It could be the climate: New Zealand’s Nelson Tasman region, on the northern coast of the South Island, is one of the sunniest places in the country, receiving nearly 2,400 hours of sunshine per year. It might be its beauty: Forming a V around the turquoise Tasman Bay, the area contains three national parks (Kahurangi, Nelson Lakes, and Abel Tasman), miles of sandy beaches, and adjoins two wine regions (including Marlborough, New Zealand’s largest). Or perhaps it’s the makers: the artists, horticulturists, vintners, and farmers who chose here to build a vibrant home that welcomes visitors to their laid-back way of life. “Within my clay work I use color and images to capture the essence of the environment [surrounding me] in the Nelson Tasman region,” says clay artist Katie Gold. “I create imprints from shells and crustaceans and patterns of flora and fauna from our local landscape.” Whatever the inspiration, exploring Nelson Tasman is like settling into a sun-kissed summer afternoon. Get comfortable and discover its allure—you won’t be disappointed.
Abel Tasman National Park may be New Zealand’s smallest (87 square miles), but it’s one of the most popular. Fringing the coastline, it offers an explosion of color—gold sand, jade ocean, azure skies, and a bright green forest canopy. It also teems with life: fur seals, little blue penguins (the world’s smallest), dolphins, and birds such as shearwaters, shags, weka, and fantails.
It’s one of the easiest wild spaces in New Zealand to visit. The Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of the country’s Great Walks, is a 37-mile hike with overnight huts along the route. Not up for a multiday walk? Travelers can hop on one of the many water taxis and jump off to hike a small section of the track, then reboard at the next stop.
Kayaking is also a popular means for exploring the park, and guided excursions are a great way to visit protected beaches and coves.
Wine & Dine
Nelson Tasman bursts with flavors. Any car or bike will take you past orchards (kiwifruit, pears, and apples), vineyards, or hop farms. Check out Tasman’s Great Taste Trail, a network of cycling paths that loop through the countryside.
Frequently overshadowed by the more famous Marlborough appellation, the Nelson wine region is content to be compact, with stalwarts like Neudorf and Seifried producing exquisite Pinot Noirs, Sauvignon Blancs, and Chardonnays that reflect the area’s sun and sea breezes.
Nelson is also New Zealand’s craft beer capital, with a proud tradition dating back to early German settlers in the 1840s who found the land ideal for producing hops. Follow the Craft Beer Trail past favorites like McCashin’s Brewery, Sprig & Fern Brewery, and Hop Federation.
Seafood is also in abundance here, with plates of the region’s green-lipped mussels dished out in buzzing, innovative cafés and bistros. Try the overwater Boat Shed Café (a Nelson classic) or dig in with the locals at Urban Eatery.
Founded in 1858, Nelson is one of the country’s most vibrant art centers. It’s home to the Theatre Royal (the oldest operational wooden theater in the Southern Hemisphere), the Suter Art Gallery (New Zealand’s oldest, founded in 1899), and the Nelson Centre of Musical Arts (evolved from the first European settlers in the mid-1800s), three of the oldest cultural establishments in New Zealand. Any one of them is the perfect starting place to explore the town’s galleries and boutiques, filled with the work of local woodworkers, textile makers, glassblowers, potters, and painters. Check out the handblown works at Höglund Art Glass, the phantasmagorical creations at the World of Wearable Art Museum, landscape masterpieces at Craig Potton Gallery, and one ring to rule them all at Jens Hansen, the jeweler who created the famed talisman for The Lord of the Rings films.
The art and food that are the lifeblood of Nelson Tasman are proudly showcased at weekly markets. This is the spot to rub elbows with locals and fellow travelers alike. It’s a not-to-be-missed opportunity to be a part of the community, trade stories, sample food, and get a taste of what makes this place special.
The Motueka Sunday Market has been a Sunday tradition for more than 24 years. With more than 50 stalls featuring local crafts and artwork, seafood, coffee, produce, secondhand finds, and baked good delights, it’s more than just a market—it’s a meeting place.
The Nelson Market, operating out of Montgomery Square for nearly 40 years, is two markets in one. The Saturday market offers up everything from pottery to jewelry to seedlings to locally made cheese, jam, and peanut butter. The Sunday market is a trove of vintage and secondhand finds, with coffee and brunch when you need a break from browsing.
The Nelson Tasman region isn’t just a favorite with travelers—New Zealanders love it too, and local school holidays and summers are packed with Kiwis. Visit during the off-season (September–November or March–May) to have the area to yourself. The weather is consistent, the community is still vibrant, and you’ll be able to find a parking space.