The city is fringed by Tasman Bay on its western side and the Richmond ranges to its east, and is an easy drive to all three of the region’s national parks; The Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes National Park and Kahurangi.
The view across to Haulashore Island and the opening in the boulder bank the locals call "The Cut" is probably the most photographed vista in the city.
Most of the restaurants along the waterfront sit directly over the water so have absolutely stunning views. If you’re looking for somewhere to ‘pop the question’ to your beloved, then dinner at the Boat Shed Cafe, particularly when the sunset reflects off the water, is sure to improve the odds of getting an affirmative response.
At the southern end of the Rocks is Tahunanui, a long, often windswept beach equally good for long walks, sand castle building and kite surfing.
Back in the middle of the city, Christ Church sits at the bottom of the Trafalgar Park steps, elevated and regally positioned over the centre of the city. At the bottom of those steps are a number of excellent cafes, bars and restaurants, many of which have outdoor dining areas. Indeed, dining el fresco is an almost daily habit for Nelsonians.
The renowned Suter Gallery and the Nelson Provincial Museum are two important visitor attractions as is WOW (World of Wearableart & Classic Car Museum). Somewhat unexpectedly, the mixture of extremely striking wearable art displays and classic cars works remarkably well.
The Nelson Market takes place every every Saturday from 8am to 1pm at Montgomery Square in the heart of Nelson City.
It is no stretch to say this is the most established and best outdoor market in New Zealand. The Nelson Market is famous for its longevity and the high quality of its stalls. For over 30 years, the market is a showcase of the best that the Nelson region has to offer in arts, crafts and produce. The market is enhanced these days with a wide variety of food carts, making it a wonderful place to meet friends and share brunch or lunch while checking out the array of goods on offer at this truly iconic market.
As the produce basket of New Zealand, and the country’s seafood epicentre, the whole thing starts from having the highest quality, freshest raw ingredients. Throwing in a long history of people settling in Nelson from all over the world, the perfect climate for outdoor dining and….. well, you get the picture.
Hopgoods, located at the base of the Trafalgar Park steps is a well established, and unfailingly high quality dining experience. The Cod & Lobster Brasserie in the same area has been an excellent recent addition to the local dining scene. The more casual Urban Oyster Bar & Eatery is a super hip place with innovative cuisine, craft beers on tap and an excellent wine selection. Urban would sit equally comfortably on Cuba Street in Wellington, or along Ponsonby Road in Auckland.
If you’re looking for something more ‘ethnic’ Nelson has an extremely authentic Chinese restaurant, New Asia and an outstanding Indian restaurant, The Indian Cafe. For modern Mexican fare, Nicola’s Cantina, on Church Street is the place to head.
Although it seems unimaginable now, as few as ten years ago, pubs and restaurants in Nelson, and indeed throughout New Zealand, would sell mass produced lager beers that tasted identical.
In fact, under blind tasting conditions, even your most staunchly brand-loyal beer drinkers would have had trouble picking the difference between their Tuis and Speights, or their Heinekens and Steinlagers. At the forefront of the craft beer brewing revolution was a family owned brewery in Stoke, just outside of Nelson called Macs Brewery.
Nowadays, Nelson and elsewhere in the region is full of high quality craft breweries. From a variety and sampling experience point of view, beer is clearly the new wine. It took New Zealand a long time to pick up on the European idea of each village having its own small beer producer. But once we Kiwis twigged to the idea, we didn’t just emulate it: We owned it. The Pale Ales, Pilsners, IPAs, Apple Ciders, Stouts, lagers and even the wheat beers coming out of the Nelson region are quite simply world class.
As the largest centre in the region, Nelson is our shopping hub. As the home to a massive number of artists for as long as it has existed, Nelson is the perfect place to buy custom-made jewellery and other arts and crafts that will not be available anywhere else.
Given Nelsonian’s obsession with sports and the outdoors, it also stands to reason that the city would feature a number of high quality outdoor clothing and equipment stores. With MacPac, Kathmandu, Rebel Sports, Hunting and Fishing and Torpedo 7, Nelson may have more sports stores per capita than any other city in New Zealand. Cycling stores, marine equipment and fishing stores also feature prominently on the local retail scene, again, mirroring the major interests of the local population.