Visiting Nelson, NZ
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Top things to do in Nelson and Best places to visit in Nelson Tasman Region in 2 days

It was a long drive. By the time we arrived in Nelson, it was getting dark. We stayed 3 nights at the Tudor Lodge Motel. The room was very spacious with a great kitchen. I love the fact that in New Zealand most hotels and motels have all the facilities and kitchen supplies needed to cook a meal. Upon our arrival, we went to get our keys at the reception. Staff were incredibly friendly and welcoming. Having limited time in Nelson and proximities, I will share with you what we did in 2 days and give you some recommendations of the best places to go when you are short of time.

Nelson

With a population of 46,000, Nelson is New Zealand’s oldest city and considered small. However, this city is diverse in many ways. It is so vibrant and colourful, where you will find impressive national parks, a thriving artistic community displaying amazing craft, world-class wineries and beaches all within a short distance. Welcome to Sunny Nelson, where the sunshine hours are longer than any place in NZ. It is a city with a strong artistic scene and culturally rich. Each year the city hosts events popular with locals and tourists alike, such as the Nelson Arts Festival. The Nelson Market is famous for the quality and diversity of its stalls, offering local and neighbouring communities the best products to offer within the region for over 30 years. The Nelson Tasman region is home to three very diverse national parks that are very accessible from Nelson City. Let’s talk about some of the places you can explore.

The Vibrant City Nelson

Nelson centre 

The Swedish Bakery & Café

For a taste of Europe head to the Swedish bakery and Café. They make artisan sourdough bread, pastries, cakes, gourmet rolls and serve amazing organic coffee. They are vegetarian friendly and if you are looking for something gluten-free for lunch, they do have salads. Who knows, maybe in the future they might offer gluten-free (GF) cakes and pastries too? 

Amazing selection of bread
Interesting cafes attract interesting people

Available for breakfast, lunch or brunch. To be completely honest I cannot say for myself how amazingly good the bread and cake tastes as I have been GF for two years now (unfortunately not by choice) but my sense of smell does not lie and I wish I could eat it all. All my fellow witnesses, however, corroborate the fact that the food is truly heavenly, and I can definitely say the coffee tastes amazing. It can get busy and it is a small café where easily you will start conversations with other people. We had a very interesting conversation with two lovely ladies from Canada and France, one being a resident for many years in the area and the other dividing her time between NZ and France throughout the year. Our conversation was so interesting, we stayed a long time and would have stayed longer if it wasn’t because the market was waiting and our time was limited.

NCMA’s Lunchtime Concert 

The Nelson centre of musical arts is a community hub for all things that are musical. Local people go there to learn an instrument or perform as part of a group and one of the nice things about this place is that they offer lunchtime concerts. We decided to go to one of the lunchtime concerts while we were there. It was an assemble of young and older children. The price is pretty reasonable and it’s a quite nice way to break up the day if you are in town. The concert starts at 13.00 and lasts under an hour. if you enjoy instrumental music you should definitely go and if you have never done this before why not give it a try? Just at walking distance from the city centre.

Local talent display at NCMAs Lunchtime Concert

Shopping

There are so many adverts in touristic leaflets and websites that encourage people to go out shopping. I am not really a shopping fanatic, so you won’t see me writing posts about the ultimate shopping experience. Having a Dutch background, I was raised under the ‘kijken, kijken, niet kopen’ motto, meaning looking, looking, not buying. Looking at things can also be an enjoyable experience without the need of buying. However, when I need something or want to buy something special for someone I love, I will look for something interesting or unique. People who enjoy shopping will probably find that Nelson is quite different from other places. So, with this thought out of the way I do want to recommend a few places that are different, interesting and have nice things even if it’s just to see, to buy for yourself or as a souvenir for family or friends.  

