Pinterest Facebook Instagram
Travellers Backpacker
Kerr Bay (Image Credit: Julian Apse)

Nelson & Abel Tasman

Tucked away in the South Island's north-west corner is the area known as the Nelson Tasman. The naturally beautiful seems to know no bounds here and recreation possibilities for the adventure-seeking backpacker are too numerous to mention.

The Nelson Tasman happens to be the part of New Zealand which boasts the highest number of sunshine hours and among its many jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes you will find beaches of the dream-like kind, soaring mountains, verdant forests and rainforest and acres of land given over to producing the wines for which this region is famous.

Life is lived at a relaxed pace, even in the towns, which means many are lured here initially by the beauty and then lose their hearts completely to the entire magnetism and easy charm which seems to radiate everywhere.

We do try and give an overview of regions typically but here it would be pointless – there is simply just too much to add in. Everyone gets to play here whether they are a lover of beach, winter sports, wildlife, water activities, hiking, culture and arts, wine, adrenalin experiences or something else. Come here to cram each and every day full of fun and activities or come here to recharge in solitude and soak up the beautiful. Both are possible. 

Make your way around by foot, kayak, stand-up paddle board, mountain bike, water-taxi, horseback, quad-bike, 4WD safari, scenic airplane or even by sky-wire. Find all you need without going too far afield or head out adventuring to remote corners. Choose from DIY exploration with travel buddies or sign up for a guided tour. We warn you – these decisions among so many possibilities are hard and tearing yourself away from the Nelson Tasman is going to be the trickiest bit of all.

Un-missable THINGS TO DO in the Nelson and Abel Tasman Regions

  1. Head out into one of the three stunning national parks by foot, kayak or horseback 
  2. Is it a work of art or stunning ball gown? Questions to ask yourself at the quirky World of Wearable Art Museum
  3. Laze, snorkel or play with the seals at one of the country’s loveliest beaches – Mosquito Bay
  4. Check out the skeleton of an extinct moa at the Ngarua Show Cave
  5. Skydive the Abel Tasman with possibly the loveliest scenery views on the planet
  6. Travel out to the bird sanctuary at remote Farewell Spit
  7. Make your way to Cleopatra's Pool and quite possibly have it all to yourself
  8. Head out on a craft beer or wine discovery trail
Kahurangi National Park (Image Credit: Nelson-Tasm
Kahurangi National Park (Image Credit: Nelson-Tasm

1. The National Parks

The Nelson Tasman region has been a little greedy on the national park front because it has three all to itself – the Kahurangi National Park, the Nelson Lakes National Park and the Abel Tasman National Park. Between them they cover idyllic deserted coast, mountain wilderness, glacial lakes and luxuriant rainforest. They also happen to be home to two of the nine 'Great Walks' which makes them a trampers' heaven. Alternatively you can explore these lovely – and vast – areas by mountain bike, horseback or kayak.

The Kahurangi National Park – This is New Zealand's second largest national park which is home to the longest Great Walk – the 78.4 km Heaphy Track. A landscape of forest, mountain and cave networks is criss-crossed with any number of trails if you don't fancy the 4 – 6 day challenge of the Heaphy Track.

The Nelson Lakes National Park – This is the top end of the mighty Southern Alps. Along with the mountain loveliness the great draw is the lakes and all the activities which can be enjoyed there which include water skiing, kayaking and sailing.

The Abel Tasman National Park – If your idea of the idyllic beach is a deserted one then hotfoot it to the country's only coastal national park where many of the beaches are boat or hike accessible only, keeping the visitor numbers refreshingly low. Home to the 54 km Abel Tasman Coast Track, this park is full of fun water activities which include swimming with seals, snorkelling, white-water rafting and stand up paddle boarding. Kayak/tramp combos are also super popular here.

2. World of Wearable Art and Classic Car Museum

Even if you're not usually an art fan you might want to check this one out. Yes, there are works of art here but they also all happen to be wearable in one form or another. Quirky it most definitely is and although many come here initially simply to satisfy their curiosity they tend to leave raving about the incredible feast for the eyes they have just experienced.

Also on site is a private collection of rare and classic cars and an art gallery.

3. Mosquito Bay

We grant you the name is none too appealing but otherwise this stunning cove is a top contender for the title of New Zealand's loveliest beach. Most people's image of the idyllic beach tends to feature white sands and calm crystal turquoise water which is exactly what you get here – quite possibly all to yourself.

Verdantly green and densely wooded hillsides tumble down to the very beaches themselves surrounding you in the lovely no matter which way you look. A snorkeler’s paradise can be found floating around the broken reef rocks and seals might well come and join in your underwater explorations.

Why is it so little visited if it is such a paradise you might be asking. Well getting here requires a little effort. You can't drive here. But you can take a hiking detour off the Abel Tasman Coast Track or rent a kayak from nearby Marahau to paddle your way to some dream-like solitude.

4. Caves

This is a country with many accessible caves which range from the fully-lit and strolling type to hardcore abseil-in-to-the-pitch-black and pothole-your-way-through type. Nelson Tasman has several gems of the caving kind worth exploring which include Rawhiti Cave found in Takaka at the end of an easy 1 hour walking track.

The entrance is spectacular – one of the country's largest – encrusted with huge hanging stalactites which grow ever finer as you venture further into the cave where you'll find a viewing platform. The cave is also somewhat important from a botanical point of view due to its 'twilight-zone flora' (that is mosses and ferns on the sunlit side of the stalactites at the entrance, to you and me).

