Nelson is a small city on the north-west coast of the South Island. The city is known for its strong arts community and proximity to three national parks, all within 90 minutes’ drive. Your Nelson rental car is your ticket to discovering all the region has to offer. Popular activities range from hunting and fishing to kayaking and cycling. You can rent a bike or an electric cycle for an easier ride. Top attractions include an eclectic mix of fashion and transport at the World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum. There’s a vast network of art and designer-maker galleries, from intriguing works at the Cubicle to the city’s premier collection at the Suter Art Gallery.
Nelson has several historic homes and gardens that are well worth a visit. Founders Heritage Park has creative exhibits, historic buildings, a windmill, brewery and café. The colonial Broadgreen Historic House with Samuels Rose Garden and Isel House, with its fine furniture and woodland setting, are favourites located in Stoke.
Tahunanui Beach is an expansive stretch of sand at the edge of the city and is perfect for swimming. Natureland Zoological Park, with its monkeys, reptiles and walk-though aviary, Nelson Fun Park, with a summer hydro slide, bumper boats and mini golf, and ProKarts karting track are all located near here. Rabbit Island (Moturoa), 20 km west in the Waimea Estuary, is a lovely spot for a picnic, swim or seabird watching. Happy Valley Adventures offers something for everyone, from paintball to quad-bike tours and horse trekking along forest trails. For a thrilling time churning through mud on buggies, check out Wild Tracks.
For absorbing days out in nature, drive your Nelson hire car to any of the three national parks. Kahurangi National Park has diverse mountain landscapes, from alpine forests and tussock grasslands to wild rivers and coastal palms. The five-day walk along Heaphy Track is a must for serious trampers – and mountain-bikers in winter – but there are loads of short walks, too. Hunting and fishing are also popular.
The alpine Nelson Lakes National Park is dotted with glacial lakes and sits at the tip of the Southern Alps. There are many walking tracks around Lakes Rotoroa and Rotoiti and the 80-km Travers-Sabine Circuit leads deep into the mountains. It’s also great for snow sports and river fishing. The Abel Tasman National Park has lush forests, limestone cliffs and turquoise bays with sandy beaches, accessible only by water taxi or by walking part of the 53-km Abel Tasman Coast Track. Enjoy sea kayaking and sailing here. Wild Footprints, Kahurangi Guided Walks and Southern Wilderness offer guided walks of varying lengths in the parks, while Wine, Art & Wilderness have all manner of stimulating tours.
Nelson’s shopping opportunities include unique gift shops and colourful designer clothing to myriad arts and craft studios including glass artists, potters, weavers, wood-carvers and jewellers. Nelson’s Farmers’ Market is held every Wednesday at Fashion Island lifestyle retail centre; the bustling Saturday Outdoor Market, with food and craft stalls, is perfect for breakfast. Other great dining options include the elegant Melrose House Café, with its superb high tea, the award-winning Mint Dining Room and excellent seafood at the romantic Harbour Light Bistro.
Nelson has a wide choice of backpackers’ hostels, self-catering motels, bed and breakfasts, and a few hotels. Century Park Motor Lodge offers luxurious but affordable apartments and the colonial Te Puna Wai Lodge, with its fantastic views, is a firm bed and breakfast favourite. Nelson’s neighbouring region of Marlborough is also well worth the drive. Wine buffs will find the Wairau and Awatere Valley vineyards pure paradise and there are plenty of peaceful delights and sea-faring pursuits in and around the isolated waterways of Marlborough Sounds.