La Mariposa

La Mariposa Is a clothing company that specialises in really unique urban ethnic streetwear without compromising colour and comfort. We are all for colour. DD Had already outgrown most of her clothes so we had a good excuse to have a look. I had a long chat with the ladies in the store while waiting and looking at all the clothes DD was trying on. Deciding can be difficult when you are a teenager. Grandmother was happy to treat her granddaughter to new clothes. I can clearly remember doing the same not that long ago. Déjà vu.

New clothes from La Mariposa in Nelson

Global culture 

This company started in 1974 with screen printers but didn’t start as a retail store doing tee shirts until the 1980s. Fun and funky tee shirts. I purchased a couple for myself. There is a range of prices for items made of cotton and merino. It’s all New Zealand made and if you purchase any of Merino range, some of the money will go into supporting endangered New Zealand species and other social causes.

Salvation Army family store

If you happen to like second-hand stores or thrift stores known in other places you will love this place. You can find the store on Vanguard St. It is slightly cramped but overflowing with amazing goods. I really like these stores, so much is thrown out every year and it’s great to give clothes and other items a second life. Of course, you will also find things like bags, books, cups, decorations, CDs etc… The most amazing thing about this place is that they offer coffee and brownies in store for $2.

Nelson market 

The Nelson market meets every Saturday offering fresh, organic and seasonal fruit and vegetables that are sourced locally. You will also see artists, carpenters, dressmakers and other specialised vendors showcasing their goods. I absolutely loved this market. There is definitely something for everyone. It’s a great place to go for a bite, so make room. German sausages, Dutch cheese, pancakes, vegan burgers, organic bread, GF food everywhere, smoothies. I was in GF heaven. If you like peanut butter don’t leave without a jar of Pic’s peanut butter. We wandered what seemed for hours admiring every stall, surprised at the amount of artistic talent and diversity in goods displayed everywhere.

Nelson Market NZ
So many wonderful things
Dutch Treats

Monty’s Sunday market Is the place to go if you enjoy recycled treasures, collectables, vintage items such as toys tapes, CD’s. It opens Sundays from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM at the Montgomery square. In between browsing you can join coffee at cake breakfast but the amazing food stores. There is something for everyone.

Another market worth well mentioning is the Farmers market there is a vibrant market that takes place every Wednesday from 8:30 to 1:30, no matter the weather. Showcasing a range of local, seasonal and fresh produce many of which you can taste. This would not be complete without musical entertainment, adding to the vibe of a great market. also included. Unfortunately, I was not able to go to this market but many people have recommended it. So, if you have the time, and you like markets like I do, go!

Tahunanui beach 

Tahunanui, also known as Tahuna beach Is a great place near town, especially at sunset. The beach is incredibly long and very popular throughout the day. If you’re going during the day you will find that it’s very busy as it’s very popular between families. There is a playground and library just before the entrance and many people go there for picnics and for a swim. We did manage a long walk each night after dinner. At this time, you will find couples or friends going for walks or even families with older teens hanging about. This will depend on the weather though as you won’t find as many people during the Wintertime. Fun fact is that Tahuna has not always been a beach and it took more than 100 years to be created with the sand of Tasman Bay. If you are interested in its history, click here.  

Heading to the beach
Perfect evening walk

Centre of New Zealand 

The Centre of New Zealand is a steep but relatively short walk on Botanical Hill.  We started by following the Maitai Walkway to the Hardy Street footbridge. At the end of this street is the Botanics Reserve. The first rugby game played in New Zealand was played on this field.  At the bottom of the hill is an interpretation board with the history of the reserve and how this was created by settlers. If you fancy a swim during the Summertime, you can descend on the eastern side of the hill that takes you to Branford Park towards Black Hole.

Is this the Centre of New Zealand?

No, not really. It was named this way because it was a central survey point in the 1870s during the early days of settlement. These surveys were made by independent surveyors thus not connecting to other surveys done. Centre or not, it retained its name and the view from the top of the city and views of Tasman Bay is amazing. You can’t beat ending the day with admiring the sunset.

