10 Minute Read
Scott and I had a blast exploring the Nelson, Abel Tasman and Golden Bay areas of the South Island. We spent a few days in each location and were able to soak up the best of the best, without feeling too rushed.
Days 1-4: Nelson, New Zealand
After a quick 30 minute flight on the smallest plane we’ve ever ridden in, we landed in Nelson. We picked up our rental car from the airport and experienced a few jitters driving on the left side of the road for the first time.
We grabbed a quick early afternoon bite downtown at a small restaurant and then stayed in for the night at our first Airbnb in Nelson.
During our first couple of days in Nelson, we explored the city and all of downtown. For a city with only 50,000 people, there is a lot going on downtown and plenty of places to shop and eat.
On Saturday, we checked out the famous Nelson Saturday Market. Food vendors, crafters, farmers and a whole bunch of people filled a large parking lot. We walked through a couple of times to make sure we saw everything and then decided to try some food. Scott got a brat from a Bavarian sausage vendor and I had the best donut of the trip (so far) from Rodrigo’s Sourdough Bakery.
We also went to Queens Garden, which was a treat to find in the middle of the city.
Sunday we battled an uphill hike to the Centre of New Zealand. It was about a 20-minute walk to the top and well worth the views.
That same day we enjoyed some fancy drinks from Cod & Lobster. The drink menu is over 40 pages – really – and the bartenders absolutely know their stuff. The food menu is quite expensive, so we just splurged on two drinks and sipped them in the bar area.
We had a yummy breakfast out the next morning at The Boat Shed. It sits right over the ocean and was a great place to watch the ships coming in to port while enjoying our french toast.
From there, we decided to drive to Nelson Wine Country. This area of New Zealand is known for their plentiful vineyards and it’s hard to miss all the grapes growing on the side of the highway. Our favorite place of the day was Neudorf Vineyards. The atmosphere was relaxed and the view from the back patio was wonderful. We could sip our wine and look out into the fields and over at the hills in the distance.
Days 5-8: Abel Tasman, New Zealand
There are a TON of things to do in Nelson. On Tuesday, we packed up our things at the Nelson Airbnb and headed to our next stop in Motueka, which is near the Abel Tasman National Park. On the way, we stopped at Pic’s Peanut Butter for a factory tour. It’s a local company that makes gourmet peanut butter and their free tour was super fun. We even made our own peanut butter.
After that, we had a picnic lunch at Rabbit Island. It was sunny and the perfect pit stop for a view of the ocean on our way to Motueka. There are little picnic tables and parking areas near the beach, so we just picked a spot that looked good and stayed there for a little more than an hour.
In the afternoon we checked into our new Motueka Airbnb, which was our favorite of the trip. It was an old pottery shed turned into a small house…the perfect size and within walking distance of downtown. Plus, there was a chicken coop in our back yard, which gave Scott plenty of entertainment each day.
The next day was one of our most memorable by far. We went on an eight-hour kayak trip in the Abel Tasman National Park. The trip was through Abel Tasman Kayaks (we choose the Soul Food Tour) and our guide, Josh, was fantastic.
We learned how to kayak on the ocean, which is a bit different from the river. We also had an up-close and personal encounter with a seal. Plus, we ate lunch on a picture-perfect beach with sunny skies and teal waters.
While this was one of the most expensive things we’ve booked, it was worth it. We have great memories and photos from the day and it’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Thursday we spent our day working, which was okay since it was gloomy and rainy…
…but Friday we went on another adventure. Scott planned out a route with a lookout and hike. To get there, we had to go on a twisty, turny highway up to the top of a large hill.
First, we stopped at Hawks Lookout, for some incredible views. It’s only about a 5-minute walk from the parking lot to the lookout, so it’s pretty easy. Plus, who wants to miss out on this photo opportunity?
From there we drove much further into the Abel Tasman National Park to the start of the Harwood Hole Track. The hike took us about 45-minutes one way through large rocks, muddy trails, and lots of trees.
Eventually, we made it to Harwoods Hole, which is the largest vertical shaft in New Zealand. There weren’t even any guardrails or protection from falling in, so I stayed back while Scott got some good video with the Go Pro.
Days 9-13: Takaka and Golden Bay, New Zealand
We made our way from Motueka to Takaka today. It’s a very small, adorable town in the Golden Bay area. After going through the crazy, twisted highway again – the same one we drove yesterday – we arrived in Takaka. Our first stop was to refuel and get some wifi at the town cafe called The Wholemeal.
