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Why Nelson, the Oldest City on New Zealand's South Island, Is Well Worth a Visit

In addition to its senior status among South Island settlements (founded in 1841 and named after the famed English admiral Lord Nelson), this city of a bit over 51,000 also happens to lie at the geographical centre of New Zealand. And it's become a popular getaway for Kiwis attracted to its laid-back lifestyle and art/culinary scene, with a lively marketplace and a handful of museums, gardens, and other attractions thrown in (renting a bike is the best way to get around). 

But even more than all that, Nelson is especially useful as a stepping-stone and gateway to some of South Island’s most scenic natural beauties. This includes the Golden Bay drive, the Abel National Tasman Park and the many beaches that this coast line as to offer. Further out into the ocean are some picturesque islands while on this side of the sands are some lush jungles. For all common attractions that you know Nelson, there are still some unique attractions that maybe most of you don't know. Head on and explore a Nelson five-day itinerary.

Nelson is surrounded by mountains on three sides with Tasman Bay on the other and the region is the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, Kahurangi National Park, Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa in the Nelson Lakes National Park. It is a centre for both ecotourism and adventure tourism and has a high reputation among caving enthusiasts 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.]

Top Nelson Attractions

Classic Cars Museum

The second part of the museum is hardly less impressive.Bright paint, dazzling chrome and soft, rich upholstery; a hundred classic cars exquisitely maintained and displayed in a manner to showcase to evolution of the vehicle. The museum keeps a dedicated team of mechanics to maintain and restore these beauties. Even for non-autophiles, the displays are so beautifully arranged, that it’ll invoke an almost childlike sense of wonder. And it well should… these are all treasures, from the 1908 Renault AX to the Cadillac Coupe De Ville.


World of Wearable Art

Attached to the Cars Museum is this collection showcasing the garments of the Wellington World of WearableArt Awards, a show famed for its celebration of creative freedom. The displays are set on moving mannequins that then model the outrageous and imaginative costumes to music. It’s startling, intriguing and memorable.


Harwood’s Hole Walk

A little over an hour’s drive away from Nelson lies this spelunker’s delight. A long rugged walk once you’re off the highway leads you past stunning marble formations and old riverbeds till at the end of it, you stand at the entrance to Harwood’s Hole. This is no place for amateurs; the area is surrounded by sharp limestone formations and the hole (which you cannot see into directly) is 50 metres across, with a 176-metre vertical drop. The cave does have its own network; it’s connected to Starlight Cave, which is the exit point for people wishing to explore this system. Abseiling into the cave is thrilling experience, but only if you have prior experience in abseiling. For those coming with young children, it is sufficient to just walk up to the hole and back.


Christ Church Cathedral

This Anglican Church sits over Nelson from the top of the hill in the middle of the city. Finished in 1965, its unusual colour comes from the marble that went into it’s making, from Pakikiruna near Takaka Hill. It’s not large, not is it particularly grand; rather, it’s beaut lies in the serenity it imparts to every visitor. Visit during the service, and you’ll find the choir to be most soothing. The architecture is a mix of traditional and contemporary. Not the stain glass windows too. Another feature rather surprising to find here is the labyrinth. If you want to go through this place, the staff s generally very helpful and informative.



Founder’s Park:

This tribute to its own history preserves the way Nelson looked in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The beautiful streets and tranquil gardens are the result of an effort by Nelson citizens in the 1970’s, who even donation over 20000 historic artifacts to the park. Of the things to do, there’s a plane that kids can clamber over; you can host birthday parties here; check if you can board the train that runs on the weekends; chech out the small ship-in-the-bottle exhibit and just stroll around absorbing the atmosphere. If you’re lucky, you might catch the autor Lloyd Jones wandering about.


Miyazu Japanese Gardens

Nelson is a sister city to Miyazu, Japan; the purpose of sister cities is usually to establish and then develop commercial and cultural ties between the two. Here among other things this relationship has resulted in these exquisite gardens, wonderful for a contemplative stroll; immediately upon entering, the noise of the rest of the world dies away. The garden makes good use of shekkei, the art of using the scenery beyond the garden’s borders to enhance the impact and perceived size of the garden itself. Small ponds, little brides, cascades of water and cherry trees… this little slice of Japan couldn’t get better.