The Centre of New Zealand in Nelson
Stunning views of Nelson, NZ

Hiking 

Hiking or Tramping as Kiwis call it, is a must if you like the outdoors. Maybe it’s just a crazy thought, but if you go to New Zealand, you must like the outdoors, right? There are so many walks to do depending on length, time and fitness. I would have done a multi-day hike and stay in some of the huts in the National parks but this would have been too much for my mom, so we fitted several day hikes. In the Nelson Tasman region, you have three national parks to choose from.  Abel Tasman National Park, Kahurangi National Park and Nelson Lakes National Park. All of them different and worthy exploring.

Nelson Lakes National Park to the south is a 1-2 hour drive from Nelson. If you decide to go there, you’ll be surrounded by alpine landscape, stunning mountains and enjoy lakeside walks. Kahurangi National Park, to the west of the region, gives a feel of remote adventure in a pristine setting. Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest national park in NZ, but none the less full of wonders. You can explore the park on land, water, or through the air. From luscious green forest tracks to walks around the coastline, reaching sun-kissed beaches. There are many tour operators that offer water taxi services, kayaking adventures, helicopter tours or sailing. As you can imagine, each of these parks has so many walks to choose from. They are all different lengths, terrains and level of difficulty, you can check further details in the links provided. The Department of Conservation offers maps online but you can also get the guides for the many walks in all Tourist Information Centres.

Abel Tasman National Park

We decided to go to Abel Tasman Park. First, we did the Wainui Falls Track. This is an easy walk through a beautiful forest track that will take you 1-1.5 hours to complete. This walk will lead to the Wainui Falls cascade.

Wainui Falls Track

Next, we headed to Tōtaranui and took the Pigeon Saddle Track which is another 1-hour return walk. It takes you through the woodland to a lookout rock with views of the coast to the north. This was a great walk as we needed a break from driving. It was a pleasant surprised to encounter Bellbirds in this forest. A curious Weka (a flightless bird often mistaken for a Kiwi) was walking around the car at the entrance of the car park, probably used to getting food from visitors.

Pigeon Saddle Track, Abel Tasman National Park. Things to do.
Pigeon Saddle Track
Having a wee break

We enjoyed it so much, that we decided to walk another hour on this track, but had to return as it was getting late. On our way to the National Park, there were works on the roads. There had been recently heavy rainfalls and many areas were closed before we arrived so there was some traffic. On our way back we stopped at the Pohara Scenic Reserve in Takaka and decided to get some food as I had not packed enough snacks for the day. We ate at Mohua Eatery & Bar. The staff was very friendly and the food was beautifully decorated, but for our appetite, it was just very little. The plates didn’t have much on them. We would have to eat more later.

Very beautiful, but we are hungry
Maybe people in Pohara do not eat much?

After eating, we headed to the beach. This is a penguin area. A stretch of 3 km between Pohara and Ligar Bay. The Korora (Little Blue Penguin), is the world’s smallest penguin, usually weighing just over 1 kilogram and around 33 cm tall. They are shy birds who occasionally are seen crossing the road at night trying to reach their nesting areas. These incredible birds have been coming for thousands of years. Unfortunately, what once was a common sight, has now become rare. Their numbers have been declining. Each year, some penguins are run over by vehicles. You can help by driving especially careful on this stretch. If you have a dog, keep it on a leash. Keep your distance and do not disturb their nesting sites and if you see any plastics, help and do your bit by taking it with you. Lucky you if you encounter any.

Korora Zone (Little Blue Penguin)
Pohara Scenic Reserve

Another day was drawing to a close and with this, our last night in Nelson. Did we enjoy the taste of Nelson and its surroundings? We loved it! This is definitely a place worth exploring further. If you have more time, I would recommend doing some longer walks and maybe staying in one of the huts of DOC (Department of Conservation). Discover the city, markets, crafts, arts, festivals and cafes. And if you like me and only have a few days to spare, maybe these experiences and recommendations help you with your decision making. Now, we need to get ready for another day and head further down south.

Enjoying time together

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