Nelson Travel Guide

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Surrounded by stunning vistas of mountains, rivers and lakes, Nelson is situated at the tip of New Zealand’s South Island.

Nelson, South Island

Follow a trail through woodland to a nearby cave, explore the surrounding national parks or relax and enjoy some delicious local flavours at one of the region’s famed wineries. The heart of town is also home to an established arts scene, with renowned galleries and museums.


With golden beaches, pristine coastal bays and inlets and national parks, Nelson is a nature lover’s paradise. Only moments from town, the Brook Waimārama Sanctuary is a secluded bushland sanctuary that is home to endangered native plants and animals. Explore one of the trails through the tranquil habitat.


Southeast from Nelson, you’ll find the Matai Valley, home to the beautiful Maitai Cave Walking Trail. Taking around four hours, this gentle trail winds through beech forest before rising to a woodland of rimu, rata and matai trees. Toward the end of the track a small incline rises to meet the limestone caves, which rise to a height of 15 metres.


An hour’s drive south takes you to Nelson Lakes National Park, a spectacular alpine landscape of native forests and glacial lakes. You’ll find lakeside walking tracks as well as mountain hikes. Near the top of South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is perfect for walking, kayaking, or enjoying the beach. Explore an ancient Māori fort here at Te Pukatea Bay.

Art in Nelson

Renowned for its creative community of painters, sculptors, fashion designers and more, Nelson is packed with galleries and artist studios. The impressive Suter Art Gallery is home to major exhibitions of local and New Zealand art spanning 200 years. Stylishly encompassing a heritage-listed building, this gallery houses many works of national significance, from 19th century watercolours to contemporary ceramics.

The Jes Hansen studio is home to finely-crafted jewellery, from the hands of the jeweller who worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are local artisan discoveries at the weekly Saturday Markets in Montgomery Square, and The Craig Potton Gallery & Store also offers artworks, books and jewellery. Visit the Nelson Centre of Musical Arts and the Theatre Royal for a showcase of the region’s strong cultural heritage.

Nelson vineyards and other attractions

Known for its chardonnay and pinot noir, Nelson is dotted with acclaimed vineyards. Drop into Kahurangi Estate, Waimea Estates, Te Mania Wines or Seifried Estate Cellar Door and sample a fine drop near town. Enjoy a fine meal at the Honest Lawyer Restaurant, overlooking Waimea Estate, and match superb local wines and flavours.


Another popular attraction is the Founders Heritage Park, a time capsule village set within gorgeous gardens. While you’re here, visit the Hop and Beer Museum, stroll through the Bristol Freighter Plane or visit the windmill shop. The Nelson Classic Car Museum is an iconic must-see, featuring over 150 vintage cars from a 1908 Renault to 1950s Cadillacs.

How do I get to Nelson?

There are many ways to get to Nelson. Nelson Airport services multiple daily flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Nelson Airport is only 15 minutes’ drive from the city centre. The scenic drive from Christchurch is just over 5 hrs. There are also regular Cook Strait ferries with vehicle access between Wellington in the North Island and Picton, which is only 2 hrs drive from Nelson.

Top things to do in Nelson

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