25 Things To Do In Nelson

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New Zealand’s Nelson Tasman region is a stunning blend of alpine and coastal landscapes, with beautiful bays, lakes, plains and mountain ranges. Its three national parks – Kahurangi National Park, Nelson Lakes National Park and Abel Tasman National Park – are a treasure trove of natural assets. From sandy beaches to lush forests and glacial lakes to sandy beaches and marine reserves packed with wildlife like seals, penguins and dolphins.

With its surf beaches and rolling green hills dotted with sheep farms, it’s no surprise that surfing is one of Nelson’s most popular activities, but there are plenty more to keep every visitor busy. Other top attractions include art galleries displaying works by renowned local artists, award-winning vineyards and fantastic breweries. Visiting soon? Here are 25 things to do in Nelson to tick off your bucket list.

25 Things To Do In Nelson

Nelson City

1- Explore South Street

colourful buildings in south street
Stay in historic South Street in Nelson. Photo: Barry Peck.

South Street is the oldest preserved street in New Zealand and is a charming street with Victorian cottages, cobblestone paths and traditional lantern-style street lighting.

Some of the timber worker’s worker’s cottages date back to 1860, and staying in a charming cottage is a fun way to soak up the historic vibe.

All the buildings except for three are listed heritage buildings, and there’s a hip vintage shop.

South Street is a short walk from Nelson’s city centre.

2- Visit The Nelson Classic Car Museum

things to do in nelson nz Nelson Classic Car Museum
Another fabulous thing to do is to visit the Nelson Classic Car Museum. Photo: Josh Hutchinson, NelsonTasmanNz

At Nelson Classic Car Museum (NCCM), you will be amazed at the immaculate condition of its 150 cars.

From their 1908 Renault AX to Cadillacs, Vauxhalls, Jaguars and Ferraris, the museum has one of the best collections of classic cars.

Nelson Classic Car Museum is at 1 Cadillac Way, Annesbrook, Nelson.

3- Shop At A Market

free things to do in nelson fruit and veggie basket
Shopping for fruit and veggies at the Nelson markets. Photo: Nelson Farmer’s Market.

Like many other small communities, Nelson’s markets showcase the region’s artists and craftspeople, with stalls selling a range of local items.

Pick up a local souvenir, such as a pot of chutney, Pic’s Peanut Butter, handcrafted jewellery or manuka honey.

The Nelson Market (Saturday mornings from 8 am to 1 pm) at Montgomery Square, Nelson City, has been operating for 40 years.

The Nelson Farmer’s Market (Wednesday mornings from 8.30 am to 1.30 pm) at Kirby Lane 105 Bridge Street, Nelson City, is the spot to fill your shopping baskets with fresh produce.

Motueka Market (Sunday mornings from 8 am to 1 pm) at Decks Reserve Carpark, Wallace Street, Motueka, is a blend of craft and farmer’s market.

4- Learn To Make Peanut Butter At Pic’s

nelson things to do - Pic's Peanut Butter Factory tour
One of the things to do in Nelson with kids is going on the Pic’s Peanut Butter Factory tour.

Learn to make peanut butter while on the Pic’s Peanut Butter factory tour.

Pic Picot started making peanut butter in his garage and, within 10 years, was selling 20,000 jars a day of Pic’s Peanut Butter.

Pics sells almond, cashew, peanut and chocolate butter.

Learn all about peanuts and get the inside scoop on what goes on the factory floor.

You’ll get to taste jelly and nut butter during the tour.

Peanut Butter World is at 49 Saxton Road, Nelson.

5- Visit Founders Heritage Park

Railway trains, windmills and freighter planes are some of the attractions at Founders Heritage Park.

The museum has several historical themed displays as well as craft shops and a bakery.

The heritage railway line is a popular attraction operated by the Nelson Railway Society.

Founders Heritage Park is open seven days a week (10 am to 4.30 pm) and is at Founders Park, 87 Atawhai Drive, The Wood, Nelson.

6- Visit The Geographical Centre of New Zealand

nelson things to do visit the centre of new zealand
Visiting the centre of NZ is one of the cool things to do in Nelson. Photo: Nelson City Council.

The centre of New Zealand is marked by a giant white survey pin in the hills of Nelson.
Botanical Hill is not the true centre of New Zealand.

The hilltop was the starting point for trigonometrical surveys done in the 1870s by Nelson’s Chief Surveyor, John Spence Browning.

It’s a lovely walk up to the spot, which has stunning views over Nelson, the Kahurangi mountains and Tasman Bay.

