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The Top Things to do in Nelson-Tasman

Sunny and relaxed, yet energetic and full of things to see and do, Nelson on the south island’s north-west coast along the eastern shores of Tasman Bay combines national parks with golden beaches and creativity with outdoor fun to form a diverse and highly enjoyable part of New Zealand for visitors and locals alike. If you’re an active person, there’s nothing stopping you from having a great time in this region. As one of the country’s most versatile areas in terms of activities and environments, you could just as easily find yourself lake-side in the midst of snow-capped mountains as enjoying a cocktail on the side of a golden beach.

The Abel Tasman National Park provides a coastal touch while being home to one of NZ’s Great Walks (the Abel Tasman Coast Track), while those in search of more of a rush can take part in white water rafting or jet boating in the region’s Murchison area, with 18 different rivers to choose from all playing host to various degrees of difficulty and challenge. Browse the range of top Nelson experiences below to begin your adventure today!

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The Top Things to do in Nelson-Tasman

Sunny and relaxed, yet energetic and full of things to see and do, Nelson on the south island’s north-west coast along the eastern shores of Tasman Bay combines national parks with golden beaches and creativity with outdoor fun to form a diverse and highly enjoyable part of New Zealand for visitors and locals alike. If you’re an active person, there’s nothing stopping you from having a great time in this region. As one of the country’s most versatile areas in terms of activities and environments, you could just as easily find yourself lake-side in the midst of snow-capped mountains as enjoying a cocktail on the side of a golden beach.

The Abel Tasman National Park provides a coastal touch while being home to one of NZ’s Great Walks (the Abel Tasman Coast Track), while those in search of more of a rush can take part in white water rafting or jet boating in the region’s Murchison area, with 18 different rivers to choose from all playing host to various degrees of difficulty and challenge. Browse the range of top Nelson experiences below to begin your adventure today!

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The Top 10 Things to do in Nelson - Tasman, NZ

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An ideal choice for those looking for great variety in their New Zealand holiday destination, the Nelson-Tasman region on the north-west coast of the south island offers a blend of environments – its location on the lovely Tasman Bay affords the chance for water activities, while its proximity to the wonders of the Abel Tasman National Park open up a huge opportunity for adventure.

If you're a fan of the outdoors, there's nothing stopping you from enjoying yourself while in this region.

Nature, food and sunshine all play a key part in what makes the Nelson area so attractive to visitors; in fact, it can lay claim to being the sunniest region in all of NZ. This emphasis on good weather means you'll rarely have a day when you are prevented from getting out and trying something new on both land and sea, and the sun is a core reason why the region has a strong culinary culture with some great food and wine experiences available as well.

If there were a single word to describe what Nelson has to offer travellers, it would be “balance” - aside from pure snow-style alpine environments, Nelson covers all the bases when it comes to potential travel itineraries.

If you're planning to visit this sunny adventure hot spot - or a local looking for something new to try - here are 10 of the top things to do in Nelson - Tasman, NZ:

1. Abel Tasman National Park Coast Track with Wilsons Abel Tasman

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Location: Abel Tasman National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Many of the other nature-based attractions on this list and in the Nelson reason in general simply could not exist without the existence of the Abel Tasman National Park – an accessible wilderness wonderland that, while the “smallest” of New Zealand's great National Parks, offers a bevy of exploration options for visitors.

Of course, in this instance “small” is a relative term; the park still covers over 225 square kilometres full of forested hills intermingled with lovely sand beaches and bays pocketed throughout its coast.

The Abel Tasman National Park contains some of New Zealand's best beaches that are only reachable by navigating its hiking trails. This helps contribute to their generally beautiful and undisturbed nature, while one of New Zealand's Great Walks – the aptly-named Abel Tasman Coast Track – serves as a wonderful showcase of the South Island's coast that can be experienced over the course of three to five days for its full length.

Due to its ease of access the track sees more foot traffic per year than any of New Zealand's other Great Walks, and with its regular blend of golden beaches and turquoise waters combined with the relative ease and level altitude of the walk, it's not hard to see why.

Throughout the course of the walk there are numerous scenic vistas to take in, as well as plenty of spots to stop and simply soak in the sun and perhaps spot a seal or two, while the track itself is surrounded by thick NZ bush characteristic of the region. While day trips covering just a shorter section of the track are highly possible, it's not quite the same experience if you don't make a multi-day effort and camp out under the stars.

