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Come to Nelson and experience an extraordinary corner of New Zealand.

This is the top of the South Island, beautiful country caught between sweeping beaches and the northern edge of the Southern Alps. It's home to diverse communities that have bloomed on rich land in a Mediterranean climate. The relative isolation, now easily beat in aeroplanes, has fostered a unique culture, while preserving much of the land in a peaceful, natural state.

 

Naturally Nelson by Robyn Fullerton Most of the region's economy is based on natural resources: fishing, horticulture, forestry, agriculture and tourism, which have supported the growth of a vibrant, go-ahead culture. 

Naturally Nelson by Robyn Fullerton

To visit Nelson is to encounter the original: chat with locals while picking apples in an orchard, or fingering creative marvels in a studio, or wandering through the bustle of the city's Saturday outdoor market.

Nelson City is the main urban settlement. Combined with neighbouring Richmond, its population is just over 50,000, making it the tenth most populous city in New Zealand. 

 

Pomeroys Cafe It is small enough to be genuine, and certainly busy enough to entertain you: between the cruisy street cafes and fine restaurants, the concerts and performers, the galleries and quirky shops, you'll be hard pressed to even get to the beach, the river and the harbour cruises. 

Pomeroys Cafe

 

This region is home to major performance events, including the New Zealand Wearable Art Awards, the New Zealand Chamber Music Festival, the Nelson School of Music Winter Festival, the Gathering and a range of annual festivals and fairs that amply exhibit the energy and verve of the local communities.

 

Höglund Glass Art Nelson's cultural heritage is easily experienced. The regional museum features an incredible photographic collection, the Suter Gallery celebrated 100 years existence in 1999, and there are historic homes and parks to explore. 

Höglund Glass Art

 

There are two fine guides to the region's culture: pick up The Treasured Pathway guide to the Marlborough Nelson Heritage Highway, and the Nelson Regional Guide Book: Art in its Own Place.

 

The city also makes a great adventure base camp. There is no shortage of outdoor options in the region, and the high sunshine hours (even in winter) give you lots of opportunities to play. 

 

Nelson's harbour view Try yachting, coastal cruises, tandem skydiving, scenic flights, or rides on 4x4 motorbikes, horses or mountainbikes. There is a rich network of walking tracks, excellent golf courses, and a wonderful range of coastal and riverside picnic spots.

Nelson's harbour view

 

Outside the city, the region splits naturally into four areas: the horticultural highways between Nelson city and Motueka; the idyllic Abel Tasman National Park area; the hidden kingdom of Golden Bay; and the alpine lakes area around St Arnaud and Murchison in the south. Each area has its own character, and special experiences.

 

The country highways between Nelson-Richmond and Motueka travel through the horticultural heartland; either traversing the Waimea Plains before skirting coastal estuaries, or swinging inland into the Moutere and Motueka valleys. 

 

Still Life with Chillies by Nichola Mannering

This is the fruit belt of Nelson,  the region that supports apple and pear orchards, vineyards, berry fruit, hop gardens, kiwifruit and stone fruit. It has also proved fertile ground for artists and craftspeople.  The approaches to Motueka are probably the most arty of all roads in the region. 

Still Life with Chillies by Nichola Mannering

 

Don't rush this trip - leave yourself time to enjoy the vineyards, galleries, orchard stalls, cafes, historic buildings and beauty spots along the way. Motueka itself provides a fine base for travellers: this friendly rivermouth town is right next to the Kahurangi and Abel Tasman National Parks.

 

Just beyond Motueka is the Abel Tasman coast, its golden beaches long a favourite summer haunt of New Zealanders. This coast and the Abel Tasman National Park are beautifully hospitable all year round: in winter the weather is often incredibly calm, giving you days of clear skies above still water. 

 

Sea kayaking in Golden Bay There are lots of ways to enjoy this coastline of sandy, bushwrapped beaches locked between rocky headlands; a cruisy hike along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, a sea kayaking trip, a launch or water taxi cruise, swimming with seals, horse or llama trekking in the hills, or fly into one of the lodges in the heart of the park.

Sea kayaking in Golden Bay

 

Golden Bay lies further north, reached by road over the marble mountain of Takaka Hill. It is a cultural coastal wonderland itself, tucked between two national parks, the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks. 

 

Te Waikoropupu Springs Not to be missed natural features in Golden Bay include the famously clear Waikoropupu Springs, and Farewell Spit, a sweeping 35km sandspit which is a bird sanctuary and wetland of international significance. 

Te Waikoropupu Springs

On the east coast there are tranquil shallow beaches, and in the northwest, windswept sand dunes and the quiet beauty of Whanganui Inlet.  Golden Bay offers lots of places to stay, dine, lax out and lap up the laidback local lifestyle.

 

Inland looms the 500,000 ha of Kahurangi National Park, which spreads across the ranges of northwest Nelson, and includes the Heaphy Track (a Great Walk), the Wangapeka Track and the Tasman Wilderness Area. The park is easily accessed from Golden Bay, and also from the Motueka Valley, and from Murchison in the south.

 

The third national park in the region is Nelson Lakes National Park, which protects the northern edge of the Southern Alps, and offers superb trout fishing, nature walks, boating and mountain hikes. 

 

St Arnaud village The lakeside village of St Arnaud is the main gateway to the park; in winter there are two skifields operating, and a iceskating rink. Downstream on the Buller River is Murchison: enjoy short walks, explore goldfields history and experience world class whitewater river rafting and kayaking.

St Arnaud village

 

Certainly enough there to whet an appetite, and where better than Nelson

to satisfy it. Treat yourself to days dining on fresh food and fine wine; even the beer is healthy! 

 

Nelson's food bowl There is a rapidly developing regional cuisine: fresh fish, shellfish, fruit and vegetables come to the table, and gourmet products are made all around the region: manuka smoked fish, pickles and relishes, jams and honey, juices, cheese and breads.

Nelson's food bowl

 

In Nelson you'll enjoy memorable meals in stunning settings: looking across the harbour or the garden, in old colonial buildings or a restored schoolhouse, or perhaps a new built café decorated by artists and run with flair and humour.