With activities to suit every inclination, Nelson is a dream destination for a family holiday, writes Elen Turner
Think of a city break destination and Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, or even Dunedin probably come to mind. But, as any travelling family knows, bigger and busier isn't always better when travelling with kids. A smaller city with a more compact centre, congestion-free roads, ample parking, and peaceful accommodation can be a more comfortable option for the whole family – a city like Nelson, in fact. Here are a few reasons to head to Nelson these school holidays.
Indulge at the Saturday morning market
Every Nelsonian's favourite thing to do on a Saturday morning, the market in central Montgomery Square sells pretty much anything you or your kids might be looking for: fresh veges and bread, artisan meats and cheeses, locally made crafts, fine arts, small-batch skincare, jewellery, and food truck meals. The Taste of Nepal food cart sells the most authentic Nepali curries and momos in the South Island, the bacon butties and German sausages keep the little ones happy, and the Dutch pancakes and doughnuts are ideal if you need breakfast dessert. Also, look out for the West Coast Aotea stone pendants, skincare from Three Gems (if her natural deodorant doesn't work for you, nothing will), and hand-carved wooden toys for the kids.
Walk to the Centre of New Zealand
To burn off some energy, take a hike up to the Centre of New Zealand monument on Botanical Hill, just east of the central city. The shaded, mostly unpathed path winds up to the top of the 147m hill, from where there are fantastic views in most directions: the mountains of the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks across Tasman Bay, Nelson city below, and the Maitai Valley and Richmond Ranges beyond. If you have younger kids, budget an hour to get up and down again; fitter adults and older kids can halve that time.
Visit the Brook Sanctuary
For a gentle nature walk or longer hike, head to the largest fenced-in sanctuary for endangered plants and animals in the South Island, and the second-largest in the country: the Brook Waimārama Sanctuary. Just a 10-minute drive up the Brook Valley from central Nelson, this natural oasis is completely fenced in, keeping the kererū, tūī, fantails and moreporks safe from predators. The short Valley Floor Loop Track takes you past a lovely little waterfall, and more rugged, higher and longer tracks go deeper into the sanctuary. Weekly guided tours are available, but it's easy enough to tour the sanctuary alone, with the map that's provided.
Tour Pic's Peanut Butter World
As long as there are no allergies in your family, Pic's Peanut Butter World in the suburb of Stoke is a fun and free thing to do. Book a free 40-minute tour any day of the week except Sunday and get the chance to make your own peanut butter on the pedal-powered peanut butter-making bike. Monday to Friday you'll see the factory in operation.
Say hi to the animals at Natureland
Granted, it's smaller than the Auckland or Wellington Zoos, but that's part of the attraction at Natureland. The small wildlife park near the beach at Tāhuna is home to alpacas, prickly porcupines, tiny pygmy marmosets and capuchin monkeys, alert and ever-charming meerkats and much more. The native birds inside the netted enclosure will be released to the Abel Tasman National Park when they're ready.
Cycle the mountain biking trails
Sporty families with active older kids might want to check out Nelson's mountain biking trails. A few shops around town rent out mountain bikes and arrange transfers and any necessary permits to off-road trails. Closest to the city is the Dun Mountain Trail, accessed from the Maitai Valley or Brook Valley, and Sharlands Trails, off the Maitai Valley. A bit further away, past Richmond, the Wairoa Gorge Mountain Bike Park has more than 70 kilometres of trails.
Paddle at Tahunanui Beach
Whether paddling to you means a dip in the sea with your shoes off, stand-up paddleboarding or sea kayaking, you can have a go at Tahunanui Beach. The shallow waters are almost always calm, so are ideal for kids to play in, or to have a go at gentle water sports. When the tide is out, rockpools are exposed at one end and sandbanks at the other. Tahunanui has to be one of New Zealand's finest city beaches.
As well as all of these family-friendly attractions, Nelson is well connected to other major centres by air, rush hour lasts for no more than 30 minutes, and it takes barely half an hour to get from one side of the city to the other. It's what family holiday dreams are made of.
Check alert level restrictions, vaccine requirements and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz