beach, which is very safe for swimming. Great playground here too
- Rabbit Island, a long beach reserve and picnic area 30 minutes’ drive from Nelson city. Very safe swimming, large area for walking and cycling. Barbeques available
- Brook Waimarama Sanctuary, 10 minutes’ drive from Nelson city. Pest-free wildlife sanctuary with beautiful walks
- Ride the historic steam train at Founders Historic Park. Rides available most weekends and every day during the school holidays
- Visit Natureland Wildlife Trust, to see native and domesticated birds. Located at Tahunanui Beach. Open daily
- Ride the model train at Tahunanui Beach (next to Natureland.) Rides available 1 – 4 pm every Sunday
- Go swimming in the Maitai River. There are many beautiful small swimming holes within 10 minutes’ drive of the city, just follow the road up the Maitai Valley from the city centre
National Parks in the Nelson region
Abel Tasman National Park
The most well-known and visited National Park in New Zealand is the Abel Tasman National Park. It is a coastal park blessed with golden beaches and crystal-clear water. There are no roads within the park, so access is by boat (or trail) from the villages of Kaiteriteri and Marahau. These villages are about one hour by car from Nelson city. Many companies operate kayaking and walking trips in the park and for single day trips, regular coach services link Nelson city to Kaiteriteri and Marahau. The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is a 60 km track which runs from end to end and is one of the NZ Great Walks. Water taxis also operate in the park.
Single day trips in the Abel Tasman National Park:
The easiest way to enjoy a single day trip in the park is to book a walking or kayaking trip which includes a coach transfer from Nelson city to Kaiteriteri. Boats depart from Kaiteriteri into the Park, returning at the end of the day for the coach transfer back to Nelson. Wilsons Abel Tasman provide a wide range of single day options, including flexible day passes. Kayaking trips need to be pre-booked especially during the high season from Christmas through to the end of January. Our favourite walking option is the 4-hour walking trip, Swing Bridge, Bush and Beach, with highlights including forest groves, coastal views and a spectacular swing bridge. For the full day option, the trip departs from Kaiteriteri at 9.20am, returning 4.15pm.
Multi-day trips in the Abel Tasman National Park:
There is limited accommodation within the park, as most of the land is publicly owned.
Wilsons Abel Tasman operate multi day trips in the park, staying at their beachfront lodges. These guided walking, or kayak and walk trips are fully inclusive of all accommodation and food. There is also a high-quality lodge in the park. Awaroa Lodge is accessible by boat, plane, or helicopter and transfers directly from Nelson to Awaroa Lodge can be arranged.
Awaroa Glamping is a family business located in Awaroa. All glamping tents are full furnished. Kitchen and bathroom facilities are provided, and wood-fired pizzas are available.
Abel Tasman Aquapackers is a floating backpackers anchored in a bay in the Park.
Water taxis can be booked to transfer gear while tramping in the Park.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) maintains 4 tramping huts and 19 campsites on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Huts and campsites need to be booked in advance all year round. Huts do not contain cooking facilities.
Kahurangi National Park
Kahurangi National Park lies one and a half hours west of Nelson city and the snow-topped peaks of Mt Arthur, the highest mountain in the park, are visible from the city during winter, providing tangible evidence of snow in the air. The Kahurangi is NZ’s second largest national park, with wild rivers, high plateau and alpine herb fields, and coastal forests. Activities in the park include tramping, camping and mountain biking.
The Heaphy Track is the most well-known tramping route in the park and this track is also open to mountain biking from 1 May to 30 November. Huts must be booked in advance. The landscape on the Heaphy Track includes tussock downs and lush forests, and kiwi can often be heard in this area at night. The surprising carnivorous land snail, Powelliphanta… is also prevalent in this area and walkers can expect to meet one on the track. Their size – around 3cm across – makes them easy to spot in open ground. For those looking for a wonderful day trip, the walk through the beech forest up Mt Arthur is a great option and suitable for families and children.
Nelson Lakes National Park
Nelson Lakes National Park lies one and a half hours south of Nelson city and is the location of two alpine lakes. The largest of these is Lake Rotoiti and the village on its shores is named St Arnaud. This crystal-clear lake is popular in summer for trout fishing, boating and camping. The Department of Conservation have a visitor centre here and this is the base of the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project, which has been running a predator trapping program for many years. The birdlife in the beech forest around the lake makes it a popular venue for walking. There is a growing network of mountain biking trails in a valley near the village. The second lake in the park, Lake Rotoroa is less heavily populated and approximately half an hour from Lake Rotoiti. Nelson Lakes National Park contains Lake Rotomairewhenua, officially named “the clearest lake in the world”. There is no vehicle access to this lake.
Arts & Culture in Nelson
Nelson is a creative place with a strong culture of artists and makers. The regions’ long association with the visual arts began with early landscape painters, and later with the potters who were drawn to the region by the local clay and the climate. The influence of these early practitioners continues today.