The Abel Tasman National Park contains some of New Zealand's best beaches that are only reachable by navigating its hiking trails, which helps contribute to their generally beautiful and undisturbed nature.

Throughout the course of the track are various campgrounds and huts located at regular intervals of a few hours of one another run by the Department of Conservation, so with proper planning you'll never get caught too far from the next designated resting place.

One of the highlights you'll encounter along the way is the point at which the track crosses the Falls River; here you'll encounter a swing bridge that provides a great birds-eye view of the rushing river below. There's also a water taxi service operated by Wilsons Abel Tasman that runs regular transportation services out of the Abel Tasman Centre in the settlement of Marahau all-year-round which can make getting a view of the track or entering the walking track at certain intervals further along the away that much easier.

The Abel Tasman National Park is also one of New Zealand's top destinations for kayaking, with the various inlets, lagoons and other waterways providing the chance to take in some sights without seeing another soul for miles. Both kayaking tours and independent kayak hire are available as options for beginners and kayaking veterans, respectively, and although the going can be tough at times, being able to stare directly down into the wonderful waters below is well worth the effort.

Whether you choose to explore only a small section of the track or go full-bore and take part in its entire 51km length from Marahau in the south to Wainui in the north, the Abel Tasman National Park track is the one true definite must-do in the Nelson region regardless of your interests or fitness levels.

2. Go Sailing with Gourmet Sailing

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Location: Port Nelson, Nelson, New Zealand

Nelson's a region in which maritime influences play a large role, and its coastal location and wonderful array of waterways make for the ideal destination to get out on the water and experience it yourself.

Sailing is thus one of the most popular modes of exploration in the area, with the shallower hull of catamaran-style sailboats affording visitors the chance to navigate the various natural marine highlights such as sheltered lagoons and local islands.

Nelson's busy marina is a hive of oceanic activity that serves as the perfect means of getting out on the water and into the pristine Tasman Bay, with its blend of sea and land breezes from the mountains forming the perfect conditions for filling the spinnaker and setting sail.

The amount of scenery you're able to take in on a sailing trip will depend on how far you're willing to go, with the calmness and shelter of Nelson's harbour making for an ideal starting point as you can simply cruise around the relatively flat waters and take in the views of NZ's sunniest city from the sea.

Heading further, and you'll be able to venture into waters that are part of the wondrous Abel Tasman National Park, with its various secluded bays making for wonderful little stops to hop out and get some sand between your toes.

Nelson's busy marina is a hive of oceanic activity that serves as the perfect means of getting out on the water and into the pristine Tasman Bay.

The waters of this area are brimming with marine life, and dolphins are one of the most commonly-sighted animal highlights; the peaceful nature of sailing goes a long way to not scaring these inquisitive creatures away, which will give you the chance for a close encounter.

Those who have never sailed before can book a range of sailing experiences offered by local skippers of both the single and multi-day variety, with one of the Nelson region's most popular charters conducted by Gourmet Sailing – who combine excellent gourmet food with some spectacular sail-based sightseeing to make for an experience that simply screams “Nelson”.

There's simply something to be said about kicking back on deck in the pleasant sunshine, surrounded by gorgeous national park, and sampling wonderful cuisine that simply can't be matched by most other marine experiences, and the crew are both famously friendly and expertly qualified to ensure your sailing cruise goes as smoothly and enjoyable as possible.

Gourmet Sailing offer itineraries from simply Nelson Harbour to the outskirts of the Abel Tasman National Park as well as weekend getaways to the likes of local highlights Falls River and both Bark and Anchorage Bays. The stunning scenery of the Nelson coast take on a whole new perspective when viewed from the water, and there are few more truly-Nelson experiences than hopping aboard a yacht and heading out on the open water for a dose of aquatic adventure.

3. The World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars

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Location: Cadillac Way, Nelson, New Zealand

This excellent museum-slash-gallery is one of the more unique attractions you'll come across during your time in New Zealand, and has won widespread acclaim for its distinct take on all things fashion-related.

