10 reasons to visit Nelson

MAGICAL GLOW: This year’s Light Nelson event will showcase up to 40 light installations to enchant all-comers.
MAGICAL GLOW: This year’s Light Nelson event will showcase up to 40 light installations to enchant all-comers.

It's not all beaches and bike rides. With a trio of upcoming festivals cementing the region's reputation as the creative arts capital, Nelson is the perfect destination for a winter getaway.


Now in its third year, Art Expo Nelson is a three-day event showcasing works by artists all over the South Island. Originally conceived as a way to make up for the lack of exhibition spaces after the Christchurch earthquake, the expo has since taken off. Last year 4500 people attended, and this year is expected to be even bigger, with a venue shift to Saxton Stadium. Artworks range from paintings to prints, ceramics to jewellery and more. With all pieces sold under $5000, there's sure to be a treasure you'll want to take home.

ARTISAN AT WORK: At Flame Daisy, a hand-blown art-glass gallery and workshop, visitors can watch artists at work.
ARTISAN AT WORK: At Flame Daisy, a hand-blown art-glass gallery and workshop, visitors can watch artists at work.

Art Expo Nelson, artexponelson.co.nz.

July 11-13, Saxton Stadium, 142 Saxton Rd East, Stoke.


Picture yourself strolling through Nelson's historic Queens Gardens on a clear midwinter evening. As you wander through the darkness, your path is illuminated by a cluster of mysterious light installations. This is Light Nelson, which had its inaugural event last year and was a runaway success, capturing the imaginations of 16,000 people over three nights. This year promises about 40 installations for visitors to interact with, with the trail beginning at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, moving through Albion Square and the gardens and finishing at the Suter Art Gallery. All ages can appreciate the magic and wonder of this event.

Light Nelson, lightnelson.org.nz. July 11-13, Queens Gardens and surrounds.


This festival has kept the region rocking for the past 20 years. Starting out as a celebration of the Nelson School of Music's 100-year anniversary, it has since grown to include some of the biggest names in New Zealand music. This time legendary singer-songwriters Dave Dobbyn and Don McGlashan will provide the headlining act. The two-week programme includes a bit of everything, from musical theatre, to silent movies accompanied by jazz, and even a poetry slam. Housing the festival this year will be the historic Old St John's church, with the church hall converted into a club and bar.

Nelson Winter Music Festival, nelsonwinterfestival.co.nz. July 11-27, Old St John's, 320 Hardy St.


Wondering where you'll be able to sate your caffeine addiction in Nelson?

Morrison Street Cafe (morrisonstreetcafe.co.nz) proves that wherever there are creative people, there is a thriving cafe culture, and celebrates this by exhibiting local art in its cafe gallery.

Just around the corner is the funky Bridge Street Collective (bridgestreet.co.nz), which contains a shared office space, art gallery and cafe all-in-one. It gets bonus points for its free wi-fi and range of design-related magazines to pore over while enjoying your cuppa.

Ask the locals where they go for a good coffee and they'll say Pomeroy's (pomeroys.co.nz), one of New Zealand's original gourmet coffee roasters. The roastery is located in a little industrial area in Stoke, and contains a spacious on-site eaterie, The Coffee Factory Cafe.


Nelson is packed with quirky boutiques, artisan craft shops and vintage treasure troves. For handcrafted jewellery, visit the Jens Hansen workshop (jenshansen.com), where the Lord of the Rings "One Ring" was created. Just up the road is Flame Daisy (flamedaisy.co.nz), a colourful hand-blown art-glass gallery and workshop where you can watch the artists creating.

Down a little lane in the centre of town is Trouble & Fox (troubleandfox.co.nz) a boutique filled with hand-picked pieces from local and international designers. A menswear store, Sidecar, is located next door.

Antique lovers could spend hours in Eclectic (eclecticantiquecentre.co.nz), picking through furniture, ornaments, jewellery and clothing from as far back as the Victorian era. And Vintage Heaven (vintageheaven.co.nz) has a gorgeous range of dresses in flattering, vintage-inspired cuts.


Every Wednesday from 11am to 4pm, Morrison Square turns into a farmers market. With fresh local produce, organic delights and homemade treats, it is the perfect place to stock up on fruit and veges, or even to stop for lunch. On Saturdays, a larger market is held in Montgomery Square from 8am to 1pm, with high-quality arts and crafts for sale as well as a huge range of foodie options.


You are spoiled for choice with restaurants in Nelson, with great menus at any time of year. Nestled within the Seifried Estate Winery is Petite Fleur (petitefleur.co.nz), open from 11am to 3pm. Take a table near the fireplace and enjoy a long lunch with one of the winery's award-winning wines.

The Styx (styxrestaurant.co.nz) on Wakefield Quay offers a view of the sea and a delicious fisherman's catch menu to match, along with attentive, friendly service.

On special occasions many Nelsonians head out to the Orangerie at Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco (monacoresort.co.nz/orangerie) to enjoy French-inspired cuisine with a pretty view overlooking the Waimea inlet.


Summer days are for whiling the hours away in the region's wineries, but winter is the time to appreciate Nelson's culture of craft beer brewing, with the most craft beer breweries per capita in the country. McCashin's Brewery started this trend, founded in 1980 by former All Black Terry McCashin and his wife Bev. The brewery created the Mac's brand, which was eventually bought by Lion. In 2009 the family moved back in, producing beloved brands Rochdale Cider and Stoke Beers. The brewery offers factory tours with beer-tasting opportunities, and has a homely cafe and bar.

McCashin's Brewery, mccashins.co.nz. 660 Main Rd, Stoke.


A trip to Nelson wouldn't be complete without a visit to the museum honouring one of the country's greatest cultural success stories. Beginning in Nelson in 1987, the World of WearableArt Awards show became so popular it had to be shifted to the capital. The museum provides a taste of the show, and garments are rotated every six months. Alongside the wearable art is a world-class classic car collection, showcasing the art of motoring technology.

World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum, wowcars.co.nz. Cadillac Way off Quarantine Rd, Annesbrook.


If you are still needing an excuse to head to Nelson this winter, the simple fact that the region has some of the highest sunshine hours in the country should do it. With surrounding mountains sheltering the region from bad weather, even in midwinter there are plenty of clear, sunny days - so there's no reason why you can't still enjoy some of those easy summertime activities.

The writer was a guest of Nelson Tasman Tourism.

GETTING THERE For North Island travellers, the Interislander has five sailings to Picton daily. It's then about a two-hour drive from Picton to Nelson. Air New Zealand flies to Nelson from the main centres.

STAYING THERE Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco includes a boutique hotel, private cottages and studio rooms. The hotel offers a bed and breakfast package for two from $182. 

Sunday Star Times