Situated on the north coast of the South Island hides one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets. With sparkling blue-green waters of the Tasman Bay and jungle-green hillsides, Nelson is a favorite destination of New Zealanders. International tourists are starting to take notice though and are finding this area has about everything the country is known for. Most of the attractions of this charming town and surrounding area are close together. With as little as two days you can cover a lot of ground. Nelson boasts both an excellent Arts Trail and Wine Trail. Many of the twenty-two stops on the Arts Trail are in or near the Nelson City center making it easy to access shops, and galleries.

Maitai River

Maitai River

This sun drenched city has some of the best pottery and arts in New Zealand. If pottery is your favorite head to South Street Gallery housed in a lovely Victorian home in the city center. It has a unique collection from fourteen local potters showing off vibrant colors common in NZ art. If paintings are more your thing try Bill Burke’s on Ajax Avenue in a small but impressive gallery. His pastels evoke the essence of New Zealand in colorful nature and city scenes of Nelson and the South Island. You are sure to find an art treasure to bring home with so many great art vendors.

Downtown watering hole.

Downtown watering hole.

Nelson has its own official wine region. You can visit up to twenty-five wineries on the Nelson Wine Trail. White wines, like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, are specialties of this region. They also produce fine reds. Many wine stops are close together making it easy to drop in on several in a couple of hours by bicycle or car.  Consider a wine tour with Wine, Art and Wilderness tour guides if you are used to driving on the right side of the road and want a carefree experience with a guide doing the driving.

Kite surfers at Tahunanui Beach near Nelson.

Kite surfers at Tahunanui Beach near Nelson.

Head over to Richmond, a suburb of Nelson, and you will be in the thick of Nelson wine country. Try Seifried Winery with its impressive main building that reminds me of a rustic Aspen billionaire’s home offering tasting seven days a week. Sefried also has a highly rated restaurant open for lunch Thursday through Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. You can try several white wines like: Gewurtztiminer, Chardonnay, Riesling, Grunner Veltliner, and Sauvignon Blanc. Have a glass of crisp Savignon Blanc with an appetizer of green lipped mussels for a local delicacy. Follow that up with pan-fried gurnard (local fish) and you have a winning combination. With your first tasting and lunch under your belt nine other wine stops are just minutes away. It will be easy to find great wines to bring home that few back home will know about, or have access to.

Big air!

Big air!

After all that exploring you will need a restaurant to relax in and have dinner. On the waterfront is a Nelson favorite, The Boatshed, where the outdoor dining space is the place to eat and drink. My go-to meal is a starter of shellfish, followed by a grilled crayfish, (lobster) and accompanied by a glass of either Kina Cliffs or Sefried Sauvignon Blanc. The food is good and the view excellent for watching a dreamy sunset over the Tasman Bay.

Old victorian home turned hotel near city center.

Old victorian home turned hotel near city center.

Whether you come for the food, wine, art or adventure I think you will agree that Nelson has some of the best to offer international visitors. It’s clean, safe, and full of options for all types of adventurers. In seven trips to New Zealand my first trip to Nelson remains one of the most memorable. I hope you give it a go and see if you agree it is a must see destination.

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