31 best things to do in the central North Island
Dominated by the enormous Lake Taupō and a trio of volcanoes including Mount Ruapehu, the Central Plateau is sporting a plethora of natural ...
Arty, beachy and beautiful with a bounty of activities and attractions on offer. Maybe your taste tends toward pulse-pounding white-water adventure, mountain biking, or skiing, or maybe you like to get your outdoors dose in the form of a cycle tour, hike or stunningly scenic cruise. Whatever you’re after you’ll get your fix for it here. For a change of pace, check out some history, art and culture, and acquaint yourself with the region’s top-quality food and drink.
The many rivers running through the adrenaline-central Murchison area range from grade 2 to 4 white water, which is how this small town became New Zealand’s unofficial white water capital. Experience the thrill on a white-water rafting adventure or ride the mighty Buller River on one of Buller Canyon Jet’s V8-powered River Shark boats, complete with canyon scenery and 360-degree spins.
Set in the beautiful surrounds of a native forest, this adrenaline HQ is home to one of the longest flying foxes in the world at the Skywire Experience. Strapped in to the four-person seat, you’re treated to an incredible view over Cable Bay, Delaware Bay and the entire park as you shoot along at speeds of up to 100kph high above the trees. The park also has a great network of mountain biking trails, as well as guided quad bike tours, horse treks, and paintball.
The only place to get on your skis (or snowboard) in the Nelson region, Rainbow Ski Area boasts spectacular views, excellent beginners’ terrain and typically bluebird weather, as well as challenging high powder runs and chutes for the advanced skiers. If you’re new to skiing or snowboarding, the instructors at the snowsports school can get you riding the slopes with confidence.
Get on your bike and maximise your sightseeing in this stunning part of the country. You can take in some of the region’s top attractions on the way! Tasman’s Great Taste Trail is the perfect example – an easy grade 1 and 2 ride, it takes in some spectacular coastal, river and mountain views and stops off at some of Nelson’s best foodie destinations, from fruit stalls and cafés to craft beer pubs, restaurants, and wineries. Wheelie Fantastic offers a range of single or multi day guided cycle tours to get the best of the trail with some local knowledge thrown in.
This artistic and cultural hotspot is home to the largest concentration of working artists in the country. The Suter Art Gallery makes a great first stop, free to enter and boasting a nationally significant collection as well as regular exhibitions and events. The Hoglund Art Glass Glassblowing Studio is also worth a visit to see the strange and mesmerising art of working with molten glass, as well as browsing the masterpieces on display. Or you can fully immerse yourself in the city’s arty scene on a Nelson City Art Trail, which will take you on a tour of artist studios, galleries and museums that showcase the best of the region’s creative talent. Maps can be picked up at i-Sites around Nelson.
Nelson’s Jens Hansen studio was the jeweller commissioned by Sir Peter Jackson to make the famous ring for The Lord of The Rings and then The Hobbit trilogies. Jens Hansen still makes replica elven rings, as well as offering a custom jewellery design service and a beautiful range of hand-forged collections. A keepsake from this jeweller really will be your precious.
In central Nelson you’ll find a quaint little street with cobblestone paths, Victorian cottages and lantern lights. South Street, once known as Town Acre 456, is New Zealand’s oldest fully preserved Victorian street, and the charming cottages lining the road were originally built to house local tradesmen.
The Nelson Tasman region is mecca for walking trails, with its three national parks and two Great Walks, as well as numerous shorter walks to satisfy any taste. The Abel Tasman Coast Track and Heaphy Track have both earned a spot on New Zealand’s list of Great Walks for their incredible scenery and diverse terrain, and you’ll get views to die for in Kahurangi or Nelson Lakes National Park. Shorter walks to add to your list include Harwoods Hole, Wainui Falls, The Grove Scenic Reserve and Takaka Hill Walkway, as well as the cartographical (if not geographical) centre of New Zealand, Botanical Hill.
Set in the beautiful surrounds of popular holiday destination Kaiteriteri, this resort and spa offers a full menu of treatment packages from massages and facials to manicures, pedicures and body spa treatments. Get yourself in true holiday mode and book in a session to take your relaxation soul-deep.
