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Starting from the city centre, an easy walk along the softly flowing Maitai River will take you across a blue-railed bridge to the base of the Botanical Reserve. A twenty-minute uphill trek under the canopy of poplar and kauri trees will land you at the Centre of New Zealand viewing platform, adorned with a large white pin that identifies the central trig point from the 1870’s. Take a breath of fresh air and enjoy the stunning views over the buzzing central city, Tasman Bay and the picturesque mountain ranges. On your way back down, try one of the alternate routes - the Branford Park trail will take you to a popular swimming hole known by locals as ‘Black Hole’, whilst continuing along the hillside will extend your scenic journey right through to Walters Bluff. Or, head back to the base and explore one of the magical gardens located close by; Queens, Miyazu or Huangshi.
2. Dine your way around town
The food scene in Nelson City is sure to captivate your tastebuds, from delicious street carts to oyster bars, cocktail lounges and boutique bakeries. The waterfront along Rocks Road is the perfect place to dine on the water's edge, savouring uninterrupted views of the Haven, islands and mountain ranges. Meanwhile, in the central city Hardy, Bridge and Trafalgar Street's are thriving with some of the regions most renowned restaurants, many of which offer an authentic alfresco dining experience. Revel in the variety of local fare and international cuisine, or venture a little further to discover the hidden gems in the foodie laneways of Church Street, New Street or Kirby Lane. Kirby is the home of street cart dining in the city, with karaage chicken, falafel and mexican tacos to sink your teeth into. Top tip: if you're in the city on a Wednesday or Saturday, don't forget to taste your way around the markets too!
Photo: Dominic Hall Photography
3. Discover a nature sanctuary
Nestled in the valley behind Nelson City is a nature sanctuary unlike any other. The Brook Waimārama Sanctuary is the largest fenced haven for endangered flora and fauna in the South Island, and is the perfect place to immerse in lush native bush and tranquil scenery whilst enjoying the glorious sound of birds as they flit through the treetops. A network of tracks weave through the hidden valleys of the sanctuary, where you'll discover a diverse range of wildlife, waterfalls and native plants thriving in the mossy landscapes. Guided walks are available if you want to learn more about the sanctuary, and the glow-worm and after dark forest tours through winter are a must-do for all.
4. Experience the history of Nelson City
Wander down the cobblestone paths of South Street, New Zealand’s oldest fully preserved street, and see some of the quaint cottages that were built for early Nelson settlers back in the 1860’s. Spend an afternoon exploring Founders Heritage Park, where you can browse gifts and souvenirs within the walls of a giant windmill, visit artisans in character buildings, ride the railway on a bright red train, explore the stunning gardens, sit in the cockpit of the Bristol Freighter Plane, and visit the replica fire brigade engine house. Top tip: The Provincial Museum in the central city also has an array of galleries, exhibitions and tours that showcase Nelson’s fascinating history and identity, and is well worth a visit.
5. Spend the afternoon at Tahunanui Beach
From a childhood spent crafting sandcastles on the shore and splashing around in the shallows, to an adulthood spent strolling along the waters edge as the sun sets, the white sands and glistening waters of Tahunanui Beach are home to many memories, and form the basis of many family traditions. All year round, at this iconic beach situated just minutes from Nelson City, you’ll seepaddleboarders circling Fifeshire Rock, groups of friends tossing a ball around on the sand, and happy children queuing up outside the Mr Whippy truck. Top tip: Allow a whole day when visiting Tahunanui - the Fun Park located just behind the beach has everything you need to keep you entertained for hours on end, with go karts, a trampoline park, roller skating, a hydroslide, bumper boats, mini golf, a model train, and even a zoo!
6. Go on a cycling or mountain-biking adventure
One wouldn’t think, but within minutes of the city centre are cycle tracks that ascend high into the hilltops, amountainbike park that rivals some of New Zealand's best, and trails that take you on a peaceful journey alongside a peacefully flowing river. For a leisurely ride, the Maitai Walkway will take you past a series of stunning sculptures and picturesque picnic spots, and if you’re lucky you may even catch a glimpse of the playful seal pups who love to roll around in the river. More experienced riders looking to navigate some thrilling downhill descents and rocky terrain may prefer a visit to the Coppermine Trailor Codgers Mountain Bike Park. The summit of New Zealand’s first railway line offers a rewarding view out over Nelson City and the stunning natural landscapes that surround it, and is well worth the uphill journey to get there.
7. Browse the central city shops and markets
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to indulgence in Nelson City, with fashion outlets, department stores, and boutique shops galore. If it's unique local wares you're looking for, Little Beehive is the place to go. If you happen to be in the City over the weekend, the Saturday Market held in Montgomery Square is a not-to-be-missed event that has drawn the loyal attendance of locals and visitors for the last 40 years. From the early hours of the morning right through until lunchtime, the carpark is abuzz with musicians, vocalists and performers, as well as stallholders and their customers, all there to celebrate the arts, artisans and authentic fare our region is renowned for. Linger and taste your way around the market – with world famous peanut butter, chutneys, nuts and all, we guarantee it’ll be hard for you to resist. Try on locally made clothing, and peruse the tea towels, paintings and handcrafted jewellery made lovingly by the creative residents who call Nelson Tasman their home.
8. Enjoy art and artisan experiences
There are plenty of opportunities to get those creative juices flowing through your veins, and immerse yourself in the creative essence of the region. Pick up a Nelson Arts Trail map from the local i-SITE and embark on a journey of artistic wonder, from the largest collection of watercolour paintings at the Suter Galleryto the works of New Zealand’s best known landscape photographer at the Craig Potton Gallery. Or, if outdoor masterpieces are more your thing, we recommend exploring the Nelson City ArtWalk, or wandering down the Maitai River and around the central city, both of which are adorned with stunning sculptures, mesmerising murals and meticulate mosaics. Visit Jens Hansen, internationally acclaimed jeweller and maker of the ‘One Ring’ from Peter Jackson’s famous movies, and browse his artisan collection.
9. Visit the Boulder Bank
For 10,000 years, debris from the Mackay Bluffs was swept southwards, rolling over the seabed and forming a natural (and very rare) spit of boulders, stretching 13km long. Tucking Nelson City away behind a long finger of rough gravel and smooth boulders, the Boulder Bank Scenic Reserve helped indigenous Māori to shelter the harbour from early European Settlers, until their eventual discovery of the land in 1841. An 8km walk along the rock-strewn bank will give you a glimpse into its unique history, and a climb up the iconic lighthouse will treat you to stunning 360 degree views of Nelson City, the Western Ranges, and Tasman Bay. Alternatively, explore the pristine haven and boulder bank from the water with a guided lighthouse kayak tour, a sailing adventure or get up close with a paddleboard.
10. Attend one of the popular City events
Nelson City has a vibrant events calendar that spans the full length of the year, featuring hundreds of events that showcase the regions surprising diversity and keep locals and visitors entertained and enthralled! In summertime, we celebrate the results of a consistently sunny climate and extraordinary soils with the annual Cider, Beer & Wine festivals. In Autumn, we celebrate the flourishing performing arts community, as the Fringe Festival takes centre stage. During the winter, we don’t lock ourselves indoors – we form new connections and friendships at Feast for the Senses, or spend our evenings gazing in admiration at the works of talented locals, as sculptures, multimedia and interactive exhibits illuminate the city for Te Ramaroa. And in Spring, the city comes alive in a blanket of colour as the annual Arts Festival and Masked Parade takes to the streets.