At the very top of the South Island lies a small town that embodies some of the best parts of stunning New Zealand scenery and culture; sunny Nelson. If you're planning a trip to experience art and history, Nelson boasts a lively mixture of heritage and creativity. The cafés and galleries are some of the best our country has to offer, and the wine tours boast some of the most freshly scented, intensely flavoured sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, as well as vibrant pinot noir.
For those of you who are more of the adrenaline junky type and are looking to explore off-the-beaten-track locations, Nelson is also home to the Abel Tasman National Park - famous for it's golden beaches, granite cliffs, fur seal colonies and walkable coastal tracks. This is the place to be regardless of your fitness level if you're looking to spend time immersed in nature and experience what New Zealand truly has to offer.
Without further ado, here are our top five spots to visit if you find yourself in the Nelson region on your great Kiwi road trip.
1. The Skywire Experience
- Location: 194 Cable Bay Road, Nelson
- Suitable for: this is suitable for all ages and anyone looking for bit of a thrill paired with a scenic view
Known as the 'world's longest flying fox', the Cable Bay Skywire experience will see you soaring over treetop canopies for a whopping 3.2km at 300m above sea level. You'll be strapped into a seat that uncannily resembles a giant claw machine and you'll be sent down an enormous cable that's strung between two valleys. The start and finish point are so far apart that it's difficult to see the end of the cable in the distance as it disappears into the treetops.
This action packed activity has been described as 'when a rollercoaster meets a zipline', offering not only the thrill of a fast-moving ride, but a picturesque view of the Cable Bay region, and right out across Tasman Bay towards Motueka and the surrounding valleys.
If the thought of this strikes up fear inside you, don't worry - the Skywire is incredibly safe, with the wire itself able to support up to 67 tonnes (that's a 737 jet plane worth of weight!). Plus, you'll be strapped in securely and be provided with safety goggles to keep the wind - and the bugs - out of your eyes. This activity is perfect for those who are looking to spice up their experience of the Tasman region panoramic views with a touch of adrenaline.
2. Abel Tasman Coast Track
- Location: Abel Tasman National Park
- Suitable for: children and adults who are of a reasonable fitness level - not recommended for younger children
It wouldn't be a blog about Nelson without mentioning the true national treasure that is the Abel Tasman Coast Track, located in our DOC protected national park. If you're headed to the Nelson area, completing one of the many walking tracks available should be a definite on the to-do list. There are a number of treks of varying duration and levels of difficulty, from one to three days in total. Make sure to speak to the highly informative i-Site team about which walk would be suit you and your friends and family.
The most important thing to know is that you can't drive all the way into the regional park. In order to make it to the tracks, you'll need to book a ferry or scenic cruise across the harbor to be dropped off at the beginning of your walk. While you're on the cruise, you'll be treated to views of the world famous 'split apple' rock, and if you're visiting at the right time of year you'll see the New Zealand Fur Seal colony. Remember to book in ahead of time as these trips fill up fast.
Once you've arrived at your chose track, the hike is nothing less than serene and magnificent. You'll be met along the way by native weka birds foraging in the undergrowth, nerve-raising swing bridges, untouched native trees and foliage and of course, the main thing that the tourists flock for, the unique golden beaches and private bays along the way. We can't recommend this trip enough - it truly is the heart of the region.
3. Wendelton Guinea Pig Village
- Location: Eyebright The Country Store, 40 McShane Road, Appleby
- Suitable for: perfect for families or those interested in experiencing a quirky hidden gem that's sure to warm your heart
From the front of the building, the Eyebright Country Store looks like a large red barn, home to your typical country finds such as gifts, trinkets, olive oils from the region and home grown produce. In itself, the store is a treat and worth wandering through, but the real treasure lies in the back garden - the Wendelton Guinea Pig Village.
The guinea pig village is quite literally a miniature city, complete with a marae, hospital, family homes and businesses - all for family of incredibly pet sociable guinea pigs. For a small token of $2, you can enter the busy lives of the Wendelton guineas for a moment and appreciate how undeniable cute and quirky this slice of New Zealand is.
You'll also be provided with ample carrot sticks and guinea feed to give to the guinea pigs and hear all about the story of Hansel & Petal - the Romeo and Juliet whirlwind romance that had an overwhelming turnout of 170 guests to their wedding back in 2015. Yep, you read that right! Admittedly bizarre, but nonetheless a delight and not to be missed, this is a true hidden gem and hotspot in Nelson.
4. Abel Tasman Sea Kayaking
- Location:409 High Street, Motueka
- Suitable for: Adults and older children of moderate fitness who are comfortable in the water
When you look at Nelson post cards, the first thing you'll see is the strikingly clear emerald waters of the Abel Tasman, and what better way to experience the DOC conserved waterways than getting up close and personal in a kayak. Similarly to the Abel Tasman walks, there are many options when it comes to picking your kayak adventure, from a leisurely 3-hour trip, all the way through to a 5-day trip (not for the faint hearted!).
These guided trips depart Kaiteriteri, every day, all year-round - but they're by all accounts best experienced in the warm summer heat as the temperature drops significantly in the winter time. The tour guides suggest that no experience is necessary, but we'd always recommend making sure your group is comfortable in the water, just in case. Your gear and kayak will be supplied, so all you have to do is book in and turn up on the day, ready to enjoy a day out on the water. A truly unique way to explore the Abel Tasman region, and one for the bucket list!
5. Saturday Markets & Art Exploration
- Location: Montgomery Square, Nelson
- Suitable for: family and friends of all ages, with an interest in art, culture and delicious food
There's no denying that the Abel Tasman region is famous for it's outdoor adventures, but it's definitely worth shining the light on the art, history and culture that is inherent to the area. Described as a 'historic city with a boutique, urban vibe', don't worry if you're not visiting for the actioned packed days - there is still plenty to see!
We'd recommend starting your history and art experience at the Saturday Montgomery Square markets, which has been a hot spot for visitors and locals alike for the past 40 years. It's the perfect showcase of the local talent, offering diverse arts and crafts, handmade jewellery, artworks, spreads and chutneys. It's also free to attend, so there's no reason not to immerse yourself in the brilliant local produce.
Once you've finished up at the market, you'll find the Nelson Provincial Museum a stones throw down the road, which has two stunning galleries to explore and gives insight into the deeply entrenched history of the area, from the Te Tau Ihu, all the way to the Christ Church Cathedral.
The Suter Art Gallery is next on the list, and is one of New Zealand’s oldest cultural establishments, founded in 1889. Now, the gallery is the home of local, national and international exhibitions. It's free to explore (exhibition dependent) and well worth a browse. The perfect way to finish your art and history tour of the city.
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