Nelson. City in New Zealand, Oceania


City in New Zealand, Oceania

Nelson Photo © Markus Koljonen

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Nelson - Nelson. Photo by Sy
Routinely topping the list of New Zealand cities with the highest sunshine hours, Nelson is a holidaymaker’s paradise. With easy access to gorgeous beaches, stunning hiking trails, clear rivers, and delicious cafés and restaurants, Nelson is not to be missed on any New Zealand itinerary.


Established in 1841, Nelson is the oldest settled city in the South Island, and the second oldest in New Zealand.

The city was named in honor of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who defeated both the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar (Wikipedia Article) in 1805. Nelson’s name in the indigenous Maori language, Whakatu, means ‘build’, ‘raise’, or ‘establish’.

Settlement of the Nelson region began about 700 years ago by the Maori. There is evidence that the Nelson-Marlborough regions are home to the earliest settlements in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Company in London planned the settlement of Nelson. They intended to buy cheaply from the Maori a significant portion of land, and then sell on the land at profit to English settlers.

The first four immigrant ships arrived in early 1842: the Fifeshire, Mary-Ann, Lord Auckland, and Lloyds. Within 18 months, the company had sent out 18 ships with 1,052 men, 872 women, and 1,384 children.

The early settlement of Nelson province also included a number of German immigrants, who arrived on the ship, Sankt Pauli, and formed the villages of Sarau (Upper Moutere) and Neudorf.

The lack of land and capital in the region during the early years of settlement led to a period of relative depression. The pressure to find more arable land became intense. The nearby wide and fertile plains of the Wairau Valley were desirable, and there was intense dispute between the New Zealand Company and the land’s Maori owners. Nelson settlers, Arthur Wakefield and Henry Thompson, attempted to settle the land, leading to the Wairau Affray, where 22 settlers died.

Nelson - Nelson
Nelson. Photo by Christine Riggle


Located in the Tasman Bay (Wikipedia Article), Nelson’s diverse geography captures everything from long, golden beaches to untouched forests and rugged mountains. The harbor entrance is protected by the Boulder Bank: a natural, 8 miles long bank of rocks transported south from Mackay Bluff via longshore drift.

The bank creates a perfect natural harbor, although the entrance was narrow, and led to the wreck of the Fifeshire on Arrow Rock (now called Fifeshire Rock) in 1842. A cut was made in the bank in 1906, allowing larger vessels to access the port.

Nelson City is part of the wider Nelson Tasman region, which extends to include the town of Richmond and the Tasman District to the south of Nelson City.


At the top of Trafalgar Street, Christ Church Cathedral looks out over the city. Construction was completed in 1965, using marble sourced from the Pakikiruna Range near Takaka (Wikipedia Article). The granite steps in front of the cathedral are a perfect spot to enjoy a coffee from the nearby coffee cart and take in the city center.

The annual Wearable Art Awards began in the Nelson region, and the World of Wearable Art museum showcases past winning designs alongside a collection of classic cars. More than 60 garments are on display, many are award-winning creations. Located off Quarantine Road in Annesbrook, admission is $ 24 USD for adults, and $ 10 USD for children.

On a clear day, a walk up to the hilltop showcasing the “Centre of New Zealand” is a must. The Centre of New Zealand monument allegedly lies in the geographical mid-point of New Zealand. Reaching the Centre will take 20-60 minutes, depending on your age, speed, and fitness. Access is gained from the Botanical Reserve, over a footbridge from the end of Hardy Street.

The Suter Art Gallery, Te Aratoi o Whakatu, is worth a visit to check out local art. Be sure to view the gallery’s collection of works by Sir Tosswill Woollaston, one of the founders of modern art in New Zealand. Normally located in the Queens Gardens, the Gallery is currently under redevelopment, and is temporarily located at 28 Halifax St. A visit to the café is a must – the coffee is piping hot and food, excellent. The Gallery is open daily from 9:30 a0 feet – 4:30 p0 feet

Located at the top of Trafalgar Street in the central city, the Nelson Provincial Museum houses a collection of locally significant artifacts. The museum provides a fascinating insight into Nelson’s pioneers, and the people and places that make Nelson so unique today. Entrance is free for local residents, and $ 5.00 USD for out-of-town visitors. The museum is open 10 a0 feet – 5 p0 feet on weekdays, and 10 a0 feet – 4:30 p0 feet weekends and public holidays.

Around Nelson

A visit to Hoglund Art Glass glassblowing studio will capture your imagination, as artists make beautiful glassware by hand. Set within 7 acres of tranquil gardens, pieces are available for sale in the gallery, and a café is also onsite. Hoglund Art Glass is A 20 minutes' drive from Nelson city, at 52 Lansdowne Road in Appleby. The gallery is open daily between 10 a0 feet and 5 p0 feet

The Nelson region provides access to three national parks: Abel Tasman National Park, Kahurangi National Park, and the Nelson Lakes National Park.