As a gallery showcasing the clothing worn during the annual World of Wearable Art show, one of the main principles of the facility is “taking art off the wall”, and you'll see plenty of examples of this firsthand here; unlike other typical art galleries, at The World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars (or WOW as it's known for short), the art is designed to adorn the human form.

What started off as a small exhibit has now grown to become an annual show held in Wellington, however it's at the Nelson attraction where you'll be able to view the displays of garments worn during the yearly show up close.

While this might not sound appealing to those who don't have a strong interest in fashion, you'd be surprised with the amazing things that the show's fashion designers have been able to do with all kinds of materials to create art/clothes combinations that have to be seen to be believed.

It's a fresh idea that had not previously been done, and originated from some typical New Zealand ingenuity back in 1987.

What started off as a small exhibit has now grown to become an annual show held in Wellington, however it's at the Nelson attraction where you'll be able to view the displays of garments worn during the yearly show up close.

The museum provides video presentations of the previous year's World of Wearable Art show to give further context to what the various wild and wonderful fashions looked like being presented, which helps provide some context while getting up close with the various examples of out-of-the-box design that are right in front of you.

The gallery has an automated runway carrying mannequins adorned with the various garments so you can see what they look like while worn.

Interestingly, the curators of the museum seemed to realise that this focus towards fashion would be mainly of interest towards women; it's an added bonus, then, that it's also combined with a wing showcasing some outstanding examples of classic cars (hence the name) that should keep the guys happy as well.

Having opened in 2009, the Classic Car section has become a favourite amongst enthusiasts and features around 100 classic cars from varying time periods of the past – such rarities as Zodiacs, the XK150 Roadster and the Mk III Zephyr can all be found here, all of which are in remarkably good condition given their age.

It's hard to find such an assembly of impressive classic cars under one roof anywhere in the world, and as such this is a relative rarity in New Zealand that makes the gallery well worth a visit for car buffs. A true testament to the power of man-made creativity and design from two very different angles, the World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars is the perfect Nelson-area attraction for those looking for something different – particularly on a rainy day.

4. Cable Bay Adventure Park

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Location: Cable Bay Road, Nelson, New Zealand

More adventuring fun is available in rural Nelson at the popular Cable Bay Adventure Park facility which grants a range of activities designed to see the best of this verdant spot from all angles.

Located just 15 minutes north of Nelson City, this massive 1600 acre farm/forest hybrid destination will allow you to get a taste of some great outdoor experiences ranging from horse riding to quad bike / ATV rides, and paintball to the unique Skywire group-based flying fox adventure.

It's a veritable activity playground that's ideally oriented towards families but no less enjoyable for adults, with guests getting to see and experience a working New Zealand farm surrounded by a huge amount of lovely native bush.

Which activity – or activities – you choose to take part in will depend in large part on both your personal taste and how much time you're looking to spend; amongst the available experiences there's more than enough to keep visitors busy for a full day.

Horse riding makes for one of the more enjoyable – and more laid-back – ways to explore this part of New Zealand's back country, and both first-timers as well as experienced riders are catered for with different horse temperaments and a variety of different terrain types all on offer.

It's a veritable activity playground that's ideally oriented towards families but no less enjoyable for adults, with guests getting to see and experience a working New Zealand farm.

The horses are exceptionally well-trained, and they'll take you on a journey through winding rivers and up scenic mountain trails from which you'll be able to take in marvellous sea views of the Nelson coast.

For a more upbeat adventure, the quad bikes are a favourite for many visitors, as the blend of balance and power that the vehicles offer allows for fast-paced trips up into the hills followed by zipping across flatter farmland.

The trip starts off easily before ramping the difficulty up, so it's a great way for the inexperienced to ease themselves into the off-road experience. There are three circuits to choose from, with farm & forest options for beginners and those wanting to take it easy, and the high-altitude Blue Hill ride for the experienced, so much like with the horse riding you'll be able to enjoy a trip that best suits you.

The major highlight for many, however, is the fantastic Skywire flying fox – it's a unique and fun experience set on the high forested hills that allows participants to soar like a bird over the remarkable distance of 3km.

The ride reaches up to 150 metres above the ground, and the entire ride blends high-speed sections with slower-paced parts that allow you to gain a greater appreciation of the scenery passing by below. It's not for the faint of heart nor the weak of bowel, but there are few rides on offer quite like it and as it can be experienced as a group you'll be able to share the thrills with friends or family.

