Tahunanui: Our big, big sandy beach

DOG WALKERS' PARADISE: One man and his dog take a sunset stroll along Tahunanui Beach.
DOG WALKERS' PARADISE: One man and his dog take a sunset stroll along Tahunanui Beach.

"How about we meet under the yellow rocket?" was a popular invitation when my children were young. We spent countless happy hours in the Lions playground at Tahunanui, and also on the beach itself.

Many years later, Tahunanui is still a cool place to visit for all the family. The brochures say "Tahuna is Nelson's gem by the sea; a beautiful safe family friendly swimming beach, with a fantastic climate, restaurants and activities for all ages".

And that about sums it up, but my column is 800 words so I will have to expand on this and offer some more ideas for getting out and about at Tahunanui on the next sunny day.

PLACE TO MEET: The Tahunanui barbecue area is still a cool place to hang out.
PLACE TO MEET: The Tahunanui barbecue area is still a cool place to hang out.

Tahunanui Beach was known as "The Sands" until a competition was run in 1902 to suggest a name, with a one guinea prize. The Maori name Tahuna was selected, meaning "sand-bank". This name also applied to a post office in Morrinsville, so ‘nui', meaning ‘big' was added - and this beach is indeed big, with 1.75km to walk along and play on.

According to the NZ Gazetteer, the name Tahunanui is not yet official - a bit like the North and South Islands were up until late last year. So, there's still time to come up with something different!

Over the past seven years, the area adjacent to the beach and beside the Lions playground has been extended into a series of sheltered and linked spaces. Clever landscaping makes these spaces welcoming for youth, families and the wider community.

The Tahunanui Youth Park project was completed in 2013 and is part of a drive to create more recreational spaces for young people in Nelson. It is a great place to chill out, with shade sails, furniture and art, lighting and planting.

New play equipment, designed for young teens, form part of the park and a mosaic by Nelson artist Tejas Arn is the centrepiece of the chill-out space.

The community barbecue area reserve includes a shelter, paths, a stage and artwork by local sculptors. There are coin-operated barbecues and this is the perfect venue for a birthday party or end-of-season cricket party.

An invitation I have had many times recently is, "how about we meet at the BBQ area?"

Up by Rocks Rd is Abel Tasman Park, which was formed from spoil stored on the dunes during upgrading work on Rocks Rd.

As well as Abel Tasman's statue there are itinerant food vendors and even bean bags that you can sit on to survey beach sights from above.

Nearby is the Nightingale Library, which was built in 1961 with a bequest from Nellie Nightingale, a Tahunanui resident. Opening hours are limited so check before rocking up to change your books.

For those seeking more action, the fun park to the west has mini golf, bumper boats, a hydroslide and Indy 500 track. There is also a roller skating rink, public tennis courts, Natureland Zoo, the Modellers Pond and a BMX track. These are excellent venues for birthday parties. I've been to them all at some stage.

And now for the beach. The teenagers not at the youth park are preening themselves on the sand, trying to get an even (nearly all-over) tan, drinking beer, taking selfies, talking intensely about important things, and playing Frisbee.

Younger children are building sandcastles, eating sandwiches with sand in them, and getting excited by the gentle waves. In the distance to the east I can see children at the rock pools making exciting discoveries.

Other people are reading books, strolling on the beach and splashing in the water. A few are paddle boarding, kite surfing and kayaking.

No-one is windsurfing, which is odd as there are perfect wind conditions. I know this because my husband is studying the waves and decides it is the perfect breeze for sailing and he's not sure why he's on land with me.

So he doesn't mourn lost sailing opportunities, I decide to tempt him to a cafe or bar. There are numerous options within five minutes' walk.

Ever-popular is the Beach Cafe. I also have good memories of Mr Whippy and the van selling real fruit ice-cream. These were popular in our yellow rocket days, and the long queues show that they still are.

Even though the air has a definite autumnal feel, there is still plenty of time to enjoy being out and about in Nelson. Tahunanui is well-worth a visit, even if your kids have passed the yellow rocket stage.


Dog beach – if you have a dog, keep to the Back Beach. Dogs are prohibited on the eastern two-thirds of Tahunanui main beach.

Commercial activities – some of these are seasonal, so check opening hours before you turn up, particularly post-Easter.

Litter – if you take it with you then take it away, or put it in the bin. There is nothing worse than finding other people's food wrappers and half-eaten items. Well, the seagulls and ants will be happy with you, but no-one else (and birds will poop on you as punishment!)