Cable Bay Nelson Tasman New Zealand

Nelson – New Zealand’s often overlooked destination

Cruising silently towards Nelson in my fully electric car on Queen Elizabeth Drive I still, 18 years later, mumble to myself, “We live here!” Every single time. On my left is Tasman Bay, crowned by the Western Ranges on the opposite side, an endless ever-changing sky reflected in its waters. On my right are the northern suburbs of the city, perched on gentle green slopes. Approaching town I consciously appreciate the parks and the clever plantings of clusters of native trees and shrubs, through which the city reveals itself in glimpses – a perpetual tribute to a visionary landscape designer of long ago.

We can live anywhere we want, yet we live here. A “deliberate Nelsonian” I call myself, having chosen Nelson for its size (just right), climate (sunshine capital of New Zealand), man and nature’s offerings: a perfect medley of sea, mountain, walks, food, and art. In short, a concise collection of everything the country has to offer, all within an hour’s drive.

For the traveler, all this translates into a comforting sense of arriving, of home. Our guests would pop into town on their first day, and the next day they already feel at home, oriented and familiar, know where they’re going. And loving it.

Sunset over Tasman Bay near Nelson New Zealand
Sunset over Tasman Bay near Nelson, New Zealand.

The Nelson region is iconic New Zealand

The New Zealand you see in your mind’s eye is probably the South Island – nature in all its glory wide expanses of majestic scenery, mostly unspoiled and big skies. The stuff of legends, movies, and postcards. Divided lengthwise by the Southern Alps, with mountain passes far between and served by relatively few roads, this “real New Zealand” invites you to explore it taking a circular route – east coast, west coast and in-between.

Our region, the “Top of the South”, spans Tasman Bay and Golden Bay, three national parks, beaches, rivers, walks, many diverse landscapes, both the Nelson and Marlborough wine countries, and of course lovely Nelson city itself.

While boasting the country’s fourth busiest airport, Nelson is often not the traveler’s point of arrival, but rather a stop in the circuit. By the time they arrive here by car, however, they realize one important thing: that driving in New Zealand is different – it takes longer and can be tiring. By now they crave a rest. And what a place to stop!

Queen's Gardens is a park within Nelson.
Queen's Gardens is a park within Nelson.
Old St. John's Hall is a beautiful piece of Nelson history.
Old St. John's Hall is a beautiful piece of Nelson history.

Nelson: A compact town of perfect size

Nelson received the title “city” through the technicality of having a cathedral. In fact, it is a compact town of perfect size, exhibiting all the dynamics of a vibrant, diverse community with a good dose of expats bringing in their own tastes, abilities and standards. Fresh, seasonal local produce, meat fish and dairy, make way to our tables to satisfy any palate These are complemented by a rich offering of local wines and craft beers, freshly roasted coffee and other precision gourmet products.

Art galleries abound along with leisurely city and river walks, markets and festivals. And then there are those places and things to do not found in guidebooks and websites. These include day trips combining two or more complementing activities, like cycling from Nelson to Mapua and enjoying a good meal at the wharf, visiting a winery on the way back, or our “very own” Cable Bay walk which takes one through three distinct landscapes in less than three hours.

School holidays are from mid December to February. This means more locals on the roads, tracks, and beaches. February tends to be peak season for overseas tourists, and again – crowded.

But guess what? If you want to avoid the crowds (a very relative term, by the way, there’s always room for everyone), you can easily come earlier or later. Nelson weather is balmy and comfortable. October offers a month-long arts festival replete with world-class music and shows, a destination in itself. March and April are also lovely. And if it’s a Northern Hemisphere scorching summer you want to escape, our winters are mild, with crisp blue skies and snow decorating the Western Ranges in the distance (yes, you can even ski at Rainbow a couple of hours away). That’s the beauty of the Nelson region!

So whatever it is you’re seeking on your New Zealand adventure – you’ll find it in Nelson, any time of the year! I invite you to share our discovery, get more with less driving, and make the most of your trip. Welcome home.

About the author: Avner Nahmias is a consultant, writer, artist, and “lifestyler” living just north of Nelson. He runs Big Sky Nelson Luxury Eco B&B, an ongoing creation which he designed and built.