Visiting Nelson? Where to stay and what to do
Eleven years ago I came to New Zealand for the first time and out of all that New Zealand has to offer, I picked Nelson as my preferred place to live and I’ve lived here since and absolutely love it. In this post I’d like to share a bit of what I know and like about the wider region surrounding nelson which is known as the ‘Top of the South’. This area includes the regions of Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough and, in my opinion, is a ‘must’ on any New Zealand traveller’s itinerary. It is a region with a diversely beautiful coastline from the gold sand beaches of Golden Bay to the majestic ancient submerged valleys of the Marlborough Sounds. Surrounding Nelson are lots of mountains and wilderness areas that offer ample opportunity for exploring, hiking (or tramping as we say in NZ), mountain biking (a favourite activity of mine, so more about that later) and other outdoor activities. In addition to 3 national parks (Able Tasman, Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi – the biggest national park in NZ!) there is an unbelievable amount of stunning public parkland and mountain wilderness managed by DOC and local authorities. The region is also a bountiful land for growing produce, you will see plenty of fruit orchards, vineyards, and hops farms. Local craft industries turn this premium produce into some of the country’s, and indeed world’s, top food and beverage products, so it’s a great place for foodies, wine and craft beer lovers. I happen to be partial to craft beer and enjoy making it myself with locally sourced ingredients!
Nelson city is pretty much bang centre in the region and with heaps of accommodation, dining and shopping options, so it makes a good base for a visit to the wider area. An approximately 2 hour drive to the west will take you to Golden Bay, going past Able Tasman national park which is just over an hour from Nelson. Less than a 2 hour drive to the east takes you to Blenheim, the main centre of Marlborough, and the port town of Picton 20 or 30 minutes further on. Heading south into the mountains takes you to the scenic Nelson Lakes and St Arnaud which is a good base for further exploring that area. As someone who is lucky enough to live in Nelson city, I sometimes like to get away for a weekend to one of these surrounding places. In Golden Bay I like to stay near the beaches around Pohara. My favourite beach is Tata beach, just east of Pohara. We usually rent a bach (Kiwi for holiday home) for a few nights since we are a family of 5. Look out for baches with extras such as kayaks which can add to the experience. On our trips to Marlborough we’ve had fantastic stays in Picton and Mistletoe Bay which is out on the Sounds. Picton is a nice little town and a place that a lot of travellers pass through as it’s the landing point for the ferry coming from Wellington over on the North Island. The Marlborough sounds is great for chilling out as it has a very remote feel to it even though much of it is fairly accessible by road or boat. The main things to do there are boating, kayaking, fishing, tramping and mountain biking, especially on the Queen Charlotte track. When I’ve visited the Nelson Lakes area for overnight trips it’s been for back-country tramping and on these occasions I’ve stayed in some of DOC’s fabulous network of back-country huts. I highly recommend tramping to Angelus Hut. I also visit this area in the winter to go snowboarding with my kids at Rainbow ski field. Since it’s only an hour and a half from Nelson we just do day trips but there are plenty of accommodation options around St Arnaud.
Since my own favourite outdoor activity is mountain biking, I’ll briefly mention a bit about the mtb opportunities of the area. Nelson is a world class mountain biking destination with an amazing amount and range of trails all around the region to suit all levels from beginners to professional downhill racers. Near Nelson city there are multiple mountain biking trail networks including my local, Codgers mountain bike park, Sharlands, Silvan Forest, Richmond Hills and epic back country rides including the famous Coppermine track. Within an hour of Nelson you can spend a whole day getting shuttled up and riding down the multitude of superb world class trails at the Wairoa Gorge mountain bike park. The Kaiteriteri mountain bike park has fun flowy trails with stunning vistas of the sea and the gold sands of Kaiteriteri. You can ride through pristine native bush on the 20km back-country Remeka track from the top of Takaka hill (more like a mountain actually!) down to Takaka in Golden Bay passing through Abel Tasman national park. Another national park where you can do an epic multi-day ride is Kahurangi on the Heaphy Track (May to Nov only) which takes you all the way down to the West Coast region. In Marlborough there is Wither Hills mtb park near Blenheim and The Queen Charlotte track is a stunning multi-day ride. All these are just a few of the many places to go mountain biking in the Top of the South so it truly a mountain bikers paradise (just ask top mtb photographer Sven Martin!).