Posted in Travel in New Zealand

A Weekend in Nelson: the Perfect Short Break… but You Might Need Longer!

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Last month we had a few days away in Nelson. We wanted a short weekend get-away for our wedding anniversary (number 39 and counting…) but came home thinking we could have spent a lot longer time in this beautiful region because there is so much to do.

Nelson has a lovely laid back feel which creates the perfect, relaxed holiday vibe. Plus it has national parks, lakes, stunning beaches, a vibrant art scene, great coffee, wineries and a sunny climate – all things that add up to make one of the best holiday locations in New Zealand.

Getting to Nelson is not difficult, it’s just a one hour flight from Auckland but you do have to travel by regional so the planes are small-ish.

Nelson City is known for it’s local arts & craft shops and galleries. Or follow your nose as we did and stumble upon the best little places tucked away down a side street. Combine this with a sublime coffee at one of the cute organic cafes you will find and you have the recipe for an awesome day in Nelson… topped off only by a sumptuous dinner out at one of Nelson’s fine dining restaurants. What a wonderful way to spend our anniversary!

Arts and Crafts– Download the pdf guide to Nelson’s best local artists here and consider following the suggested walking trail. It is hard to resist buying handcrafted art and we came home with several gems for gifts and keepsakes.

Cafes and Restaurants You will love the coffee culture in Nelson particularly the artisan organic coffee.

My fave cafes:

  • The Kitchen– lovely organic food as well as good coffee.
  • The Baker’s is a French style café is all about the tastiest baked goodies, from artisanal breads, to almond croissants and cinnamon morning buns… and coffee.
  • Lambretta’s café right in the heart of Nelson city, lovely old building and gardens.
  • Deville café has the classic eggs bene and big breakfast options.

My all time fave restaurant for that special occasion:

  • Hopgoods and Co– we had a fab dinner here to celebrate our anniversary and sampled a full three course menu… everything from Pāua Dumpling starter, Crayfish Tail main, fried broccoli with anchovy, lemon and caper side, Brown Sugar Tart with walnut crumble, caramelised apple and mascarpone dessert and finally to round off we treated ourselves to a ‘Toblerone’ dessert cocktail with Baileys, Frangelico, chocolate liquor & cream. WOW!

Walk along the RiverMaitai River Walkway runs alongside Maitai River through central Nelson.

Climb to the Centre of NZ – lovely walk up Botanical Hill to the spot that is known as the centre of NZ. From the top you will get beautiful views of the whole city, the bay and the surrounding mountains.

Nelson Market is held every Saturday and it is hugely popular with both locals and visitors. Here you will find artists and crafters showcasing their hand made items. It’s the perfect place to buy a special last minute gift before heading to the airport.

Festivals- MarchFest, Cider FestivalThe Workshop Brewery and Kirby Lane.

Beaches– From Cable Bay, to Tahunanui Beach, to Kaiteriteri Beach and over the Takaka Hill to Golden Bay, there are plenty of options if you love to be on or near the water. Protected from the elements and sheltered by the granite coves and bushy headlands of the Abel Tasman National Park, you can take a leisurely paddle through crystal clear waters along the length of crescent shape beaches. Further inland, you can drift under the footbridge in the Kaiteriteri Beach lagoon, or head further north to explore the caves and archways carved out by the sea in Golden Bay. If you’re lucky, you might even get to spot some playful seal pups, penguins, dolphins, or whales.

Split Apple Rock, Kaiteriteri– Scientists believe that the rock was split through a natural phenomenon known as ‘ice wedging’ during an ice age over 120 million years ago. The walk from the main road down along a well cut track or sometimes boardwalk is cool and atmospheric. Finally you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the rock in the sun as you stand in amazement in the shade of the bush.

Wineries– we visited this region during winter so not many wineries were open but we did find a warm welcome at Seifried Estate Cellar Door. Of course we purchased a couple of bottles to take home and were provided with a handy carry on for the plane… yes, liquid is okay on AirNZ.

A day trip touring the wine route from the Waimea Plains to the Moutere Hills can see you tasting the famous Reisling, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc varieties. 

Download your guide to the wine route here:

Great Taste Cycling Route – Cycling is very popular here and is facilitated by the network of trails known as Tasman’s Great Taste Trail. This loops from the city to Kaiteriteri, through vineyards and past cafes and galleries, 175km of nature, food and art. Tasman’s Great Taste Trail is organised for bike hire, pickups and deliveries, a leisurely multi-day trail bike holiday or a holiday where it is shared with our activities. Urban Cycling Routes provide bikes.

Abel Tasman National ParkThe Abel Tasman Coastal Track follows a beautiful coastline around clear, turquoise bays. We saw an abundance of bird life and we heard lots of birdsong from the treetops above and also from the sea birds clustered along the shoreline. We walked for a while under the shady canopy of lush native forest and enjoyed the sound of the occasional small waterfall nestled in the midst of the park. We only walked for an hour or two but I’m sure in summer a long walk into the park with an overnight stay in one of the huts would be spectacular…

You can walk into the Park from the seaside village of Marahau, Canaan Downs (at the top of Takaka Hill) or from the picturesque Wainui Bay. Or, you can be dropped off at various points along the track by sea, paddle in by kayak, or be flown in to the airstrip in Awaroa Bay by plane or helicopterSeveral water transport operators are based in Kaiteriteri and Marahau at the southern end of the Park, and many offer combo options so you can cruise, walk or kayak sections of the park at your own pace. 

Take a Water Taxi:

We had planned to do a boat trip but unfortunately we left it to the last day and it was wet and windy so not the best day for it. We decided to leave this for next time and headed for the next activity…

Mapua: Mapua Wharf has pedestrian-only areas that give it a relaxed feel as you wander around the old cool-store buildings that once serviced a fruit shipping port and are now home to galleries, restaurants, ice creameries and gift shops. Mapua means ‘abundance’ in te reo Māori, and the area certainly doesn’t disappoint.

We sampled the most delicious fried blue cod and chips with onion rings at The Smokehouse… on a wintery, blowing day this was just the ticket! Then we wandered around the old cool store galleries and bought more art.

The Ruby Coast road is a picturesque way to travel from Nelson to Motueka and has lovely beaches, picnic spots, cafes, galleries and sculptures along the way. The Ruby Coast gets its name from the deep red pebbles which underlie the sandy beach.

Unfortunately we did not visit Te Waikoropupū Springs or Nelson Lakes National Park but this is definitely on our list of things to do next time.

Te Waikoropupū Springs in Kahurangi National Park are the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand, the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere and contain some of the clearest water ever measured.

Nelson Lakes National Park There are 16 picturesque lakes that make up the Nelson Lakes National Park such as Lake Rotoroa (long lake) and Lake Rotoiti (little lake). Lake Rotomairewhenua (also known as ‘Blue Lake’) has been officially named the clearest lake in the world, and is nestled amongst the stunning forests of the national park.

Then, all too soon it was time for us to head back to the airport, stopping on the way to fill up petrol. We handed over the keys to our rental car, donned masks and paid a huge amount for a coffee while we waited for Air NZ to whisk us back to Auckland… where we found ourselves in a whole heap of trouble just a few days later and relegated to level 4 lockdown.

How lucky were we to have a few days away in such a beautiful location before all travel was suspended? Well, staying home is not so bad when we can reminisce and plan another trip…

It was a fantastic trip and if you were thinking of coming to Nelson we would say: it is completely worth it – you’ll love it!

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