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As a place to visit that has variety and good weather, there’s not many that top New Zealand’s second oldest settlement; Nelson. I was lucky enough to explore the incredible local environment thoroughly while working for the Department of Conservation in the region.
Located on the North-West Coast of the South Island, the city is beautified by Tasman Bay and Golden Bay, both ladled with numerous golden sand beaches. Its close proximity to the scenic Abel Tasman National Park provides excellent access to nearby adventure and exploration. Needless to say, if you're partial to getting outdoors, you’ll find yourself juggling at the sheer choice of trails and sightseeing there is on offer here.
Consistently topping the list for the sunniest spot in the country, Nelson enjoys the most sunlight hours per year of all the nation’s cities! If you enjoy a good dose of Vitamin D with your travel, I’d suggest getting yourself down here during summer to join is Kiwis on the beach!
It’s a place that really does have something for everyone, ranging from the fine-dining and the world-famous wineries of the Marlborough region, right through to winter skiing and summer hiking. With three National parks within a 90-minute drive, Nelson locals have some incredible outdoors on the doorstep. Abel Tasman National Park is the best known followed by the Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes National Parks. With a real mixture of high alpine ridgelines, dense beech forests, wild coastlines and golden sandy beaches, these three National Parks make the Nelson/ Tasman region a real epicentre for adventure enthusiasts.
So, if you're planning to visit this sunny adventure hot spot, I've come up with a few absolute musts if you have time to stick around and explore!
Since 1980, Montgomery square has hosted the Saturday Nelson market, a well-known institution inspiring enthusiastic vendors and visitors alike. From 8am -1pm, there is a whole range of products on offer, from fresh produce and baked goods to hand-made crafts and gifts. The event has become a well-known tradition, so enjoy a few hours socialising and appreciating the passionate craftsmanship, creativity and dedication from the various vendors on their stalls.
We’ve all seen those images of crystal-clear waters and alpine lakes yet, have you seen it in person? Take a trip to Golden Bay, where, just after driving through the quaint town of Takaka, you’ll see a turn-off for the springs. You’ll reach a stretch of the road before the car park where you will begin to view Maori carvings, otherwise known as 'Po' s'. After entering the car park, cross the beautiful entranceway, embroiled in Maori symbols, carvings as well as a special stone placed here. The short loop track is 1.5km long, I was part of a team of three that built the trail, so I hope you enjoy it!
The springs are famous for being New Zealand's largest freshwaters springs as well as producing some of the world's clearest water, pretty cool right?
The local Iwi, Ngāti Tama ki Te Waipounamu, consider this site sacred for these very reasons and have a 'Kaitiaki' (the concept of guardianship) to protect and conserve it.
Back in 2013, I was actually there at the 5am ceremony where the Crown and Ngāti Tama signed a 'Deed of Settlement', acknowledging the cultural, spiritual and historical interests of the site.
Since 2007 there has been no bodily contact allowed with the springs, whether that be swimming or filling of water bottles.
Local Maori also view the site as a place with high cultural and spiritual regard – a taonga (treasure) and Wahi Tapu (sacred) to the people and the land.
If you fancy getting out and getting your boots dirty, then I know just the spot for you
! Take a short drive out of Nelson City and enter the nearby Nelson Lakes National Park; an area I personally love to go hiking in! While there is an array of peaks to climb, lakes to walk around and forests to explore, there's no view quite like the one you will find at Lake Angelus. From the Mount Robert Car Park, there is a moderate ascent that meanders upward through vast silver beech forest before bringing you above the tree line onto the alpine tops. From here, you'll follow a ridgeline before arriving to get your first glimpse of the lake; simply mind-blowing! A fantastic DOC serviced hut, Angelus Hut is an excellent spot to have lunch while enjoying an incredibly rewarding view of the lake and the towering peak surrounding it.
Voted New Zealand’s best beach, Wharariki simply is a place you have to witness for yourself to truly understand just how amazing this setting is. With the towering archway islands lying just off the shore and the various sea caves and ocean-carved archways, it's a unique beach, unlike anything you've seen ever before. While it is not a beach to go swimming from, due to the severe rip-tides and strong seas of the wild-west coast, it is a fantastic spot to observe marine mammals. The beach plays host to a New Zealand fur seal colony which, if you time the tides right, you can observe the young pups playing in the various rock pools formed from the low tide.
After a local brewery serving great beer? The Mussell inn is a subtly signed outfit between Takaka and Collingwood, easy to miss if you haven’t got your eyes peeled. Once inside, the interior takes you back 30 years, to board games, weekly quiz nights and travelling bands showing up to play there. With their on-site brewery, they serve some fantastic IPA’s, lagers and ciders. I’m not much of a cider drinker, but one cider called the 'Freckled Frog' is made from the native Feijoa fruit, and it's just incredible. Partnered with the delicious mains and snacks for the road, it makes for the perfect pit stop for your journey through Golden Bay.
Abel Tasman National Park is the most highlighted reserve in the Nelson/Tasman region. Hosting one of New Zealand's 9 Great Walks, the 60km trail takes you on a multi-day adventure along stretches of golden sandy beaches, secret coves and lagoons as well as some incredible forest trails. If walking for 3 days isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry, you don’t need to hike the whole trail to experience some of these incredible sights. Water taxies are available for drop/pick up services throughout the track as well as the option of hiking in from either end of the trail to reach bays and beaches within close proximity. The National Park is New Zealand's smallest, but don’t worry, there are more than 225 square kilometres (86.9 square miles) of natural land to explore.
For the more adrenaline-seeking traveller, the abundance of rivers flowing through the southern Nelson/Tasman region provides a perfect spot to try out some white-water rafting. I did a day rafting trip with my family along the Grey River near Reefton, and it was one of the best family/group-based activities I've experienced!
Due to the most sunlight hours in the whole country, the region of Nelson Marlborough is known around the world for its fantastic wine. It is also New Zealand's largest region for making wine; a whopping 77% of it. It is also home to the well-loved Sauvignon Blanc, which makes up 85% of the wine produced here. There are three options available to explore this area, that being a self-driving, self-bicycle tour or a guided tour. I'd recommend going with a pre-organised group, so all the logistics are taken care of; meaning more wine!
Imagine yourself bathing in natural thermal springs which naturally flow from the ground as mineral water, all the while, surrounded by high mountain peaks and dense forest. The Maruia Hot Springs provide just that, a break away from all the exploring and adventure to a very relaxed setting immersed in nature. Located on the picturesque drive along the Lewis Pass from Nelson to Christchurch, it's well worth the stop here to enjoy a well-earnt bathing experience in the natural springs that flow here.
If there’s any journey worth doing on your vacation; it’s this one. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Wellington, you cross the Cook Strait, a stretch of water well-known for its ripping currents and high seas during storms. The huge Interisland Ferries will cross the Strait without a problem, navigating you into the Marlborough sounds where the vessel will slow down to cruising speed. The beautiful maze of islands, peninsulas and hidden coves with the lush native forest dropping right into the water make for a fantastic view! Many of the outer islands are very important to us Kiwi's, for they are pest-free habitats to many native birds, some of which are highly endangered. After meandering through the Marlborough Sounds, you'll reach the picture-perfect town of Picton
to unload and step foot on the South Island.