Then around 3 p.m., we checked into our next Airbnb. It was a small house owned by our host, Abbey. She lives there with her dog, Jackson, and the place was adorable. It was decorated definitely to my taste and we got along with Abbey great.
We grabbed groceries, made dinner and got settled in for the night.
We did a lot of work inside today as it was down pouring. When things let up in the afternoon, we attempted a short walk at The Grove Scenic Reserve near our Airbnb. The trail was pretty muddy and wet, so we didn’t stay long, but view of the sheep’s fields was fun once we got there.
Back in town we investigated the main drag for about half an hour and took in all the shops. A lot of things were closed, but it was still fun to see what the town had to offer. Then we mosied back to our place for dinner.
I spent the day completely inside with an upset stomach. Scott tried to go out and about in the town, but it was still raining pretty hard. We both did a little work and caught up on things since we couldn’t go outside or do much.
After a day inside, we were happy to see a little sun and decided to attempt a couple of hikes. The Rawhiti Cave was first.
The trail was quite muddy from all the rain and we made it about a kilometer in before turning around. What we did see what very pretty, with the trail running right beside a riverbed piled up with rocks.
Since I wasn’t still feeling 100%, we didn’t want to continue climbing uphill through steep rock and mud. Next, we drove to Pupu Springs, which was a quick 20-minute easy loop. As promised, the water was crystal clear and beautiful.
This one is worth it for a quick stretch of your legs and an amazing sight.
After a picnic lunch, we drove up the coast along the highway. The views were really great and the drive was easy. Eventually, we got to the parking spot for Wharariki Beach. We walked out to the start of the trail and realized we were going to be walking straight through a huge sheep field. It was so cool!
The hike wasn’t that hard and it was funny to be walking through sheep on our left and right.
The trail eventually leads out to the beach and transformation from the fields to the sandy shores it so unique. Only a few people meandered onto the beach, so we got to enjoy running around it on our own.
On our drive back to Takaka, we made a pit stop at the famous Mussel Inn. It’s basically a little dive bar on the side of the highway. They brew their own beer and have a small menu. Scott got some local mussels and I had a few snacks too.
We spent our last day traveling back to Wellington. We drove from Takaka about an hour an a half back to Nelson, hopped on our flight and arrived in Wellington that afternoon.
This is the first trip we’ve had over budget…it was bound to happen sometime. As you can see, our biggest discrepancy was in the transportation category. We had some miscommunication when booking our car rental, which resulted in larger daily charges than we expected. Of course, we’re taking that as a learning experience and making sure we cross the t’s and dot all the i’s on our next car rental.
Since we had to pay for the car rental immediately upon arrival, we knew we’d have to be more careful about spending in our other categories. We tried to spend much less on food and entertainment to make sure there was less of a gap between our budgeted and expected spending.
Ranking Nelson, Abel Tasman and Golden Bay, New Zealand
- Affordability – While the area is touristy, we found prices affordable for our accommodations, food and entertainment. We did go in the off-season, so I imagine things will be more expensive in December and January. If you’re looking to book more adventuresome tours, like kayaking, cruising, fishing, hiking, etc, you can expect to pay close to 100 NZD per person.
- Cleanliness – All of the towns, sites and beaches we visited were clean and well-maintained.
- Food/Drink Options – Nelson had a nice variety of restaurants, from cafes to fancy sit-down, with prices to match. Motueka and Takaka had far less to offer for dining options, but we prefer to make most of our meals anyway. If you’re looking for nice restaurants, you’ll find them in Nelson.
- Friendliness – Everyone was friendly and kind during interactions. We didn’t have any trouble with impatient drivers either.
- Things to Do – There is a ton to do in this area of New Zealand. Especially if you like the outdoors, you’ll find a plentiful variety of hikes and outdoor options.
Ranking 4 out of 5 Mitts
We really enjoyed this part of New Zealand and would recommend it to travelers that have enough time. While the main attractions (Christchurch, Milford Sound, Queenstown) of the South Island are much further down, seeing the coast and way of life here was extremely memorable. We can’t wait to see what the South Island has in store for us next when we travel to Christchurch.
Have you been to Nelson, Abel Tasman or Golden Bay? We want to hear about your trip. What was your favorite part? What should we have seen? Leave us a comment!
Read more recap posts from previous trips: