Visiting the idyllic Nelson District is seeing the magic of the entire country in one tiny region. One of the top destinations for travellers to New Zealand, Nelson has more sunshine hours than any other part of the country, offers a wealth of walking and other outdoor activities and is a wonderful place to lay back for a while. Home to the best and most popular national parks – Kahurangi, Nelson Lakes and Abel Tasman parks, this enchanting destination is a must-see for adventure-seekers, food lovers and arts enthusiasts alike.
The contrasts of white sandy beaches, steep rugged mountains, glacial lakes, stony rivers, vineyards, hops, fruit trees and sleepy towns make this region a haven for relaxation or extreme adventure. Yacht charters, fishing, swimming, walking tours, tramps, and all forms of sightseeing excursions abound! And for the daring – try white water rafting, parapenting, paragliding, tandem parachute jumps, diving, seal swimming, quad bike riding and more!
The tranquillity of the Nelson Lakes National Park will mesmerise you. Forested mountains envelop two glacial lakes fringed by flax and beech forests. In summer, fishing and walking are the key attractions with winter allowing superb cross country and powder skiing in the Rainbow Valley and Mt Robert ski fields.
Abel Tasman National Park, made famous by picture postcards of untouched golden sands and sparkling clear waters, is a short drive from Nelson. This three to four day track (51km) is one of the most beautiful in the country, passing through pleasant bush overlooking beaches, coves and quiet lagoons. Sea kayaking is a remarkable way to see the park and to be at one with nature – one to five day-guided tours are available. However, if kayaking or walking is not your idea of fun, there are numerous cruises and water taxis leaving from Marahau, a quiet little town proudly hosting many of the services to the park.
One of the best-known tracks, the Heaphy Track, is a four-to-six day tramp encompassing spectacular views of Kahurangi National Park and rugged west coast scenery. Kahurangi means treasured possession, and that it is, being an ecological wonderland with prolific bird and plant life and the largest known cave system in the southern hemisphere. Before leaving Collingwood for the track, be sure to take in the natural wonderland of Farewell Spit. A renowned bird sanctuary, Farewell Spit is a summer home to thousands of migratory birds from the artic tundra, and is visited also be the occasional seal from nearby colonies. The long crescent of sand, dunes and wetlands is best explored on foot or by 4-wheel drive safari. The dunes themselves are an amazing phenomenon and offer stunning panoramic views of the Spit, Golden Bay and at low tide, the vast salt marsh.
The little town of Collingwood is delightful. Being at the end of the line it boasts a small hotel, a trendy café and small convenience store! The gateway to the Heaphy Track and Farewell Spit, it is a charming place to stay when exploring the surrounding attractions. Golden Bay hosts many other fascinating natural wonders including limestone caves, in particular the Ngarua Caves where bones from the extinct Moa can be found. Gold fields and the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand can be visited at Pupu springs. An underwater observation window offers spectacular viewing of the incredibly clear waters and brightly coloured plant life. Snorkelling in the largest spring is permitted, although with an all year round temperature of 110C you will need to bring your own wetsuit! Its worth it though!
Nelson and Golden Bay is famous for its pottery given the quality of its local clay, and glass blowing, furniture, woodcarving, paintings, candle making and other crafts flourish in this artists paradise. Take time out to leisurely peruse the quaint country studios or visit the colourful galleries and lively markets in Nelson itself.
Nelsons traditional symbol is its unusual Art Deco cathedral situated at the top of a hill overlooking the city centre. Many other historic buildings, pottery galleries and museums are well worth visiting, but one should not overlook the abundance of fashionable cafés and restaurants offering the best of the regions food, wine and beers. With over 70% of the countys fishing quota owned by Nelson businesses, restaurants boast delectable selections of deep-sea fish including orange roughie and hoki. Fresh scallops, crayfish, mussels and oysters are readily available and can be accompanied by local wines and beers carefully selected to suit each menu. Wine trailing is a popular pastime, and what better way to end a superb day than to dine at one of the several harbour side restaurants as the sun sinks gracefully behind the hills of the Able Tasman National Park.