Another highly significant cave in this region is the Ngarua Show Cave. As caves go there are plenty more impressive than this stalactite filled one but people come here usually to take a peek at what is housed within – the collection of moa bones which include an entire skeleton of a bush moa. And just in case you didn't know, the now extinct moa was a giant flightless bird of around 3 ½ metres in stature.

If you prefer your subterranean wonderlands a little more extensive head to the Te Anaroa Cave complex in Rockville, Collingwood. You get the full works in this cave - stalagmites, stalactites, fossils, a glow worm spectacular, guided tours and the chance to abseil your way in if walking seems too tame. 

5. Skydive

There are skydives aplenty in New Zealand and most of them offer scenery of the special kind. However, there are always those spots which take you from the lovely to the unbeatably sublime and the Abel Tasman option is one of those. Hurl yourself from a plane at 9,000, 13,000 or 16,500 feet and once you've finished screeching towards earth at 120 mph/200 kph terminal velocity and are under canopy you will be able to fully appreciate what is beneath your feet. Turquoise and emerald seas, golden beaches, snow-dusted mountains and both North and South Island to be taken in within the same glance. It gets no better than that.

If you should become addicted to this airborne view there are a few other options in the region. These include tandem paragliding or learning to fly and do aerobatics in Motueka or close to Nelson you will find the 'Skywire'. The only one of its kind in the country, this adrenalin-fix experience is part flying fox, part multi-person chairlift. The whole takes you 150m above the ground and at its most extreme you can expect to be whizzed through the air at speeds of 100 kph.

6. Farewell Spit

Many an advertiser or film-maker has used the idyllic image of rider mounted on galloping horse splashing through the surf on a tropically-perfect beach, free as a bird. Well, you can place yourself in that vision now with a horse trek to Farewell Spit - the long, curving, narrow protrusion you will see jutting out into the Tasman Sea if you study a map of the region.

It is the country's longest sand spit and an area of great conservation significance recognised on a global scale. Home to a vast diversity of birds, seals are also a common sight on Farewell Spit which just happens to have an historic lighthouse too to add to the interest. If going by horseback doesn't float your boat there are also 4WD safaris available.

Cleopatras Pool (Image Credit: Wilsons Abel Tasman
Cleopatras Pool (Image Credit: Wilsons Abel Tasman

7. Cleopatra's Pool 

Like so much else in this lovely region, getting to the magical Cleopatra's Pool takes a little more effort than hopping in a car. Some would see this as a minus point while most of us travellers understand those places which require a little more work are most often those we can have all to ourselves once we arrive. And anyway – it all adds to the adventure and the routes to get to Cleopatra's Pool are typically of the naturally breath-taking kind.

Should you have signed up for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track Cleopatra's Pool is simply a slight detour en route while a 30 minute side trip from the easy 11 km Medlands Beach day hike will also bring you here. Coming from Anchorage Bay the hike here is about 3 hours there and back. Kayakers can paddle their way up a creek from Torrent Bay and then make the last 10 minutes to the pool on foot.

So, what do you get once you arrive here? A natural and crystal-clear swimming pool surrounded by moss covered rocks and verdant bush which reflects emerald lights into the waters of the pool. And as if all that isn't enough there is also a waterfall and a natural rock-slide here.

8. Wines and Beers

Should you be counting, the Nelson Tasman numbers 25 boutique – some of which are award-winning - wineries in its boundaries making it something of a destination for the wine-passionate. However, even if you don't know your Sauvignon from your Chardonnay you can still make your way around this relatively compact wine region sampling the delights at cellar doors as you go because this is New Zealand and pretension is wonderfully absent. 

If your tastes tend rather more towards the brewing side of things you also have come to the right place. Nelson has more craft breweries per capita than anywhere else in New Zealand and there is even a beer church (well at least a converted church which is a pub which we think counts).

There are a selection of wine and craft beer trail maps to follow if you want to head out alone by car or bike but of course that limits your sampling of these fine wares. Should you be unable to bribe some-one into taking on the role of designated driver or you don't trust yourself aboard a bike after you've downed a few, sign up for one of the many brewery and wine tours.

Find out more...

Abel Tasman National Park - Everything you need to know about the Abel Tasman!
Official Tourism Website - Nelson - Everything you need to know about Nelson!
Seasonal Jobs Reclaim tax from working in New Zealand Seasonal Work for backpackers Backpacker seasonal work Self Containment certificate in Auckland
Most Read Articles
Converting overseas driving licence
Check out our guide to how you convert your driving licence to a NZ one.
Fruit Pick Your Way Around NZ
Travelling can be expensive so why not supplement your travels with a bit of seasonal fruit picking work
New Zealand's Best Festival & Events
Ahhh.....where to begin? There are hundred's to choose from but here are a few of our favourites...
NZ Best Beaches - North Island
You are spoilt for choice, but here are a few of our favourite spots.
New Zealand ID cards
Lucky enough to look under 25?! Then you might want to think about getting yourself one of these.
Auckland on a Budget
If you know where to look there are loads of cool things you can do and places to stay in Auckland that won't break the bank.
Unique Activities To Do - South Island
You are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing the most spectacular, thrilling or awe-inspiring activities...but here are just a few of our favourites.
Rotorua on a Budget
If you are running low on travelling funds then check out our guide to grabbing a bargain in Rotorua.
Unique Activities To Do - North Island
With so many activities on offer in the North Island it can be tricky choosing something truly memorable to do.
Best Beaches - South Island
With so much amazing coastline on the South Island its always going to be hard to choose what the best beaches are, but here is our pick of them.