The Must-Do's and Hidden Gems of the Nelson Tasman Region


Nelson Tasman is the geographic centre of New Zealand, covering the North West area of the top of the South Island. Flight time are just 25 mins to Wellington, 85 mins to Auckland and 50 mins to Christchurch, making it easy to be connected to the rest of New Zealand and the world.  

Top of Trafalgar Street - Eat Street - Credit Oliver Weber

Townships, Geography and Natural Assets

At the heart of the region is Nelson City, the largest city and commercial centre across the top of the South, complemented by variety of vibrant towns and rural settlements such as Richmond, Motueka, Takaka, Mapua, Collingwood and Murchison. 

Tasman and Golden Bay are two of just three large north facing bays in New Zealand. The sunshine hours are prolific and the temperate climate is a bonus for a variety of horicultural activity - berries, apples, kiwifruit, hops and viticulture, and a sustainable and successful fishery.  
The natural assets of the region are remarkable with a combination of alpine and coastal landscapes incorporating three highly-accessible national parks (Abel Tasman, Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes), all within 90 minutes of the city.

Lets take a look at the Top 5 Ways to make the most of your time in the Nelson Tasman Regio

Arts and Artisans

There is so much to explore creatively in Nelson, it is well worth stopping in at the Nelson i-Site to pick up an Art Trail guide and individual artist information for those with home galleries.
The Suter Art Gallery opened in 1899 – and has been a cornerstone of Nelson’s creative community. Highlights include:
•    New Zealand’s largest collection of watercolours by landscape artist, John Gully (1819-1888).
•    A representative collection of works by Sir Mountford Tosswill Woollaston (1919-1998), one of the founders of modern art in New Zealand.
•    A significant collection of works by ceramic artists of national and local renown.
Visit the  long standing Saturday Market at Montgomery Square – there are high quality artisan goods as well as food and fresh produce. This is a vibrant meeting place for locals and visitors alike.

  • Visit the Moutere Artisans & glittering Ruby Bay – stop for lunch at the Mapua Wharf and peruse the galleries that occupy the old Apple Packhouses located on the Wharf. Hoglund Art Glass studios are a fascinating experience to witness the art of molten creations. 
  • Near the airport you’ll find the home of the World of Wearable Arts (WOW) and Museum of Classic Cars.
  • We can arrange a private tour of some of the best Artists & Galleries in the Region,

Savour and Devour the Region

Take the 45 minute drive from Nelson through Motueka and on to Riwaka and you will drive by some of the most fertile countryside in New Zealand. From spring through to autumn imagine a time-lapse of abundant growth as fruit grows and ripens, grapes are buds then bunches, berries pale then bursting with burgundy abundance and hops grow as if on a magic beanpoles spiralling skywards.

During the harvest months – nothing tastes like summer as much visiting a berry garden before sampling the goods in a famous frozen icecream blended before your eyes, and walking out with punnets of jewel like fruits.
Roadside stalls abound with local growers selling nectarines, peaches, plums, cherries, and all manner of vegetables. On the strait out of Richmond heading towards Motueka is the Old Factory Corner – now home to a fresh produce market, epicurean creamery, and wholegoods distillery – and yes you can even get a berry fruit icecream there as well.

Get  into  the  spirit  of  Nelson  Tasman  and  visit one of the extraordinary distilleries over in the  bay.  Watch  the  still  in  action  as  you  enjoy a tasting at the Dancing Sands cellar door or savour a delicious cocktail in the sunny courtyard at Kiwi Spirit Distillery, home of the only tequila farm outside of Mexico. 

Follow the Craft Beer Trail Nelson Tasman is the only region in New Zealand  to  grow  commercial  hops,  so experiencing  the  range  of  craft  breweries along the  Craft Beer Trail is a must-do when you’re  here.  Popular with locals in downtown Nelson is the Free House beer garden and the Sprig & Fern pubs are dotted through out the region. In Golden Bay at Onekaka just shy of Collingwood is the Mussel Inn – with an enormous range of local beers on tap – go to see the colourful characters and often live music playing.   Visit the Hop & Beer Museum at Founders Heritage Park, take a brewery tour, indulge in a tasting platter or hire some bikes to explore some of the trail.

Enjoy fine dining Hopgoods restaurant or perennial favourite the Boat Shed Cafe set over the water on the Rocks Road promenade. Spend a relaxed afternoon at one of the restaurants that are dotted around the old Mapua Wharf. Wander down Eat Street the closed off area of Trafalgar Street directly below the Cathedral steps is dotted with alfresco dining options.

Explore a National Park 

Two of New Zealand’s ten Great Walks are located in the Nelson Tasman Region. 