Botanical Reserve is where New Zealand’s first rugby game took place.

200 spectators came to watch the game between the Nelson Football Club and Nelson College.

7- Explore Upper Moutere

Upper Moutere is the place to shop for handmade crafts and local art.

Galleries and craft shops display local sculptors, jewellers and ceramic artists.

Taste wine, olives, cider, smoked duck and cheese made from sheep’s and cow’s milk.

Drink craft beer at the Moutere Inn, which is the oldest pub in New Zealand.

8- Cycle The Great Taste Trail

cyclist cycling the great taste trail through vineyards in nelson
Cycle the Great Taste Trail from Nelson is one of the things to do when visiting.

The Nelson Tasman region has a network of cycle paths and mountain bike parks.

Options include cycling to the top of the Dun Mountain Trail for a panoramic view or beneath the lush native forest canopy that shelters the Wairoa Gorge mountain bike park.

It’s one of six regions gold regions of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, and there are trails suitable for everyone.

The coastal scenery of the 174 km Great Taste Trail is breathtaking, and the trail consists of smaller sections perfect for families.

It weaves past country lanes, the Waimea plains, rolling hills of Moutere and spectacular views of Tasman Bay.

The section between Stoke and Mapua is an excellent choice as you can end your bike tour with a glass of wine at the pier.

The Great Taste Trail starts in Nelson and passes through Richmond, Motueka, Riwaka, Kaiteriteri, Woodstock and Wakefield.

9- Relax On Mapua Wharf

A trip to the Mapua Wharf will provide a taste of New Zealand at its pedestrian-only precinct that is bustling with shops, galleries, waterfront eateries and artisan bars.

The wharf is popular with locals and tourists, who find it relaxing to wander around galleries, jewellery shops, wine bars and breweries.

It’s the place to go for a seafood meal while watching local children diving off the jetty.

10- Paddle A Waka

Paddling a waka (or traditional Maori canoe) along the coastline is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in Maori culture, learn a karakia (blessing) and Tikanga (etiquette).

Wakas played an essential part in New Zealand’s history as they were vessels used for trade and travel.

Moana Paddle Nelson offers kayaking and SUP tours.

11- Go Stand-Up Paddleboarding at Tahunanui Beach

paddleboarder near the stunning Fifeshire Stack
One of the things to do in Nelson is paddleboarding. Pictured here is Fifeshire Stack. Credit: Tamsin Henderson.

Tahunanui Beach around Haulashore Island and Fifeshire rock are great spots to go stand-up paddleboarding or stand-up yoga.

The first settlers who arrived in 1903 dredged a channel known as The Cut to make it easier for ships to reach Port Nelson.

Rabbit Island’s stretch of sand is a popular spot for family get-togethers 20 km from the city centre.

Haulashore Island is now an aquatic paradise for kayaking, boating, fishing and paddleboarding.

It’s also home to birds and little blue penguins.

There’s a ferry that does the rounds between the historic lighthouse, Boulder Bank and Haulashore Island. 

12- Go Skydiving

things to do in nelson for couples - skydiving
Tandem skydiving is one of the things to do around Nelson. Photo: Skydive Abel Tasman.

Are you looking for an adrenalin rush? One of the activities in Nelson you won’t forget is jumping out of a plane.

The scenery is spectacular as a clear day; you will see both the North and South Islands.

Skydive Abel Tasman offers the highest skydive in New Zealand, from 20,000ft.

The 40-minute flight offers views of both North and South Islands, ocean, beaches and national parks.

Feel the adrenaline rush of a 90-second freefall over this stunning region followed by a gentle descent as you float under the parachute back to base.

Skydive Abel Tasman has a range of sky diving experiences.

13- The Skywire Experience

fun things to do in nelson
Another fun thing to do for children near Nelson is to ride the Cable Bay Adventure Park Skywire. Photo: George Guille.

Fly above the landscape while strapped into the Skywire, a zipline experience with fantastic views of the western ranges and bays.

On a day when the weather is fine, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the snow-capped peak of Mount Taranaki.

Four ‘flyers’ are strapped securely in with five-point harnesses, and they whoosh through the air reaching 100 kph.

The Skywire Experience is at Cable Bay Adventure Park, which is 21 km from Nelson’s city centre.

Food, Wine and Beer

14- Drink Craft Beer

the free house in nelson
The Free House has a funky flavoutorium.

As the Nelson Tasman region produces all of New Zealand’s commercial hops, it’s no wonder there are 11 craft breweries.

Beer-making in Nelson began in the 1840s when German settlers began cultivating hops in Moutere.

