The top of Trafalgar Street and Christ Church Cathedral. © Barry Peck

Urban explorer: Nelson

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Nelson has it all: a vibrant centre, fabulous music scene, incredible outdoor opportunities, arts and crafts, culture and stellar marks for sunshine hours. 

Renowned for its beautiful golden beaches, there’re plenty more strings to its bow, including the Nelson Classic Car Museum. Its iconic cone-topped building near the airport is home to a privately-owned car collection here with 140 of the most sought-after models of motoring, aptly housed in a former car assembly plant. 

To learn more about the city’s history follow the Trevor Horne Heritage Trail which can be downloaded from the Council’s website. It starts at the iconic Christ Church Cathedral at the top of Trafalgar Street, the main shopping hub. Before European settlers arrived in the early 1840s the site was once a Māori pā, known as Pikimai. The Trail passes many noteworthy buildings, including the recently renovated Nelson Centre of Musical Arts, which, like the historic Theatre Royal, hosts many noteworthy events. 

Time your trip to coincide with the weekend, and there’ll be opportunities to meet local artisans at the ever-popular and eclectic Saturday Market.

Jens Hansen jewellers nearby is well-known as the creator of THE ring from The Lord of the Rings, but you can fashion a gem of your own with a jewellery-making session at Rose & Luna at Tahunanui with its thousands of jars of beads. 

You’ll never be far from beautiful scenery in Nelson. A short stroll from the city, the bush-clad 140m-high Botanical Hill lays claim to the geographical Centre of New Zealand and has a network of pathways to its summit. At its foot is Botanical Reserve, which in 1870 was the site of New Zealand’s first rugby game. 

Also close to the city is the recently completed, fully fenced predator-free Brook Waimarama Sanctuary – a 700-hectare inland island of native bush ready for the reintroduction of kiwi and kākāriki. Tranquillity can also be found at the more central Queen’s Gardens, with its beautiful roses and heritage trees.

Alongside is the Suter Art Gallery, where as well as the exhibits, there is a chic café and gift shop selling creations from local craftspeople. Other neat local creations can be found at Global Soaps, Living Light Candles, and Carol Priest Natural Cosmetics – the outlet on Hardy Street offering great discounts, with all products made at nearby Founders Heritage Park. A creative hub, Founders is also home to Jill Alexander’s MADCAT fashion design studio. The playground here, train, and Bristol Freighter static display are popular with big kids and small and the café bar alongside is an additional draw. 

In fact, Nelson’s not short of places to grab a great coffee, a bite to eat or a tipple – on Hardy Street alone there are eateries serving Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Turkish, Mexican Thai and Japanese.

Centrally located coffee roasters mean the aroma is ever-present, and craft beer features, too, with quirky venues like the Workshop Bar & Brewery, which brews on site, or the old church that has become The Free House a self-proclaimed portal for a multitude of craft ales.    

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Things to do while you're here

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Get outdoors

Get your bearings at the geographical centre of New Zealand

While on a map it may look like it lies somewhere in the middle of the Cook Strait, the geographical centre of New Zealand is actually a hilltop just outside Nelson City.  Read the story . . . 

Find out more


Nelson: living the good life

Tucked away at the top of the south, Nelson is a town of 50,000 people working hard at enjoying themselves.  Read the story . . . 

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