For a true taste of old-fashioned NZ country fun, don't pass up the chance to pay a visit here.

5. Take the Harwood's Hole Walk

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Location: 2.9km walk from Canaan Carpark, Nelson, New Zealand

Don't fall in! As New Zealand's deepest vertical shaft, Harwood's Hole is a spectacular natural feature and a favoured destination of experienced abseilers and cavers from across the country, but it's the walking track towards the hole that will likely be of interest to most travellers to Nelson.

Beginning at a carpark at the end of Canaan Road on Takaka Hill (a relatively tricky 1 hour 20 minute drive from Nelson City on the outskirts of the Abel Tasman National Park), the Harwood's Hole track offers walkers a beautiful walk through some magical NZ forest and bush land.

There's plenty of bird life in the trees above and some great scenery available from lookouts along the way, making for quite the tranquil trek.

The Beech forest along the first part of the journey is both tranquil and eerie, with an atmosphere that is wholly undisturbed except by the fellow walkers you may encounter along the way; bright green moss highlights the various rocks which can be slippery after recent rainfall.

While you're there you may be lucky enough to see abseilers coming back up from making the descent into the bowels of the hole, which measures a whopping 176 metres in depth – the longest such drop in New Zealand.

The key spot you'll want to stop at lies on the rim of the steep-sided Gorge Creek, which grants a great lay of the land, while the sheer rock walls surrounding Harwood's Hole itself are equally impressive.

The hole itself is massive, but extremely difficult to get a direct look into; there are no barriers surrounding the edges, and great care needs to be taken when approaching the chasm for a look; it's advisable to avoid the edge entirely.

While you're there you may be lucky enough to see abseilers coming back up from making the descent into the bowels of the hole, which measures a whopping 176 metres in depth – the longest such drop in New Zealand. However if you use common sense and make sure to wear the proper hiking boots, this can make for one of the most memorable on-foot adventures in Nelson.

The walk takes roughly 40 minutes if travelling at an average pace, and can be fairly strenuous at various points as there are plenty of rocks and boulders to be encountered along the way – however if you're in search of adventure it's a trek that will truly take you off the beaten track.

6. Fish the Motueka River

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Location: Motueka River, Nelson, New Zealand

Both inland and out on the open ocean, the Nelson region offers plenty of great opportunities for the intrepid fisherman to drop a line or cast a fly and come away with a decent catch.

Numerous rivers and streams can be found just a short way in to the countryside, and this is all it takes to come across some of New Zealand's most accessible brown trout fishing amongst some picturesque surrounds, as the range of national parks in the area contain plenty of viable fishing rivers - the most prominent of which is the Motueka River.

Trips that offer a journey into the impressive back country of Nelson are a great way to combine sightseeing with some fishing enjoyment, as you'll be able to follow one of the many hiking trails into the heart of a wilderness area that's renowned as a fly fishing hot spot.

The waters of these streams are famously crystal-clear when flowing normally, and Nelson's rivers and lakes in general support one of the highest trout populations in all of New Zealand.

Some of the top spots for trout catching in the area include Lake Rotoroa (around 1 hour drive), the Pelorus River (home of the region's best Rainbow Trout fishing), and the Motueka River (a very high trout population and various signed angler access points along its banks).

The waters of these streams are famously crystal-clear when flowing normally, and Nelson's rivers and lakes in general support one of the highest trout populations in all of New Zealand.

Looking out to the ocean, meanwhile, and fishers will be able to take advantage of some quality marine sea fishing adventures. This upper area of New Zealand's South Island has a sea that is ripe with fish and catching species such as Groper, Cod and more is commonplace.

This abundance of potential catches is a major reason why seafood plays such a big part in not only Nelson's dining culture but its economy as well; the major fishing port thrives due just to this.

Both deep sea and big game fishing charters are available for anglers of all experience levels to take part in, with everything from half-day tastes to extended, multi-day adventures with on-board stays an option.

In short, if fishing's your thing, then Nelson – both coastal and in the wilderness – will have plenty to keep you occupied.

7. Tahunanui and Kaiteriteri Beaches

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Location: Nelson, New Zealand

No summary of Nelson's offerings would be complete without emphasizing the quality of the region's beaches as an attraction in their own right.

