If you’ve done the Big Five in the Nelson Tasman region (kayaking/walking in Abel Tasman National Park, a tour of Farewell Spit, cycled Tasman’s Great Taste Trail, viewed the World of Wearable Arts Museum and sauntered around Nelson’s Saturday Market - there’s a whole lot more just around the corner! Although this is a highly contestable list, Nelson has plenty to offer that don't receive as much attention, but still pack a great punch in experience quality.
Here’re some activities that will appeal to the age bracket they sit under, but are totally transferable to any age group, depending on your individual appreciation.
Under 10 years old
I’ve got one word for you – animals! For the larger animals as well as the small, Upper Moutere’s Animal Farm delivers in spades! You'll find several rare breeds in amongst the friendly cattle, yak, llama, pigs (one of the biggest pig breeds in the world), cows (including Highland cattle – gotta love a long fringe!), sheep, goats, deer, rabbits, horses. Many can be hand-fed. Slop, slap slop (on some sunscreen) before going though, as many of the trees are still quite small in this developing project.
And if that’s not enough furry friends in one day, heading back into Richmond (before Nelson city itself) is the delightful Wendelton Village. Don’t Google Maps it – it’s a miniature township at Eyebright Country Store, completely inhabited by guinea pigs. Yes!
10-19 years old
Ngarua Caves at the top of Takaka Hill. The 45-minute guided tour underground is everything it should be – fantastical, beautiful, awesome. Any age will be impressed but there is particular wonder in the eyes of this age group (although it helps that devices don’t work!) as you are guided through the stalagmites and stalactites formed by a never ending drip over thousands of years, into lit up cathedrals, past bone displays of previously trapped creatures in including moa, and walking beside the huge slab of rock that is part of the fault line that formed the mountains in this area!
At one point, after checking that everyone’s comfortable, they switch the light out and your eyes cannot adjust because there is nothing to adjust to. It’s a little bit of a mind-stretch – you can see NOTHING. When you surface again some way away from where you started, through what feels a little like a submarine hatch, the surrounding scenery is the icing on the cake.
20 - 35 years old
Ahh, the golden age when you can throw yourself at something and bounce back for something more the next day: canyoning, rafting (white or black water), kayaking (lake or sea), skydiving (the highest free-fall in NZ) is all exceptional in this region … but the region excels in mountain biking trails.
I personally don’t, I haven’t, I won’t and am quite happy about that situation BUT many, many people tell me the best of a myriad of most excellent trail networks are Sharlands (also known as Hira Forest) and Codgers, both close to Nelson city, and Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park. All three offer a variety of trails from Easy and Family-suitable through to Expert. Bikes can easily be hired if you’re not travelling with your own: check out Gravity Nelson, Trail Journeys Nelson or Nelson Cycle Hire, and Trek Express for shuttle transport if needed.
36 - 49 years old
Make a knife from raw steel, actually forging it yourself. This unusual activity is available via the aptly named Make a Knife, located at in Higgins Heritage Park in the charming little village of Wakefield (about 30 minutes drive from Nelson).
Of course, you can follow You Tube instructions but I suspect going through the process under the watchful eye of bladesmith Simon Whittaker might have a more dependable result.
First forging the blade with high temperatures as has been done for hundreds of years, after lunch you then craft the handle so it’s tailored specifically for you. (It’s your call whether you make an indoor or outdoor knife.)
Apart from the sheer satisfaction of creating a tool that appeals at a very basic survival instinct, the result will be useful for years to come. Be prepared to get dirty, and for obvious reasons children under 13 cannot take part.
Since this is the age-group most likely to be travelling with children, here’s another idea if you have under-13s in tow and can’t do the above – or one parent does the above while the other has quality time with the kids! Take a walk to the lovely Whispering Falls, roughly a 30 minute drive from Nelson on the way to Wakefield, but turning inland at Aniseed Valley.
The fully sealed road takes you some 12kms into the hills to a signposted car park (and toilets – just saying). Allow a couple of hours return.
The well-maintained and easy track goes through a private forest, follows the Hackett Creek and the Miner River, and requires three river crossings (all bridged) to get to the Falls which actually consist of two lots. The first (lower) waterfall is reached within five minutes’ past the third bridge. The second (upper) waterfall is seen in five minutes’ further walk. Understandably, the waterfalls are breath-taking after rain.
A beautiful picnic area on the top of the hill is reached within five minutes of further walking from the upper waterfall.
50 – 70 years old
How lucky are bird’s?! Not only can they fly but they get the best views!! As a human the closest we might get (and it’s pretty darn close) is a scenic flight over this diversely picturesque region.
Several options of helicopters and fixed wing planes keep the prices reasonable for such an all-encompassing experience. One that stands out is the warmly professional Golden Bay Air, based in Takaka but which also operates out of Nelson or Motueka airports.
They offer several options but for the ultimate flight experience, you can view the rich diversity of the region’s landscapes in the 100-minute Grand Tour over the towering peaks, alpine tarns and lush native bush of Kahurangi National Park, the wild coastline of the West Coast, the shifting sand dunes and extraordinary shape of Farewell Spit, the stunning contrasts of turquoise waters and golden sands of the Abel Tasman, and the orderly patchwork of horticulture – hops, vineyards, berry farms and orchards. Just beautiful.
There are so many reasons to love The Suter Art Gallery: a collection of national significance, with local, national and international art spanning over 200 years as well as a lively Events and exhibitions calendar; it’s mindful design; its outstanding, oft-bustling café; and its close physical connection to the both the city and Queens Gardens.
Originally opened in 1899 and now the oldest gallery in continuous use in the country, a two-year, $12m revamp was completed by October 2016 resulting in a space with modern, clean lines that encompasses the original brickwork and lofty wooden roof of the main original gallery room. (And just for the record, its full name is Bishop Suter Memorial Art Gallery - Te Aratoi o Whakatū.)
So that’s the detailed, formal information: in more simple terms, it’s a space that makes you feel good to be. (And the café’s salted caramel square is its own special artform.)
The Gallery protrudes ever so gently into the charming Queens Garden, a botanical park opened in 1892 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 50th jubilee, and a stroll through completes a perfect outing.
For more great inspiration on things to do and see in Nelson, check out our Local Guides page.