Nelson is a small but really cool town. It’s filled with excellent cafes, restaurants and pubs. While the town itself is super small, the area is surrounded by wonderful mountains and beaches plus it also serves as the gateway for Abel Tasman National Park. There’s not much to do here but it makes for a great base to explore the area from. This guide will help you plan your stay.
Hostel prices – Hostel dorms in Nelson cost between 25-40 NZD per night while private rooms begin at 75 NZD. Free WiFi is standard, and a few places also include free breakfast. Most hostels also include a kitchen so you can cook your own food. For those traveling with a tent, there are campgrounds near Nelson. Expect to pay around 20 NZD per person, per night for a basic plot (amenities like electricity will cost extra).
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels begin around 75 NZD per night for a twin or double room. Free WiFi is standard, and many budget hotels also incude free breakfast. For a private room on Airbnb, expect to pay 55 NZD per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 90 NZD per night.
Average cost of food – A restaurant meal with table service will cost about 30 NZD. If you choose to cook your food, plan to spend about 65-80 NZD per week for your basic staples (rice or pasta, vegetables, meat, etc.) You can find sandwiches for 8 NZD and fast food like McDonald’s or Burger King will cost around 11 NZD. Beers at the bar will cost around 8 NZD.
Transportation costs – Bus fares for a single journey will cost between 2.50-4 NZD for adults, depending on how many zones you travel through. Many hostels offer free bike rentals to get around the city, though you can also rent your own bike for around 40 NZD per day. For intercity travel, buses to Christchurch start around 30 NZD while a bus to Queenstown will cost closer to 60 NZD. For a flight to Auckland, expect to pay between 75-150 NZD.
Suggested daily budget – 70 NZD / 50 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
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Money Saving Tips
- Hike for free – The park has great hiking trails set out which may be the best attraction in and around Nelson. Those are always free. Plus, not a budget tip, but a good one none the less: take good insect repellent, or the sand flies will eat you alive!
- Cook for yourself – Save your budget by cooking for yourself. Most hostels, and even a few hotels, offer self-catering facilities so you can buy your own groceries and cook your own food.
- Stay with a local – While there are not many hosts available, Couchsurfing is still a possibility if search in advance. You’ll save money on accommodation and have yourself a local guide! Win-win!
Top Things to See and Do in Nelson
- Visit Abel Tasman National Park – The beautiful beaches and azure blue water feel like they belong in the tropics rather than New Zealand. The hiking is beautiful, with giant ferns, trees, and a great climate. There are a lot of one to three-day hikes here. But if you really want to see this park, kayak around. This lets you explore the tiny little coves and beaches which make the area so special. Entry is free, though if you want to camp or stay in a hut you will have to pay (14 or 31 NZD respectively).
- Stop by the Suter Art Gallery – New Zealand’s third largest art museum has an impressive collection with works by many Kiwi artists. There are quite a few good paintings here.
- Go hiking – The mountains around Nelson provide many opportunities for great hiking. The trails are well-marked and many start right from the city so you have no excuse not to get outdoors!
- Explore the Nelson Market – Operating all year round in the Montgomery Square carpark on Saturdays, stalls overflow with local fresh organic vegetables, fruit, and flowers, locally-farmed organic salmon, and many kinds of crafts including silk painting, jewelry, pottery, weaving, and wood turning.
- See the Miyazu Japanese Garden – Inspired by Nelson’s sister city Miyazu in Japan, this is a traditional Japanese garden and perfect for a quiet and contemplative stroll. During the spring, cherry blossoms bloom.
- Take a wine tour – There are over 23 wineries around Nelson. After all the hiking, trekking, and kayaking, go do a nice relaxing tour of the wineries. They make great white wine in this area of New Zealand. Prices will vary depending on where you go and for how long, but expect to pay around 125 NZD for a half-day tour.
- Visit Founders Heritage Park – Located near the city center, this park is host to a replica historical village, complete with museums, a brewery, a bakery, a chocolate shop, and plenty more. There is a lot to tour through, a ton of tasty, organic beer to try, and some pretty good food to eat. Adult admission is 7 NZD, and there are discounts available for students and seniors. Children under 12 enter for free.
- Go to Nelson Provincial Museum – This is the crowning museum in Nelson. An unusually modern spot, this space is home to an array of cultural heritage exhibits and natural history displays. There is usually a rotating main exhibit, featuring major works from across the world. Admission is 5 NZD for adults and 3 NZD for children.
- Play Pool at the Shark Club – This is a great little pub where locals tend to hang out. The food is pretty cheap, there are several pool tables, and games are free during happy hour.
- Visit WOW, The World of Wearable Art and Collectable Cars – This is a unique museum, showcasing work from a local, annual fashion show that draws thousands of people. There is an array of unique designs and creations from tons of designers. Admission is 24 NZD for adults. Discounts are avalable for students, seniors, and children.
- Swim in Mapua Leisure Park – Just outside of Nelson, this is a clothing-optional outdoor park open in February and March. There are some great swimming spots (in addition to a pool), sporting areas, a café, and a sauna/spa set up.
- Visit Farewell Split – At the northernmost point on the South Island, Farewell split is a strip of natural land that runs into the sea. It’s a large bird sanctuary, with over 90 species that you can view by arranging a 4WD tour from one of the operators in Collingwood. Various tours are available so prices will vary, however, you can expect to pay around 150 NZD.
- Learn about glassblowing – For something different, consider stopping by Hoglund Art Glass Studio. The owners have been mastering the art of glassblowing for over a decade and have garnered an international reputation for their work. They have set up a gallery and small museum to showcase their art and give visitors a glimpse at the glassblowing process with daily demonstrations.