The industry continued to thrive, and the growing region is the Riwaka, Tapawera and Brightwater triangle.

The busiest time for the farms is autumn when the fragrant, bitter flowers are removed and dried.

The brewing tradition continued, and, these days, many breweries are family-owned and welcome visitors to sample beer with local food.

Chatting to the locals while sipping beer in a craft brewery is a relaxing way to spend half a day. Top places to drink craft beer are:

  • The Free House (95 Collingwood Street, Nelson CBD), for its atmosphere in a converted church and a funky microbrewery that produces collaborative brews.
  • The Workshop Brewery (32c New Street, Nelson CBD) is a microbrewery in a converted warehouse alongside classic cars.
  • Mussel Inn (1259 State Highway 60, Onekaka in Golden Bay) uses local ingredients to brew natural, unfiltered and unpasteurised beer. It’s a popular spot to listen to music over a pint or two.
  • Hop Federation (483 Main Road, Riwaka) – hop grower meets beer brewer and share a passion for sustainability.
  • Townshend Brewery (502 High Street South, Motueka) is an award-winning brewery with access to the Motueka aquifer of ancient water.
  • Golden Bear Brewery (501/6 Aranui Road, Mapua Wharf) is great for beer and Mexican bar food at Mapua Wharf.

15- Go Wine Tasting

things to do in nelson with children
Sheep in Himmelsfeld Vineyard in Nelson. Photo: Chocolate Dog Photography.

Sunshine all year round and rich fertile soil enables the region to produce high-quality Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

German settlers planted vines in the 1800s, and then later, during the 1970s, the region’s modern wine industry began to flourish.

Go on a wine tasting tour of Nelson’s 28 cellar doors, where a choice of stunning natural landscapes, from the picturesque Waimea Plains to the rolling Moutere Hills, provides a backdrop for a leisurely vineyard lunch or a bike tour through the orchards.

Wineries to visit include:

  • Gravity (243 Old Coach Road, Mahana) is the only gravity-fed winery in Australia and New Zealand.
  • Unkel (53 Bronte Road east, Upper Moutere) has dry-farmed organic wine produced with hand-harvested grapes.
  • Seifried’s (168 Redwood Road, Appleby) has Nelson’s oldest vineyard planted in 1973 and is home to NZ’s most awarded dessert wine
  • Moutere Hills (42 Eggers Road, Upper Moutere) offers boutique wines and unusual varieties like Chenin blanc and viognier.
  • Himmelsfeld (100 Gardner Valley Road, Upper Moutere) is a boutique winery with a “clean green” philosophy using Romney sheep for weed control.
  • Neudorf (138 Neudorf Road, Upper Moutere) is the spot for concerts, local events and deli-style food paired with award-winning wines.

For more things to do in New Zealand read:

National Parks

16- Explore Abel Tasman National Park

Split Apple Rock aerial view
Visiting Split Apple Rock is one of the classic things to do near Nelson.

Abel Tasman National Park is a natural paradise of pristine beaches, granite coastline, lush native bush and sparkling bays, so it’s not surprising that exploring the park is one of the top things to do around Nelson.

Activities include hiking, kayaking, birdwatching and wildlife cruises to spot fur seals, dolphins and little blue penguins.

The park’s most famous hike is the 60km Abel Tasman Coastal Track from Marahau to Wainui and a magnet for keen hikers.

It takes about five days from end to end, but you can also hike part of the trail.

The park has various types of accommodation, including camping, huts, luxurious lodges and beach glamping.

Marahau is 59km from Nelson and is about one hour by road.

17- Go Canyoning

Zip, slide and abseil through granite, rainforest and rockpools of Abel Tasman National Park.

The park’s granite canyons, beautiful beaches and native bush provide a stunning natural playground for active travellers.

Canyons are steep, narrow mountain streams with waterfalls and pools.

Sliding, scrambling and jumping through these beautiful canyons with the help of a professional canyoning guide is challenging and fun.

Abel Tasman Canyons has a range of canyoning adventures for all experience levels.

18- Go Horseriding on Marahau Beach

horseriding is one of the things to do in nelson for kids
One of the things to do near Nelson for kids is horseriding. Photo: Abel Tasman Horsetreks.

Marahau Beach, which is the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, is safe to swim during low tide. 

Horse riding is also available, and you don’t need any riding experience to give it a go.

Horses come in a range of temperaments, including animals suitable for beginners.

Abel Tasman Equine Centre offers riding lessons and horse trekking along the beach.

