Nelson (New Zealand)

Nelson is the second oldest settled city in New Zealand and the oldest in the South Island. It is in a region often known as Nelson Bays or the "Top of the South" and is actually slightly north of the capital city of Wellington in the North Island.

Nelson is the geographical centre of the nation and, together with the satellite town of Richmond, has a population of around 50,000 ranking it as New Zealand’s tenth most populous city.

It's surrounded by three National Parks and is the smallest city in the world to have its own symphony orchestra.


Nelson is named after the British Admiral, Lord Nelson.

It's a beautiful coastal city set amongst some of New Zealand's most stunning scenery. With over 2,500 hours of sunshine a year, Nelson is also usually New Zealand's sunniest city. The city is the economic and cultural centre for the Nelson-Tasman region and offers an excellent range of shopping, eating and cultural experiences with an abundance of parks, rivers, beaches and nature trails to explore.

The Nelson region covers five distinct geographic areas:

Its unusual boulder bank protects Nelson from the worst effects of a tsunami

The Nelson economy is based on the ‘big four’ industries of seafood, horticulture, tourism and forestry. Port Nelson is the biggest fishing port in Australasia and there are also a range of growth industries, including arts and craft, aviation, engineering technology, and information technology.

Main street of Founders Heritage Park in The Wood, Nelson

Nelson is New Zealand's oldest city. (Although it was only proclaimed a Bishop's See and city under letters patent by Queen Victoria on 27 September 1858 and after Christchurch's city charter, Pakeha settlement had started in earnest in Nelson in 1841, a full nine years before the good ship Charlotte-Jane arrived in Christchurch on 16 December 1850.)

Nelson is the city where, if asked, most Kiwis say they would like to move to and has a small but rapidly growing Māori population. per capita, Nelson also has the highest settled population of people from Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, the Philippines and the United Kingdom in New Zealand. There are also large concentrations of settled refugees from Bhutan and Burma, in the Victory Square and Wood areas, including the largest population of Kayan (Yan Pa Doung in Shan or "Padaung") outside of the Golden Triangle. The Kayan Lahwi (some of whose high status women used to wear brass neck coils) were treated as a sort of "human zoo" before they left South East Asia because of their long ("giraffe") necks. All this harmonious ethnic diversity means that the shops and Saturday morning market (in Montgomery Square) are a great place to buy foods and delicacies difficult to find elsewhere in New Zealand.

Nelson i-SITE at Millers Acre Centre

The Top of the South region's tourism organisation is Nelson Tasman Tourism, which operates i-SITE Visitor Information Centres in Nelson City, Takaka in Golden Bay and in Murchison.

Get in

By bus

InterCity Coachlines is New Zealand's national coach company and operates over 150 services to more than 600 destinations nationwide. Daily services connect into Nelson from around the South Island.

Mareikura (Noble Lady), the oldest known matai tree at 2000 years old, in Happy Valley, near Nelson was unfortunately felled in a 2014 storm

Naked Bus stops in Nelson and offers $1 fares on most of their routes. Finding these fares can be difficult but rewarding.

By plane

Nelson Airport is the 4th busiest in New Zealand and still succeeds in delivering checked baggage very quickly. It has a Koru lounge upstairs (lift access) with a good view of flight operations and the Kahurangi Ranges across Tasman Bay.

By boat

There are frequent ferry services with Bluebridge and Interislander across the Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton with bus connections to Nelson.

By car

Two hours driving from Picton, 1.5h from Blenheim and 6h driving from Christchurch via either SH1 and Kaikoura or the slightly shorter and more scenic SH6 route over the Lewis Pass and via Murchison.

Get around

The original city centre, comprising the CBD and The Wood is small enough to walk around, but for access from the surrounding suburbs and around the sites and attractions of the whole city and region you'll likely want to rent a car, take a taxi, or have a fresh set of legs and a bicycle.

By bus

Nbus services run daily on the first route, Monday to Saturday on the next four routes and Monday to Friday only on the last route:

  1. Richmond via Tahunanui and Stoke
  2. Atawhai via The Wood
  3. Victory Sqare/Hospital
  4. The Brook
  5. Washington Valley/Port Hills.
  6. Richmond via Bishopdale and Stoke

For late night party goers there is also an excellent "Late Late Bus" which runs on the hour Friday and Saturday nights only from 22.00 until 03:15 from Trafalgar Street to Richmond. The outbound service travels via Tahunanui and stops as required at designated, well-lit stops. The inbound service leaves Richmond on the half hour and travels into the city via Bishopdale. (There is no midnight service from Nelson and no 00.30 service from Richmond). Fare: $4.

By bicycle

Nelson has a network of cycle routes for leisure and mountain biking.


Church Steps (sometimes called the Cawthron Steps) from Trafalgar Street up to the 60's bell tower of Nelson's Christ Church Cathedral
1897 Amber House with the Centre of New Zealand visible above the roof line.)




Nelson has a wide variety of excellent cafes and restaurants using fresh local produce. Nelson is the largest fishing port in Australasia, so the fresh seafood is always great!

For the best Fish and Chips within 10,000 miles (according to the Wikimapia author, click the highlighted link to see the exact location right next to Guytons Fisheries Ltd on Wakefield Quay ...)


Craft brewing

Early settlers from both England and northern Germany found the hops that they had brought with them grew well in this region and they soon started to develop and propagate peculiarly New Zealand varieties such as Motueka, Nelson and Riwaka. Within a century or so, Nelson grown hops became valued as both high quality and disease free. Nowadays, all of New Zealand's commercial crop is grown in a triangle roughly formed by Brightwater, Motueka and Tapawera. The six week harvesting period in early autumn provides seasonal work for backpackers.

How natural then that Nelson is now renowned as the craft brewing capital of Oceania. A baker's dozen of craft breweries of varying size now stretch from the Mussel Inn Brewery of Onekaka in Golden Bay to the swanky new bar of Founders Brewery opposite the windmill in Founders Park, Nelson. Most of these breweries welcome visitors for tours and subsequent sampling at their in-brewery bars.


Many bars are located in the Central Business District on Bridge Street between Collingwood and Trafalgar Streets.


Nelson offers an range of accommodation including backpackers, bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), holiday homes, hotels, lodges, resorts, serviced apartments and motels.





The iSite (tourist information) offers coin-in-the-slot Internet that is relatively expensive. Directly opposite, the local public library offers both free Wi-Fi and free Internet connected computers to locals and non-locals alike!



Go next

Routes through Nelson

Blenheim Rai Valley  N  S  Wakefield Murchison

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 19, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.