The Suter is the city art gallery, running a program of contemporary exhibitions in a contemporary gallery setting on the edge of a public garden in the city. The Suter also has a movie theatre, gift store and excellent cafe.
The Refinery Artspace is an alternative public gallery in the central city. Within the same building, the Arts Council Nelson operates as a resource for artists. They have produced a very handy pocket-sized art gallery map, available at the Refinery and most central city galleries. This map shows all the city galleries, allowing visitors to easily stroll around town, stopping to check out exhibitions.
Parker Gallery is a private contemporary dealer gallery supporting a broad range of local and national artists. Media includes ceramics, sculpture, painting and glass.
Quiet Dog Gallery is a private contemporary gallery which is located alongside the Framing Rooms in the city centre.
Red Gallery is a popular place to purchase art and handmade contemporary products, including children’s books, glass casting, ceramics, and vintage rugs. They house a large collection of NZ artist’s original works and prints. There is also a café here, which is a popular meeting point, while offering the yummiest cheese scones around.
Atkins Gallery, although tucked away in central Nelson is also worth a visit, especially for those interested in art from the West Coast, as well as the Nelson region.
Kereru Gallery is also a private contemporary dealer gallery and is located in Mapua, 30 minutes west of Nelson city. It features the work of local artists and also exhibits work from a handpicked selection of NZ artists, including sculpture, jewelry, painting, ceramics and cast glass. The contemporary gallery space opens up to 3 exhibition spaces and also contains a jeweler’s workshop and sculptors’ workshop that can be viewed by the public.
Coolstore Gallery is a large store, with an excellent range of local art, jeweler, ceramics and gifts. You will find Coolstore in Mapua, 30 minutes west of Nelson city.
The Nelson Provincial Museum is situated in the main street in the city and has a program of changing exhibitions and a permanent local history exhibition.
Founders Heritage Park houses a number of groups with historical themes, with displays of Nelson’s heritage and artisans in character buildings. An historic train operates here, with a short railway line running from the park.
Nelson is widely regarded, along with Coromandel, as being the home of NZ pottery. The 1960 saw the introduction of studio ceramics to NZ, largely as the result of international potters immigrating the country. Later, tertiary training courses were established, leading to a new generation of potters. While the pottery community is not as large as it was, some potters have studios which are open to the public. We recommend contacting the potters prior to visiting to confirm opening hours.
Owen Bartlett and Katie Gold. This studio is situated in a historical property nestled amongst beautiful gardens in the Upper Moutere village, 30 minutes from Nelson city. Owen produces functional domesticware including the Moutere Hills Harvest Collection – a contemporary classic vineyard inspired range. Katie is well-known throughout NZ for her highly decorative layered, wrapped and textured forms featuring map, shell and plant themes
Royce McGlashen. McGlashen Pottery is located at Brightwater, 20 minutes from Nelson city. Royce is one of NZ’s leading potters, producing a wide range of contemporary, well-designed tableware, plus ceramic art pieces and paintings.
Steve Fullmer. Fullmer Gallery is located in Tasman Village, 35 minutes from Nelson city. Steve’s handmade tableware and sculptural work often reflects his sense of humour and uses layered colour, and sophisticated loose decoration with a watercolor-like quality.
Sue Newitt. This pottery gallery is located a similar location. Sue makes a range of sophisticated domesticware in white earthenware and porcelain
Darryl Frost. Darryl is nationally and internationally recognised for his wood fired ceramics and his large-scale multi-media work. Darryl’s gallery is located in Tasman, 35 minutes from Nelson city and his work is represented by Kereru Gallery in Mapua. Darryl also has a new gallery located on Harley Rd, Mapua.
Jewellery and Glass
Jens Hansen Jewellers have become internationally known as the makers of the ring from the Lord of the Rings. They operate from a premise in the heart of Nelson city.
Louise Douglas is a contemporary jeweler whose workshop and gallery are located in a small heritage building in the city.
Jewel Beetle are contemporary fine jewelers also based in Nelson city.
Hoglund Art Glass is a glass-blowing studio operated by Ola and Marie Hoglund in Appleby, 20 minutes from Nelson city, producing sophisticated hand-blown pieces.
Michael MacMillan Gallery is located in the Moutere, 40 minutes from the central city, is an experience in itself. The bespoke built gallery exudes natural materials and is grand in scale. McMillan creates large sculptural works, mixing wood with concrete. He also creates homeware products, including cheese platters made from up-cycled wine barrels.
The Old Post Office Store, Upper Moutere, is a fine example of a collective which offers food, preserves, cheeses, alongside contemporary screen printing from Skunk and Robot and fine art in the Woods and Co gallery. This is located 40 minutes from Nelson city.
Little Beehive Co-Op in the city brings together many makers of contemporary art, textiles, children’s clothing, natural cosmetics, and jewelry.