Nelson & Golden Bay, South Island

including Abel Tasman, Motueka and Nelson Lakes

Nelson and Golden Bay family accommodation

Nelson and Golden Bay family accommodation

Abel Tasman National Park

Split Apple Rock, Abel Tasman National Park

Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

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Welcome to Nelson and Golden Bay

Nelson

The happening city at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, with a population of approx 46,000.  Located on the coast by the beautiful Tahunanui beach, Nelson is home to a vibrant arts and crafts community (there are more than 500 working artists in galleries and studios in the area).  Families can enjoy the relaxed lifestyle, safe swimming at the beach as well as a fun park adjacent to the beach which has waterslides and bumpa boats plus a nature park. Tip: Rabbit Island is a favourite picnic/day trip with the locals and offers long sandy beaches, BBQ facilities and great opportunities for games of hide and seek! 

There are also plenty of cafés, restaurants, gardens, museums and galleries, and Founders Historic Park which is a ‘living’ museum offering a fascinating insight into the way we used to live (there’s also an adventure playground, café and a decommissioned DC10 on site).   Nelson is a happening city year round – don’t miss the huge and colourful Saturday morning markets and look out for the year-round events and festivals.  Many of these are in the summer months and include great free family entertainment.

Snippet of history:  The Maori name for Nelson is Whakatu, meaning ‘Peaceful Haven’.  Nelson received its European name in honour of the 1st Viscount Nelson and Admiral of the fleet that defeated both the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Many of the roads and public areas around the city are named after people and ships associated with that battle. Trafalgar Street is the main city street.

The Nelson region’s three National Parks, Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi, provide spectacular mountain, river, lake and coastal scenery. Nelson also offers the thrills of tandem skydiving, sea kayaking, whitewater rafting on the Buller River, caving under Marble Mountain, rock climbing in Golden Bay and 35km 4WD safaris along Farewell Spit (a wildlife sanctuary located on the sandbar at the northernmost tip of the South Island).  The Nelson region boasts several award-winning vineyards and each February the Taste Nelson Festival showcases locally-made food and beverages. 

Motueka 

A Maori name, meaning ‘Island of bush and weka’   The township is a vibrant, friendly and cosmopolitan town on the western side of the Tasman Bay and just 20 minutes drive to the Abel Tasman national park.  Motueka is the 3rd largest town in the Nelson Province with a population of 7593.

Abel Tasman National Park

One of New Zealand’s most loved national parks, Abel Tasman follows miles of stunning coastline, and climbs up inland through dense bush and stunning ridge lines, encompassing the spectacular Harwood’s Hole (at a depth of around 200m it’s one of the world’s deepest daylight shafts in the world.) 
The park is home to the popular Abel Tasman track which can be walked or kayaked along in a few days.  There are huts situated along the track, with comfortable bunks and gas provided.  The track is an easy one to organise, since water taxis abound.  You can be picked up or dropped off just about anywhere or anytime you like, either with an organised service or pre-booked ‘taxi’.  You can kayak the track, hand in your kayak and walk back, or complete just a day or half day walk, and still be picked up.

The closest communities to the track are the picturesque townships of Kaiteriteri and Marahau.  Kaiteriteri means ‘to eat quickly’ and this holiday mecca is home to some of New Zealand’s most magnificent beaches.   Marahau, meaning ‘windy garden’ is right at the track start – it’s smaller but still boasts shop, cafes and accommodation plus gorgeous beaches.
Look out for dolphins, seals and even whales if you take to the waters by kayak or water taxi.

Golden Bay

In 1642 the Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman, anchored off Golden Bay, thinking he had found part of the legendary great southern continent which the Dutch East India Company had sent him to find. Four of his company were killed by Maori, so Tasman called the bay Murderers' Bay, but the name for this beautiful area was changed later to Golden Bay.

On the far side of Abel Tasman national park, Golden Bay is one of New Zealand’s most peaceful, tucked-away treasures.   The winding Takeka Hill, distinctive Farewell Spit (35km long sand spit), the clear waters of Waikoropupu Springs (Pupu Springs for short!) and Harwood’s Hole are just some of the unique attractions of Golden Bay.  Add to these the incredible golden sands, bird song, abundant sea life, and most of all, few people and you’ll see why this ‘off the beaten track’ corner of the globe is special indeed.

Nelson Lakes

The Nelson Lakes National Park is well worth a visit, just an hour’s drive from Nelson and Blenheim.  Home to the glacier-carved Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa, the Nelson Lakes National Park offers stunning alpine scenery, as well as fantastic hiking, walking and boating.   A highlight for the kids is the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge.  It’s the world’s longest swing bridge (110m long) and its narrow, wooden planks swing dizzily around 18m (60ft) above the mighty Buller River.  Crossing is a must, but if you’re scared of heights, don’t look down!  Other on-site activities include the Comet Line – great for kids and they can do it alone or tandem.  It’s a 160m line that you are harnessed to in order to be whizzed over the gorge at speed.  Also available are goldpanning and guided walks.  You can also choose to explore the river via raft (Grade 3 or 4) or jetboat.  The latter, and wetter activities are organised by Buller Adventure Tours, based in Westport.