The Nelson region's varied coastline contains a range of beaches, each with their own outlook and aspect – and while some are more famous than others, the sunshine makes enjoying a day at any of the available choices an easy prospect.

Perhaps the most famous of these is Tahunanui, the main beach of Nelson City which serves as the first go-to beach for many visiting the region and provides a great spot for swimming or a picnic due to its relatively sheltered nature.

There are plenty of activities other than a simple swim to take part in here too; cafes and restaurants of all kinds are just a stone's throw away while it's also home to a fun park that kids will love – and gives families the chance to partake in a round of mini golf, ride on bumper boats and go-karts or even try a ride on a hydro slide.

The Nelson region's varied coastline contains a range of beaches, each with their own outlook and aspect – and while some are more famous than others, the sunshine makes enjoying a day at any of the available choices an easy prospect.

The seaside town of Kaiteriteri, meanwhile, makes for another popular destination and is home to one of NZ's most highly-regarded and physically beautiful beaches. The scene it offers is typical of what most expect from a gorgeous beach environment – golden sands and vibrant water with a turqoise tinge along with a long coastline that's great for walks are ideal beach-going conditions, and Kaiteriteri offers them all.

The beach and its surrounding waters are also rich in marine life, and sightings of the likes of dolphins, seals and even penguins are possible in the area. Kaiteriteri also serves as one of the ideal gateways to the wonders of the Abel Tasman National Park (mentioned in further detail later on this list), with the starts of many potential walking tracks accessible easily accessible just a short distance from the shore.

These more popular destinations combine with the likes of Glenduan (great for walks and cave exploration), Cable Bay (a pleasant mix of rock and sand) and Rabbit Island (a great spot for a swim or a barbecue) to provide visitors to Nelson with plenty of choices for enjoying some fun in the sun

All it takes is a short drive along the coastline, and you're bound to encounter a beach destination that appeals to you.

8. Enjoy the Food & Wine with Gentle Cycling

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Location: Nayland Road, Nelson, New Zealand

Delectable food and drink play a key part in what helps make the Nelson region so attractive, with fresh fruit, wine and seafood combining to form a cavalcade of delights just waiting to delight the tastebuds of prospective visitors.

Vineyards in the region are numerous, and wine aficionados will be in their element while in Nelson as it's a location that annually comes out on top when wine awards season rolls along each year; while it's not as big in physical size as some of NZ's other wine capitals, Nelson more than holds its home in producing some of the best sauvignon blancs and chardonnays in the country.

The climate helps in this regard, as its fertile landscape couples with over 2500 sunshine hours per year to make for some ideal grape-growing conditions.

Nelson is home to 25 boutique wineries spread out amongst the rolling hills and verdant plains of its wine country and those with a taste for a drop of the good stuff will likely want to take a tour and pay a visit for some tastings to get a sampling firsthand.

Wine tour options are plentiful here, and Gentle Cycling provide one of the most healthy and enjoyably laid-back ways to do so - their tours allow for visitors to visit a variety of different cellar doors at a relaxed pace while taking in all the fresh air and scenery that Nelson has to offer while on two wheels.

Vineyards in the region are numerous, and wine aficionados will be in their element while in Nelson as it's a location that annually comes out on top when wine awards season rolls along each year.

Those who prefer amber to red will also be happy to know that Nelson's beer brewing culture is also very much alive and well; it's got a strong brewing history and its range of craft beer producers is extensive with breweries of all sizes offering samplings at the bar and the chance to take in some of the history of the brewing culture and the Nelson region in general from the famously friendly families than run them.

On the food side of the equation, the coastal location of Nelson and its bordering sea is the source of some of the best and freshest seafood in New Zealand, and is home to the largest fishing port in the Oceania region.

There's a bevy of tasty ocean bounty to be sampled, with the area specialising in shellfish including clams, salmon and scallops that are often incorporated expertly by local chefs to produce some truly delightful dishes. In this vein, Nelson has a wide range of excellent restaurants that cater specifically to seafood-oriented meals, with smoking being a favoured technique by many cooks to help enhance the already impressive flavours on offer.

Lastly, the produce available in the area extends to other delights typical of wine-producing regions, and fruits, berries, yoghurts, olives and honey all contribute to the array of tastes to try.

