Nelson may be small, but it’s really a cool town filled with excellent cafes, restaurants, and pubs. While the town itself is super small, the area is enveloped 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.
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Nelson
1. Explore Abel Tasman National Park
2. Visit Founders Heritage Park
3. Take a wine tour
4. Go hiking
5. Wander the Nelson Market
Other Things to See and Do
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1. 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, so if you’re an art fan then be sure to stop by. Admission is free.
2. See the Miyazu Japanese Garden
Inspired by Nelson’s sister city Miyazu in Japan, this is a traditional Japanese garden that’s perfect for a quiet and contemplative stroll. During the spring, cherry blossoms bloom, which is a beautiful sight to see. Entry is free.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Visit WOW
WOW (The World of Wearable Art and Collectable Cars) is a unique museum, showcasing work from a local artist. It also hosts an 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 available for students, seniors, and children.
6. 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.
7. Visit Farewell Spit
At the northernmost point on the South Island, Farewell Spit 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.
8. 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.
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. Use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates. 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!)
Money Saving Tips
- Hike for free – The park has great hiking trails set out which may be the best attraction in and around Nelson. Just be sure to 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 you search in advance. You’ll save money on accommodation and have yourself a local guide! Win-win!
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