The clear waters of Lake Rotoiti on a sunny day

Six things to do in Nelson if you love nature

New Zealand’s South Island is famous for its natural beauty and the Nelson region is no exception. Situated on the north-west of the island, the area has a multitude of natural treasures including golden beaches, blue lakes and rocky cliffs and coves.

With pretty towns and cities, spectacular natural scenery, and excellent wine and craft beer, there’s no shortage of things to do in this laidback area. Here’s just a few highlights from this stunning part of the country.

The estuary and white beaches of Abel Tasman National Park

1. Go for a walk in Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park may be New Zealand's smallest national park, but it's also one of the most beautiful. Home to one of New Zealand's Great Walks, the national park boasts white sand, secluded coves and the occasional waterfall, all nestled in lush, green bush.

Many of the park's visitors are here for day trips, spending their time doing a short section of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track or just relaxing at a tiny bay. However, there's also a range of accommodation options available if you want to stay longer or overnight. There's also a variety of outdoor activities to keep you busy, including kayaking between the bays and swimming in the clear water.

The sun setting over Cable Bay in Nelson, New Zealand

2. Swim at Cable Bay

Cable Bay or Rotokura is a beautiful spot only a 20-minute drive from Nelson City. With clear water and a rocky beach (with some sandy bits), the bay is perfect for swimming, fishing and kayaking. At low tide, rock pools form and you can see starfish, crabs and other fascinating underwater creatures. As it borders Horoirangi Marine Reserve, its a great popular snorkelling and diving destination.

The clear waters of Lake Rotoiti on a sunny day

3. Explore Nelson Lakes National Park

About an hour south of Nelson, this beautiful national park marks the beginning of the breath-taking Southern Alps. With snow-capped mountain ranges, forests and valleys, Nelson Lakes National Park is a stunning place to visit.

The highlight of the national park are the beautiful alpine lakes of Rotoroa and Rotoiti. Surrounded by mountains, with native forests, you can explore the area by following easy lakeside walking tracks or more challenging alpine hikes. There are also a variety of native birds living in the park.

In Maori mythology, the great chief Rakaihaitu created the lakes while digging holes with his ko (digging stick). The largest hole became Lake Rotoroa (large waters) and the smaller one was called Lake Rotoiti (small waters).

A boat moored at the wharf in Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand with mountains in the background

4. Visit St Arnaud

A beautiful alpine village on edge of Nelson Lakes National Park, the St Arnaud was named after the mountain range overlooking both the town and Lake Rotoiti. With the lake nearby, St Arnaud makes a wonderful base for exploring the national park. There are a wealth of activities to keep visitors busy from trout fishing and boating to ice skating and skiing in the winter months.

Footprints between along the sand dunes with Wharariki Beach in the distance

5. Relax in Golden Bay

Just over the hill from Abel Tasman National Park, is the beautiful Golden Bay community. To get there, you need to drive over Takaka Hill (or the Marble Mountain) which is a rugged journey with a number of stunning lookouts and interesting stops. Eventually you'll arrive in Golden Bay, an expansive, golden stretch of beach, home to an artistic community of people who love nature.

Spend your time in Golden Bay visiting local craft stores, trying artisan foods and exploring the beautiful natural surroundings, which include everything from bush to beach to waterfalls. There are also a number of Lord of the Rings filming locations in the area.

Rock formations off the coast of Farewell Spit

6. Go bird-watching at Farewell Spit

Stretching 34km long, Farewell Spit is one of the longest natural sandspits in the world. The spit is a bird lover's dream, and has a remarkable wetland and bird sanctuary with over 90 species of birds, including bar tailed godwits, knots, curlews, whimbrels and turnstones.

The spit is also home to a gannet colony. You can also visit the old lighthouse, first built in 1869, and surrounded by macrocarpa pine trees. The easiest way to explore Farewell Spit is on a 4WD safari - many leave from Collingwood, at the end of Golden Bay - just be sure to pick one that goes all the way to Cape Farewell, the northern tip of the sandspit.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 23 March 2023

Lake Wakatipu view from Queenstown

New Zealand

Famous for its natural beauty, New Zealand is a wonderful destination for travellers with a bit of an adventurous streak. A safe and accessible country, you'll find a huge range of activities to keep you busy, particularly if you enjoy the outdoors.