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Map of New Zealand
  • Queenstown
  • Northland
  • Wanaka
  • Bay of Plenty
  • Fiordland
  • Taupo
  • Coromandel
  • North Canterbury
  • Gisborne
  • South Canterbury
  • Waikato
  • Nelson & Golden Bay
  • Hawkes Bay
  • Marlborough Sounds
  • Manawatu
  • Southland
  • Rotorua
  • Central Otago
  • Taranaki
  • Dunedin
  • West Coast
  • Bay of Islands
  • Whangarei
  • Tauranga
  • Central Plateau
  • Hamilton
  • Napier
  • Palmerston North
  • Whanganui
  • New Plymouth
  • Kapati
  • Arrowtown
  • Te Anau
  • Akaroa
  • Ashburton
  • Hanmer
  • Kaikoura
  • Methven
  • Mt Cook
  • Oamaru
  • Tekapo
  • Timaru
  • Abel Tasman
  • Motueka
  • Nelson Lakes
  • Blenheim
  • Picton
  • Catlins
  • Gore
  • Invercargill
  • Stewart Island
  • Cromwell
  • Greymouth
  • hokitika
  • Westport

Our favourite destinations…

Auckland destination2

Auckland

New Zealand’s economic heart and biggest city is also an exciting family visitor destination, situated on a sunny harbour with city beaches just minutes away from the CBD. Orientate yourself by heading down to Viaduct Harbour, wandering the waterfront, checking out the super yachts or enjoying the waterfront restaurants. Nearby is the must-visit Sky Tower along with excellent and kid-friendly museums and tons of exciting activities!

Wellington

Wellington is New Zealand’s capital. Here you will find New Zealand's parliament buildings, including the 'Executive Wing', more well-known as 'The Beehive' due to its distinctive shape. Another icon to look out for is the Wellington Tram, which was the main means of public transport between 1878 and 1964.

Christchurch

With a population of around 400,000 Christchurch, in Canterbury, is the South Island ’s largest city, yet much of it has the feel of a small town. Perhaps that’s why it’s known as the Garden City but with the expansive Hagley Park, Botanic Gardens, Port Hills, River Avon and numerous beaches the city certainly has an open, relaxed feel that’s hard to beat.

Queenstown

With its well-deserved reputation as New Zealand’s activity adventure capital you’ll never run out of activities and things to do in Queenstown, but you may run out of time! With breathtaking scenery, activities and festivals, cafes and restaurants, skiing and snowboarding, shopping and wineries, this lakeside alpine resort rates as one of the world’s top vacation destinations for all ages and seasons.

Rotorua

Rotorua sits on the shore of Lake Rotorua, one of sixteen lakes in the area formed by hundreds of thousands of years of eruptions from the Taupo Volcanic Zone. The area is renowned for its geothermal activity and top of any activity list is to see the bubbling mud pools that are around the region for yourself. The Waimangu Volcanic Valley offers a first hand insight into the devastation caused by the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera and is a great place to discover steaming volcanic craters and bubbling, spitting  pools of mud!

Nelson and Golden Bay

The Nelson and Golden Bay regions, at the top of the South Island, boast enviable sunshine hours, glorious sandy beaches, safe swimming spots, lots of wildlife to look out for, and Abel Tasman National Park - an absolute must to explore, on foot, by kayak, your own craft or watertaxi.  Nelson is home to a vibrant arts and crafts community with a fabulous Saturday market, and is close to award-winning wineries and family-friendly bike tracks to take you around the coast.

Hawkes Bay

Napier was rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake and is now known as NZ's Art Deco City.  The Art Deco influence has created a unique city – nowhere else can you see such a varied concentration of art deco style. With over 2,200 sunshine hours a year, Napier is a year-round holiday destination with countless activities to entertain the kids – there's days of entertainment on Marine Parade alone, plus numerous other family-friendly trips and activities.  Add to that the beaches, walks and flat cycle paths, outdoor cafes and entertainment, and you have a perfect holiday destination!

Northland

Beautiful, unspoiled beaches, fishing, historic gum fields, kauri forests – the Far North has it all. With subtropical temperatures, it's often known as ‘the Winterless north', with warm, humid summers and mild winters.
Gateway to the Bay of Islands, Paihia is a pretty, lively beachside town and a perfect base for your family holiday. It’s your start point for Bay of Island adventures including day cruises, sailing, kayaking, swimming with dolphins and reef or wreck diving.