Nelson and Monty Market

Every Saturday morning, about 200 hundred stalls suddenly appear in Montgomery Square to create one of the word’s most charming markets. Hand crafted jewellery, designer clothing, locally made condiments, artwork, toiletries, organic foodstuffs, and excellent coffee stalls… you can find nearly everything here. The emphasis is usually on food, whether regional or seasonal, and most of Nelson will come visit this place for their weekly shopping. On the next day, during the same hours, Monty’s Market will establish itself; a collection of stalls peddling in recycled, vintage and imported goods.


Abel Tasman National Park

The smallest New Zealand national park is named for the first European who sighted the land in 1642. It’s also one of the most popular, partly due to its pristine beaches and convenient coastal tracks that span the beautiful forests on one side and the ocean on another. Maharau and Totaranui are small aboriginal settlements that serve as the entry points to the park. Two main tracks; the Tasman Coastal walk and the Inland Track, give access to a world of herons, gulls, penguins, petrels and shags. It’s at the most a two hour drive from Nelson, and the coastal walk is easy enough for most people. One of the key features along the coast is the massive tidal range. When the waters withdraw, they bare golden sands cradling hundreds of shallow pools connected by the occasional streamlet.

Gardens of the World

Perhaps you’d like to get away from the bustle of the town on a hot day (not that Nelson is ever noisy). Maybe you’d like to set up an easel and paint in peace. Or simply come out with our family for a lively picnic. This is the place to go. There ponds and ducks in those ponds. There’s an elephant (we’ve no idea why), an obelisk, and lots of beautiful green grass and colourful flowers. The garden is frequently used for parties, funerals, weddings and pretty much any event of notes.


Broadgreen Historic House

This is one of Nelson’s oldest dwellings, today mostly used as an exhibition house and a place to host events. The Samuel Rose Garden, holding about 3,000 beautiful plants of more than 560 varieties. It’s also a spot from where some of Nelson’s heritage walks can be started. These include the Rose Walk, Saunter in the Stoke, Settlement in Stoke, and the Isel Park Walk. During school holidays the House organises some fun Children’s Programmes, which may include activities such as colonial costuming and treasure hunting. The inside of the house itself is preserved as thing used to be in the 1850’s, offering a rare glimpse into Nelson life in those times.


Wharariki Beach:

On the northern most tip of New Zealand’s South Island lies this spectacular, gigantic beach. You want to visit at low tide, when a four hours will be enough to cover most of the beauties this beach has to offer. If you’re lucky, you see some adorable sea lions. If you’re staying away from the water, the old hiking trail is a perfect place from where to catch the sunset. Rolling hills, forests and dunes; the beach is an untouched paradise. Part of the magic od the beach is the wonderful and near constant breeze (it IS strong enough to blow your hat off). Take pictures of the long reaching Farewell Spit and the high cliffs at Cape Farewell.

Kaiteriteri Beach

Some ways north of Abel these are basically two lovely little beaches separated by a headland. The southern beach is the quieter one, as the northern beach is the main docking point for boats here. There isn’t that much of a difference though. The sand is golden at both; the water is a lovely colour at both. It’s possible to catch a water taxi from here to the Abel Tasman National Park. Ask around, you’re bound to be able to hire some kayaks if you want. Even go seal swimming maybe. It’s a post card perfect seaside town.

Where To Stay

There are many accommodation options for visitors in Nelson to suit every pocket and budget.

YHA Nelson Central

This 5-star hostel is located in the heart of the city and is ideal for a visitor wishing to explore the city. The staff is quite helpful with handy tips on local cuisine, restaurants and surrounding places of interest to visit. The kitchen facilities are excellent and rooms are also comfortable.

Amber House

This is lovely and clean bed and breakfast in a lovely 1897 villa. They offer a full cooked breakfast. The rooms are large and have satellite TV, Wi-Fi and air-conditioning. It is located in the CBD and the service is just as excellent from the hosts.

Te Puna Wai Lodge

This lodge has spectacular island, sea and mountain views. The house only has three rooms and offers exclusive and personal service by the owners. All rooms have antique furnishings and the amenities include a comfortable lounge, a deck-like veranda and verdant terrace garden. It is exquisite.

You can best explore with Nelson itineraries and get a memorable experience of this fine city and region.

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