Two Perfect Days in Nelson

Nelson New Zealand is a perfect weekend getaway destination. You can
get a direct flight from any of NZ’s three biggest cities, find lodging
suited to
any budget and then rent a car to enjoy two perfect days. Natural
beauty, family friendly beaches, and a long tradition as a lively
haven have made it a “something for everyone” destination.

During our first year
here we had a continuous flow of visitors, ranging from
students to seniors with limited mobility. This gave us
ample opportunity to learn which local gems are consistent crowd
pleasers. We have sorted through our favorites to design the
perfect mid-summer
weekend visit for first time travelers with a car. (If you are adapting
this to off-peak seasons or days, you might want to check opening hours
before heading out.)

You will find countless other things to come back for, but here’s the
perfect first two day itinerary:

  1. Saturday Morning:
    Explore the CBD; see the Saturday Market; walk in the park
  2. Saturday Afternoon:
    Patio Lunch; immerse yourself in culture; cocktail hour; dinner in town
  3. Sunday Morning:
    Visit the WOW Museum; lunch at Grape Escape
  4. Sunday Afternoon:
    Check out Mapua and Ruby Bay; venture out to Neudorf and Wineries; the
    Abbey for drinks; dinner in town

1. Saturday

Nelson Saturday Market

Nelson Saturday Market

Your first
day is learning what the town is about- why is this town with a
under 50,000 so prominent on the tourist maps? Every visit starts with
a trip to the Nelson
at the corner of
Halifax and Trafalgar on the edge of the central business district
(CBD). Peruse the brochures to find things that peak your interests and
chat with the helpful staff to
confirm opening hours, make bookings and get even more ideas.
The shoppers should make a quick stop next door for the broadest
collection of
gifts around, then head down Trafalgar Street to wander the CBD. This
little town has an appealing
style to it, with a bustling mix of cafés, shops, galleries
museums. Even among the increasing proportion of chain stores,
it’s easy to find plenty of locally run businesses ranging
chocolate makers to crafts collectives. When you reach the end of
Trafalgar Street, rather than climbing to the nice but not exciting
1970’s cathedral, veer
to the right around Trafalgar Square and make your way via eclectic
Flame Daisy glass makers to the
posh Hoglund Glass showroom in the Rutherford Hotel for an eye opening
contrast in glass making styles. Continue onto tiny West
Nile Street where you will find a few more shops and galleries, and the
entrance to Historic South Street for a quick glance at some cute
little restored cottages.

Saturday morning requires a visit to the landmark Nelson
Montgomery Square. Flow with the crowds from soap maker to
photographer to
sweater maker, stopping to sample fudge or indulge in a My Pie!
gourmet snack. It might not be the largest market ever, but
it’s jammed
with over 100 local vendors offering such wide variety that it takes
longer than you might expect to explore. While there are a few
selling commercial or exotic wares, they get lost among the bright,
cheerful locals. Everyone notices that even in the highest summer
season, a good percentage of the crowd is still locals buying produce
and socializing. This gives it a very homey feel even with the
sometimes claustrophobic density of tourists.

Now would be a good time to escape the mob for a short walk before
lunch. You can stroll along the Maitai River that cuts through town, or
visit one of Nelson’s
more formal gardens. The Queens Garden next to the Suter Gallery built
for Queen Victoria has old trees and flowers and a pond dotted with
and eels and the attending fascinated children. It also has a tiny new
Chinese Garden at one end. Or you can drive a little north of town to
walk the Miyazu Japanese Gardens where
bamboo and
maples, a tea house and coy ponds create a cultural island. If you
decide to lunch at the Founders Brewery, you can sometimes take a
restored historic train from the
Tui Station at the back of the gardens to the nearby Founders Heritage

2. Saturday

Founders Burger

Founders Gourmet Burger

Wherever you end up your walk, you won’t lack for good choices for a
nice outdoor
lunch experience. The Founders
Brewery Cafe

has a limited but very tasty selection of
burgers, sandwiches and salads to accompany the award winning organic
brews at primarily outdoor seating. In the CBD, if you are craving
Lambretta’s scooter themed
pizzeria on Hardy Street offers top quality and indoor or
patio dining. Nearby on Trafalgar, BarDelicious
offers extremely fresh, affordable gourmet
and a small patio or dining room seating.

After lunch, it’s time to dig more deeply into the art and history of the
region. If history is your thing, then the Founders Heritage Park or the
Provincial Museum
are the obvious choices. Founders Park is
built from many
historic buildings relocated from around the town. Within them, you
find themed collections arranged into storefronts and workshops. From
Apothecary to Fire House, Post Shop to Photographer, it’s fun to see
manner of antiques arranged as they might have been back in the day.
The Provincial Museum stewards one of the largest collections of
historical photos and negatives in the country, and also typically
hosts one or two specialty exhibitions at any given time.

If you are more drawn to the arts and crafts of the region, you’d
probably prefer to start at the Suter
Art Gallery
which has three main
exhibition rooms, with two usually dedicated to modern New Zealand art,
and the third highlighting their historical collection. We also always
enjoy the small Red
Art Gallery

on Bridge Street and the more expansive
Art Space
near the Anzac Park on Halifax.  The iSite
a brochure listing even more gallery and studio options in and around

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