A tapu spot to Māori, this is the largest freshwater spring in New Zealand and some of the clearest water ever measured. You can’t touch the water, but staring down into its incredible crystal clear depths is more than enough of an experience on its own. Walk the easily accessible boardwalks through mānuka and kānuka trees to the viewing platform and be mesmerised by the spring’s current of bubbles that gave it the nickname ‘dancing sands’.
Take in the beaches, coves and wildlife of Abel Tasman from the water on a scenic cruise that will take you around the area’s best natural attractions without needing to break a sweat. A Wilsons Vista Cruise from Kaiteriteri to Tōtaranui gives you the perfect view of Split Apple Rock and includes stops at the beautiful golden beaches of Tonga and Adele islands.
The legendary Golden Bay live music venue. Get the real small-town dining experience. Rock up for casual, wholesome pub food, beers and cider brewed on site, and of course, fresh steamed mussels and mussel chowder. Check the website or Facebook page to see what live gigs are coming up.
At 34km long, Farewell Spit is one of the longest sandspits in the world, and it’s a bird sanctuary and nature reserve home to more than 90 different species of bird, including gannets, godwits and oystercatchers. Travel the whole length of the spit on a 4WD safari and visit Cape Farewell on your journey – it’s the northernmost point of the South Island and you can take in unbeatable ocean views from its dramatic sandstone cliffs.
This top family attraction is housed in a village of lovely character buildings surrounded by beautiful gardens that are perfect for a relaxing stroll or picnic on a nice day. Ride the heritage-inspired railway, take a look inside the Bristol Freighter plane, browse the gifts in the Windmill Gift Shop, or enjoy a coffee break in the leafy courtyard of Founders Café.
One of the most popular sport climbing crags in the country, the Paines Ford scenic reserve holds some epic limestone cliffs that any keen climber will be champing at the bit to tackle. There are climbs ranging from beginners’ grades to expert 28-29 grades, all topped off with serene views and with nice crisp rivers nearby if you fancy a dip before or after your ascent.
Head out to the longest (at 13km) natural boulder reef in the Southern Hemisphere either on foot from Boulder Bank Drive, or on a guided tour with The Ferry or Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures. Perched on the Boulder Bank you’ll find a historic 19th Century lighthouse, which you can climb to get stunning views across the Tasman Bay, to the Western Ranges, and of Nelson City. The lighthouse can be accessed as part of a guided tour, or obtain the key from Port Nelson.
There is some excellent underground action to be had around Nelson for those who love exploring magnificent and otherworldly caves. Ngarua Cave with its stalactites, stalagmites and massive cathedral cavern also houses bones of the now-extinct giant moa, while Rawhiti Cave has an incredible variety of twilight-zone flora, which influences the unusual outward growth of its stalactites. Maitai Caves are a bit trickier to access, requiring a couple of stream crossings and a 10-minute climb, but the limestone formations make for a beautiful destination. Also well worth a visit is the famous Harwoods Hole, the deepest vertical shaft in New Zealand. You can only enter the hole itself if you’re an experienced and qualified caver, but peering into the sinkhole from the viewing platform is a sight you won’t soon forget.
See for yourself why Nelson is known as the craft brewing capital of New Zealand on the Nelson Craft Beer Trail, which takes you on a tour of the many breweries both large and small that have taken advantage of this region’s ideal hop-growing conditions. National Geographic also named Nelson as the world’s top cider city in 2017, so it would be rude not to check out some of the great cideries while you’re here as well, such as McCashin’s Brewery, Peckham’s Cidery and Orchard, and Capital Cider Co.
An iconic Nelson experience, the Nelson Market is on every Saturday morning in Montgomery Square and is always teeming with locals and visitors alike. You’ll find a tempting array of artisan goods, locally-made products, plants and flowers, clothes, jewellery and art, as well as a delicious breakfast, brunch or lunch at the many food stalls. In summer, stock up on freshly-picked berries and fruit from nearby orchards.
Car enthusiasts and history buffs alike will love the display of over 150 classic cars at this museum. All in pristine condition, you can see 1950s Triumphs and Cadillacs, a 1908 Renault AX, luxury Ferraris, and many more.
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