Nelson Tasman: An introduction

Nelson sparkles with golden beaches, artisan food, boutique wine and beer, and a thriving artistic community. It’s also a drawcard for fans of the great outdoors.

Nelson Tasman's golden sand beaches and vast protected areas of national park set the scene for year-round nature, wildlife and outdoor experiences, including sea kayaking, rock climbing, white-water rafting, mountain biking, sailing, horse trekking and swimming with marine life. 

The sea surrounding Nelson is the source of some of New Zealand’s finest seafood, and the temperate climate produces abundant grapes for wine, hops for beer and fruit, including apples for cider.

Bike trails offer cycling fun for all ages and skill levels, and the Tasman's Great Taste Cycle Trail is an especially enjoyable way to explore the region's breweries, vineyards, country pubs and historic buildings.

Nelson’s vibrant creative environment offers visitors the opportunity to meet and mix with local artists and craftspeople, visit their studios and participate in art tours.


Māori knew the Nelson area as Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka a Maui or "the tip of the nose of Maui's canoe". According to legend, the demi-god Maui used his fish hook to catch and land the North Island, Te Ika a Maui or "the fish of Maui", from his waka (canoe).

The Nelson area was first settled between 700 and 800 years ago. Attracted by fertile soil, abundant seafood and the sunny climate, Māori established villages along the coast and close to river valleys. The central location made an ideal stopover for North Island Māori traders looking for West Coast greenstone or agillite to make tools.

Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman’s 1642 voyage of discovery is the earliest known contact between Māori and Europeans. A memorial in Golden Bay marks the tragic meeting, which resulted in the death of four sailors and Tasman’s departure from the region that now has his name.

Food and wine

Nelson is one of New Zealand’s leading wine regions, with a large number of awards relative to its production. The 28 family-owned wineries offer charming cellar-door experiences, and visitors can also take leisurely vineyard tasting tours to learn about the different wine varieties and their production.

Nelson Tasman is also the craft brewing capital of New Zealand and supplies all of the country's commercially grown hops. The fledgling cider industry is also gaining momentum.

As Australasia’s largest fishing port, Nelson exports fresh seafood – scallops, clams and salmon. Local foods can be sampled in the region's numerous eateries, including the delightful old Mapua wharf where former apple sheds have been refurbished as cafés and restaurants overlooking the Waimea estuary on Tasman Bay.

Nature and wildlife

Nelson Tasman’s three national parks – Kahurangi, Nelson Lakes and Abel Tasman – plus its two marine reserves and extensive coastline are havens for some of New Zealand’s protected nature and wildlife. In Tonga Island marine reserve, part of Abel Tasman National Park, visitors can kayak or take a boat to see New Zealand fur seals in their natural environment.

Farewell Spit is one of the world’s longest natural sandbars, with about 30 kilometres (18 miles) above water at the tip of the South Island and continuing to grow. This area of exceptional beauty is home to more than 90 species of bird, including migratory godwits and gannets. A long-established bird sanctuary and designated Wetland of International Importance, Farewell Spit has New Zealand’s highest conservation protection and is an extraordinary place to visit as part of a guided tour.

Golden Bay was named during its gold rush days rather than for its beautiful golden sands. It is home toTe Waikoropupu Springs, the southern hemisphere's largest cold-water springs and the third-clearest fresh water in the world. A waahi tapu or sacred place for Maori, the springs' water may not be touched but its extraordinary clarity can be enjoyed from walkways with detailed information panels.  

Adventure / outdoors

Sea kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park is one of the region’s iconic outdoor activities. Established in 1942, the Abel Tasman is renowned for golden beaches, sculpted granite cliffs and clear water. You can hire kayaks and take single or multi-day guided tours to visit otherwise inaccessible sheltered coves.

The coastal Abel Tasman track is one of New Zealand's Great Walks. The 52 kilometre (32 mile) walk takes three to five days to complete, with huts, campsites and lodges available along the way. Water taxis run half- and full-day excursions exploring the park's many bays. 

Heaphy Track in Kahurangi National Park is the longest Great Walk, taking four to six days. In winter months, it can also be traversed by mountain bike. Kahurangi is home to an exceptional variety of native plants and wildlife, including great spotted kiwi.

Art and culture

Nelson was the birthplace of the unique World of WearableArt show and claims New Zealand’s highest per capita artist community, with 350-plus resident artists.

Founded by Nelson artist Dame Suzie Moncrieff, the World of WearableArt began as a fundraiser in a Nelson woodshed. Now it is a major theatrical event held in Wellington and touring internationally each year. The World of WearableArt museum is based in Nelson, with a significant collection of award-winning garments offering visitors a year-round spectacle. Adjacent is the Classic Cars Museum, containing one of Australasia's largest private car collections, sourced from all over the world..

The Suter Art Gallery – Te Aratoi o Whakatu – opened in 1899 and is one of the first permanent structures built solely for the display of art in New Zealand.

And by the way...

  • Nelson is the geographical centre of New Zealand.
  • Settled in 1841, Nelson is New Zealand’s second-oldest city. 
  • Nelson city basks in about 2,500 sunshine hours each year.
  • New Zealand’s first rugby game was played in Nelson on 14 May 1870.
  • The region provided several filming locations for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. 
  • Some of the world's best brown trout fishing rivers are in Nelson Tasman region.
  • Nobel Prize winner Ernest Rutherford, who was the first person to split the atom, spent his early life here.