The Heaphy Track

Located within the Kahurangi National park and begins in the Aorere climbing up to alpine tussock country before descending into lush forests and nikau palms to the roaring seas of the West Coast near Karamea. It is possible to undertake this as a guided hike 5 days / 4 nights – or independent – usually walked in 4 day / 3 nights. Travellers can opt for a scenic flight return back to Golden Bay or Nelson, or return via shuttle. During the winter months this track is also open to mountain bikers.

The Abel Tasman National Park

This is New Zealand's smallest National Park - it is unique in that it can be explored via a combination of watercraft (kayak, sail or water taxi) & walk – or hiked from either end. It is famous for its golden sanded beaches and easy walking. Many people choose to do a section as a day trip from Nelson and surrounding towns  but to walk end to end can be comfortably achieved in 4 days hiking. Those who crave home comforts can stay in luxurious lodges or you can stay in the DOC huts or even sleep under the stars.

Outside of the National Parks there are many otherwalks to enjoy in the Kahurangi or Nelson Lakes National Parks –  such as a hike up Mount Arthur or Mount Robert. Nelson lakes is also home to the worlds clearest freshwater lake – you can read more about that here.

Active Relaxers


  • Nelson is home to the Mountainbike obsessed, rated as 'Gold' one of only six regions in the world to receive that designation from IMBA. The bike park at Kaiteriteri Beach offers many hours of rides. 
  • Codgers Mountainbike Park trails are handily located in the heart of Nelson, you can tailor your ride from 30 minutes right up to several hours.
  • The Rameka Track begins on the Canaan Downs - scenery lifted straight out of a Lord of the Rings novel - a strange limestone wonderland, this single-track classic winds through native forest from the top of Takaka Hill down to Golden Bay.

Cycle Trails

  • There is now a huge circuit of linked cycle pathways from Nelson through to Kaiteriteri. Hire and e-bike, join a tour and enjoy the fresh air and chances to stop along the route for lunch, a beer or an icecream.

SUP, Skydiving, Skiing and more 

  • Nelson is known for its still settled weather  – which are the perfect conditions for SUP boarding around Haulashore Island and Fifeshire Rock.
  • For the same reasons sky-diving is also popular – for beginners take a tandem skydive or there are jumps for more experienced skydivers based out at the Motueka airport.
  • Canyoning in the Abel Tasman is an epic day out for families with teenagers who will enjoy jumping off rocks and leading the charge up rock strewn river canyons.
  • The Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure Park will have your adrenalin swinging with the thrill of a Jet Boat ride, or walk the heights of New Zealand’s longest swing-bridge, take  a flying fox ride or zip line ride high above the river.
  • For visitors during the winter months the local skifield Rainbow is a mere 90 minutes drive. 

The Scenic Way

The Coastline

The Nelson Tasman region  is blessed with a vast coastline with swimmable beaches including the local Nelson beach at Tahunanui or the beginning of the golden sands at Kaiteriteri that stretch up the Abel Tasman coastline to Tata Beach. In Golden Bay take a trip to Cape Farewell which offers tours of the famous sandspit of the same name. Nearby situated on the west coast is Wharariki Beach full of geologically interesting rock formations and sand dunes – take note – unless you want a sandblasting do not visit when a westerly wind is blowing! 

The Rivers

If you prefer fresh to salt water then you have come to the river mecca of New Zealand.

  • Take a 20 minute drive from Nelson to the Aniseed Valley or Lee Valley and enjoy the deep swimming holes.
  • The Motueka River has many places to swim - drive the Motueka River West Bank Road.
  • In Golden Bay be entertained by the rock climbing travellers as you drift in the clear blue waters of the Takaka River at Paynes Ford.
  • Take the turnoff to the Aorere Valley at the junction at Collingwood and swim at Salisbury Falls a favourite of visitors and locals alike.
  • Just past Wainui walk through Department of Conservation Estate to Wainui Falls – fresh and invigorating.

Natural Sanctuaries

  • Visit the wildlife sanctuary at the Brook and hike the enclosed predator free trails. Or join locals on their daily walks from the Centre of New Zealand walk and through the Maitai River Valley.
  • Not far from Takaka is the Te Waikoropupū Springs – this is of great spiritual significance to local iwiand it is not allowed to swim or even touch the water here. But there is a beautiful short loop track that can be taken to admire the clear waters. Nearby walk Pupu Hydro Walkway which retraces an old gold-ming water race. This is an intesting 1 hour loop track.

Whichever way you would like to enjoy the Nelson Tasman region – you will have zero regrets!

Chat to our Travel Specialists about adding the Nelson Tasman Region to your trip - they'll listen to your dream-trip must-do's and build an itinerary that's tailor-made to your desires.

Head over here to view some of our South Island itineraries that include Nelson.

Suzie Thorp
: 14 Dec 2021 (Last updated: 5 May 2022)

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