With a relatively compact overall size, it's easy for visitors to experience most of the offerings of Nelson's culinary scene with a minimum of fuss; the majority of wineries can be navigated around in a single day, while the various other kinds of fare are available to sample at the large number of cafes, pubs and quality restaurants dotted within its borders. If you're looking to “get your dine on”, Nelson will be guaranteed to satisfy.

9. Gardens of the World

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Location: Clover Road, Nelson, New Zealand

New Zealand on the whole has always been an impressive showcase of nature, and the Gardens of the World located in Nelson's Richmond is one of the best man-made examples you'll come across in the area. Designed for both conservation reasons as well as to show off some visually impressive exotic plant and flower species, many of which most visitors will have only seen for the first time.

The facility gets its name from its layout; the plants and other flora are all grouped based on geography and walking from section to section is akin to exploring the gardens of several different continents. Australia, Europe, Africa and Asia are all covered here, with each garden having its own distinct atmosphere and different kind of serenity to the last.

The Gardens of the World are both pleasant and spacious (set within a wide 2.4 hectare area), and offer a relaxed escape from reality all within a secluded hideaway that incorporates a variety of water features, all just outside of the town.

It's one of the best spots in the Nelson region for a picnic (and a wedding, for that matter), and are wonderful to simply stroll around at your leisure as it's rarely crowded and spread out enough that you can avoid contact with other people if you're looking to “get away from it all” for a few hours.

It's one of the best spots in the Nelson region for a picnic (and a wedding, for that matter), and also wonderful to simply stroll around at your leisure.

The gardens have a range of different garden rooms on offer, each with its own microclimate that is catered specifically to the plants hosted within; rarer African breeds combine with impressively-scented English roses, exotic lillies from Europe and plenty of staple NZ native favourites to form a diverse mix of offerings – with the colours and scents of the Rose Garden being a favourite with many.

Various lakes, streams and fountains round out the experience as the sound of gently running water adds a wonderful ambiance to the proceedings, while an abundance of birds add a touch of wildlife as they chirp in the trees and flit from branch to branch.

Entry is free, although there's a donation box for visitors to give money which is highly recommended to put to use, as it's a meticulously maintained private enterprise that's simply the result of one man's passion and hard work.

If you've got a passion for beautiful plant life or are simply looking to unwind for a couple of hours in utterly peaceful surrounds, the Gardens of the World makes for the perfect choice.

10. Natureland Wildlife Trust

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Location: Tahunanui Drive, Nelson, New Zealand

If you've got kids in tow along with you for the journey and are looking for some entertainment, Nelson's Natureland Zoo may be just what the doctor ordered.

While not a massive facility, the zoo is a labour of love that is operated by the Natureland Wildlife Trust charity and located at Tahunanui Beach. Small kids will love it here as the zoo has plenty of farm animals that allow the little ones to get up close and interact with, and feeding the wildlife is always a highlight with children.

It's home to an interesting and sometimes unpredictable array of wildlife that doesn't really follow any typical zoo lineup.

You've got the likes of cute kuni kuni pigs, various kinds of fish, cheeky monkeys, and a bunch of native New Zealand birds as well as more tradtional domesticated farm-style animals like sheep, ducks and deer which makes for a nice balance. There's even a porcupine at Natureland – quite a rarity in this part of the globe.

It's a small yet fun and family-friendly place that you'll be able to blitz through in a short amount of time if you don't stop and pay individual attention to each animal, and having a chat to the friendly staff is highly recommended.

Small kids will love it here as the zoo has plenty of farm animals that allow the little ones to get up close and interact with, and feeding the wildlife is always a highlight with children.

The attraction places an emphasis on motivating kids to realise the significance of – and take proper care of – the environment, and provides a decent balance between entertainment and education.

This is particularly relevant for the various kinds of native New Zealand birds on hand at the zoo, many of which are endangered or fragile; at Natureland you'll encounter Kea, Tui, Tuatara and Kakariki birds, all of which are interesting and important to NZ's ecology in their own way.

As long as you're willing to check your expectations of a huge, capital-city style zoo at the door, Natureland serves as a great go-to option for keeping the kids occupied for a few hours.

It also brings the added benefit of a great location near the beach, making for a combined zoo-and-beach day that is a great way to enjoy Nelson's sunny weather with the family.

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