Abel Tasman National Park is the region’s most popular. It is a coastal paradise that can be explored by hiking, boat, or kayak. Punctuate walking and paddling with sunbathing, swimming, and snorkelling at the incredible white and golden sand beaches. A range of hikes is available, from a few hours, to several days. Located 1.5 hours drive from Nelson, regular public bus services are available from Nelson and other local towns.


Nelson is home to a wide range of festivals year-round, from jazz and blues and wine and beer, to kites and yachting.

The Nelson Arts Festival is the biggest on Nelson’s festival calendar. Held each summer, the program includes theater, music, cabaret, and dance, as well as community events, such as the famous mask parade.

Nelson has more craft breweries per head of population than anywhere else in the country, and Marchfest is the festival to celebrate this. Nelson’s popular celebration of its local beer industry held annually in March, and includes beer tastings, delicious local food and music.


When visiting Nelson, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches. Tahunanui (Wikipedia Article) is arguably Nelson’s most famous, stretching out beneath visitors flying into Nelson airport. With gentle waves and a good breeze, Tahunanui is an excellent location for swimming, walking, jogging, wind or kite surfing.

Just 45 minutes' drive from Nelson towards Golden Bay, the golden sand of Kaiteriteri is not to be missed. Next to a beautiful seaside resort town, Kaiteriteri is without a doubt one of the best beaches in the South Island.

Also worth checking out are Rabbit Island in Appleby, and Cable Bay to the north of the city.


Nelson is a hub of eco- and adventure tourism. Caving is also popular in the region, due to several prominent cave systems around Takaka Hill and Mounts Owen and Arthur, which hold the largest and deepest explored caverns in the southern hemisphere.

Other activities to check out include canoeing and kayaking, a range of mountain biking tracks, or even paragliding from the hills above Nelson.


Nelson is known for its thriving local arts and crafts scene. There is a wide range of potters, glass blowers, weavers, and woodcarvers within the region.

The Nelson Saturday Market is a must for any tourist visiting the region. Vendors include local artists, gourmet food, fresh fruit, and vegetables. Try the Pic’s Peanut Butter, guaranteed to be the best you’ve tasted!

If you are a Lord of the Ring fan, check out the Jens Hans Goldsmiths, where “The One Ring” used in the film trilogy was designed.

For clothes, souvenir, and book shopping, among others, check out Trafalgar Street and its surrounds in the Central City.


If seafood is up your alley, Nelson dining will be a delight. With seafood and horticulture being two of the Nelson’s biggest industries, fresh, locally-sourced, and seasonal food is the focus of the region’s restaurants.

The Nelson Tasman region is also home to 25 boutique wineries, dotted across the picturesque hills and plains of the region’s wine-growing country. Many offer cellar door tastings and café/restaurants, as well as an opportunity to meet the personalities behind some of the region’s internationally acclaimed wines. Popular visits include Neudorf Vineyards in Upper Moutere, and Seifried Estate in Appleby.

In Nelson City, must-visits include Lambretta’s Café on Hardy Street, perfect for a spot of lunch, for fine dining check out Ford’s Restaurant and Bar on Trafalgar Street, and for a delicious vegetarian lunch or dinner, try East Street Vegetarian Café and Bar on Trafalgar Square East.


Nelson has a range of accommodation available, from backpackers to luxury lodges. To find the option right for you, check out


Nelson Airport is located southwest of the city, at Annesbrook. It is a purely domestic airport, with regular flights to and from Auckland, Blenheim; Christchurch, Kapiti Coast; Palmerston North, and Wellington. The drive from the airport to the city takes approximately 10 minutes. Rental cars are available both at the airport and in the city, or else taxi companies operate cars and airport shuttles into the city.

Good roads connect Nelson to the West Coast, Blenheim, or Christchurch. Coaches connect Nelson to other destinations in the South Island, check out national carrier Intercity for details.


Nelson has one of the sunniest climates of all major New Zealand centers, earning the nickname “Sunny Nelson” with an annual average total of over 2,400 hours of sunshine. In summer, daily temperatures generally range from 55 °F to 73 °F (56°F to 73°F), and in winter, daily temperatures generally range from 36 °F to 55 °F (35°F to 55°F).

Winter can be cool, with gales and storms more common. A typical winter day, however, is sunny but cold, with a morning frost.


Like most of New Zealand, Nelson is considered to be fairly safe for tourists. The Tasman Police District has the lowest crime rate within New Zealand. Do take the usual precautions, however, like not walking alone at night, avoiding carrying more cash than you need, and locking away your valuables.

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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Mar 17, 2016

Pictures of Nelson

Nelson - Nelson
Nelson - Photo by Sy

Nelson - Nelson
Nelson - Photo by Sy


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