19- Take A Trip To Golden Bay

things to see near nelson Wharariki Beach
Exploring Wharariki Beach, one of the beautiful places near Nelson. Photo: Farewell Horse Treks.

Golden Bay is home to some of the most stunning natural scenery in the Nelson Tasman region.

Adventures include exploring Wharariki Beach, a guided nature tour along the Farewell Spit, one of the world’s longest natural sand spits.

Farewell Spit is where you’ll find more than 90 species of migratory birds, and the sight of the sandstone cliffs plunging vertically into the ocean is jaw-dropping.

Wharariki Beach is in Puponga, which is 154km from Nelson.

20- Te Waikoropupu Springs

Te Waikoropupu Springs family on platform
Admiring Te Waikoropupu Springs is a fantastic thing to tick off your Nelson bucket list.

Te Waikoropupu is New Zealand’s largest freshwater springs and produces 14,000 litres of water per second.

It’s also the Southern Hemisphere’s largest cold water springs.

There’s a short forest walk to a platform that juts out over the springs and a longer walk past mosses and ferns.

The springs are treasured by the Māori people and regarded as a spiritual area guarded by a spirit known as taniwha.

According to Māori traditions, the water has healing qualities and are used to perform blessings.

Te Waikoropupū Springs is 100 km from Nelson, near Takaka.

21- Go Fly Fishing For Brown Trout

woman and fish fly fishing in nelson
One of the top outdoors things to do around Nelson is fly fishing. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer.

The brown trout are plentiful in the region and are usually wary and, when hooked, put up a good fight by heading for rocks, logs, or anything that will help them getaway.

Fly fishing season is from October to April, and the weather is perfect for fishing.

The region is one of the sunniest spots in the country; the rivers have crystal clear waters and stunning scenery.

Wade into the river wearing waders, boots and Polaroid sunglasses, whisk the fly into the air and drop it into the water, then strips in the line to imitate an insect moving across the water.

Some popular fishing spots are along the Baton and Pierce Rivers.

Stonefly Lodge is on the banks of the Motueka River, 70km from Nelson.

22- Go Helihiking in Kahurangi National Park

A helicopter flight to Kahurangi National Park is a great way to explore the countryside of the Lord of the Rings.

Land on Mt Owens, where the hobbits hid, and hike down the mountain.

Most of the places where the Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed were not graphically enhanced and easily recognisable from the movie.

Another area to go hiking is the Wangapeka Track, which traverses Kahurangi National Park from the Waimea Basin in the east to Karamea in the west.

Formed in 1996, Kahurangi National Park is New Zealand’s second-largest national park and home to the 82km Heaphy Track.

452,002ha of the north-western corner of the South Island is covered with diverse flora and fauna and natural landscapes ranging from alpine tussock downs to caves, natural arches and sinkholes and nikau forests.

The park has a large population of Great Spotted Kiwi and several other unique species such as blue duck, the largest cave spider and giant weta, a flightless insect that looks a bit like a grasshopper.

23- Visit Nelson Lakes National Park

things to do near nelson Lake Rotoiti Winter
One of the amazing natural attractions near Nelson is Lake Rotoiti.

Nelson Lakes is picture-perfect all year round and accessible from the alpine village of St Arnaud.

It’s home to 16 glacial lakes, including Lake Rotoiti, its most famous lake and lovely lakeside walks.

See gushing waterfalls and listen to the calls of tuis and bellbirds echo through the treetops.

Lake Rotomairewhenua is one of the clearest in the world.

Lake Rotoiti is 82km from Nelson.

24- Cross Buller Gorge Swing Bridge

fun things to do nelson aerial of murchison swingbridge
Murchison Swingbridge is a heart-stopping attraction near Nelson.

The longest swing bridge in New Zealand stretches 110m across Buller Gorge.

Buller Gorge Swingbridge is 19 m above the Buller River and is within Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park, which also has a thrilling zipline ride.

Buller Gorge Swingbridge is 134km from Nelson.

25- Go Skiing at Rainbow Ski Area

snowboarder at the Rainbow Ski Area
Skiing or snowboarding at the Rainbow Ski Area is a fun activity near Nelson NZ.

Go skiing between July and September in the Rainbow Ski Area, a friendly uncrowded ski region.

At 1760 m, there’s regular snow in winter and snowmaking facilities.

With side slopes and groomed trails, the terrain is suitable for beginners, and there’s decent off-piste skiing for advanced skiers and snowboarders.

There’s also a small terrain park.

The Rainbow Ski Area is 106 km from Nelson and 34km from St Arnaud.

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Christina Pfeiffer Travel Writer
Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.