So you need to escape somewhere for a weekend. Ideally a place where sunshine is almost guaranteed. A great beach would also be good and some scenic mountains to provide a contrast. Where else but Nelson? Given the Top of the South’s brand-new airport deals with around 500 flights to and from the country’s main centres each week, it really is as easy as hopping on a plane.


You probably already know that Nelson is the original home of the internationally acclaimed phenomenon known as WOW (World of WearableArt). And although the event now takes place in Wellington each year, the WOW Museum here in Nelson – conveniently located on the way from the airport into town – hosts a wonderful collection of award-winning entries. (Tip: should you have a petrolhead afficionado in tow, simply aim him or her towards the classic car collection located next door where they’ll be happy for hours). /


If you arrive on a Saturday, then a visit to the Nelson Market in Montgomery Square is a must-do. Not only has it been going for nearly 40 years, its other main claim to fame is that pretty well everything available for sale is made, sourced or grown locally. Chances are you might bump into Pic Picot himself promoting his eponymous peanut butter, but more about that later. /

After browsing among all the stalls, it’ll be time for some light refreshment. For my money, I don’t think you can go far wrong with a cheese scone from Montgomery Square’s Yaza Cafe. Don’t let the dated, slightly hippy décor fool you; in my opinion their scones are the best in town, thanks to the generous amount of tasty cheese involved. /

Time to burn off some of those kilojoules, so let me take you on a gentle hike up to the Centre of New Zealand, at the top of Botanical Hill. It’s within walking distance of town and so named because it was the central survey point in the 1800s. Of more interest to most visitors, however, is that the hill is located in the Reserve where the first ever rugby game was played in New Zealand.

Once you’ve admired the amazing view from the top of the hill, meander down and head back towards town via the riverside walk to Hardy Street, home to several really good cafes and where surely it must be time for a spot of late lunch. Share a plate or three at Arden Bar & Kitchen where their delicious offerings change according to the season – I can highly recommend the roasted broccoli with sesame, miso and pickled chilli. /

Or wander down a bit further to Hardy St Eatery whose kedgeree is the best I’ve tried outside of Wellington’s Nikau Cafe. /

For those of a cerebral bent, Volume, New Zealand’s best independent bookshop (voted as such in 2018), is just around the corner. But be warned – it’s all too easy to while away an alarming amount of time in this small but perfectly formed book emporium. /

Wherever you happen to be in Nelson, you’re never very far from the beach. So, should another gentle dose of exercise and some bracing sea air be required, then a stroll along what is affectionately known as the Back Beach, just a few minutes away by car, could be in order. It’s a magnet for local wind surfers, whose amazing antics are always worth watching and at low tide you can walk for miles. If self-catering is your thing on this getaway weekend, be sure to stop at Guytons on the way back from the beach to choose some fresh fish from an impressively large range – Nelson is not the largest fishing port in the southern hemisphere for nothing. /

If, on your travels, you see a sleek silver Airstream caravan, be sure to pull over. Chances are that it’s the Appleby Farm’s ice cream van dispensing scoops of their sensational treats that should not be missed. Now it’s decision time – a late afternoon nap or a drink at the top of Trafalgar Street, a traffic-free, magnificent outdoor eating and drinking area, serviced by – at last count – at least eight cafes, bars and restaurants. So, kick back and start thinking where you’ll eat dinner that night. Pick of the bunch is Hopgood’s & Co., which took out three gongs in the 2018 Silver Fern Farms Restaurant Awards and, more recently, two hats in this year’s Cuisine Good Food Awards. /

The Urban Oyster Bar and Eatery, just a hop, skip and a jump away in Hardy Street, was also awarded two hats. (Hint: Hopgoods is a slightly more formal dining establishment which accepts bookings whereas The Urban Oyster Bar and Eatery is kind of hipster and you’ve got to take your chances on getting in.) /

Still not ready for bed? Wander down to Rhythm and Brown in New Street for a nightcap. There’s always some cool music happening and they offer a classy range of cocktails, fine wines and craft beer. /


After a bit of a lie in next morning, you’ll be ready for brunch so take the scenic Rocks Road route along the waterfront to The Boat Shed Cafe. Ask for a table on the deck, then sit back and take in the fabulous vista before ordering. I can’t go past their freshly baked sourdough and goat’s cheese croquettes, but after a big night out you might feel more like their smoked fish and potato cakes served with poached eggs and all the usual trimmings. It’s only 12 months since this cafe was badly damaged when storm Fehi hit the region, but you can’t keep a good cafe down. Locals and regular visitors alike were delighted when service resumed in June 2018. Actually, I like this place so much I could happily eat breakfast, lunch and dinner here two days in a row…

Time to get out of town for a bit? Neudorf Road in the Upper Moutere region, around half an hour’s drive from Nelson’s CBD, is home to a huge variety of artisan producers including but not limited to Neudorf Vineyards, Peckham’s Cider, Moutere Gold, Neudorf Mushrooms, Neudorf Olives and Thorvald Sheep Milk Cheese. (Tip: Check which of these will be open when you want to visit.)

Checking out all these artisan goodies is thirsty work so why not rest and recuperate in the garden bar of the Moutere Inn, which claims to be New Zealand’s oldest pub to remain operating in its original building. A light snack may be in order or something more substantial – either way, rest assured that as much as possible from their menu is sourced locally and their pork and chicken offerings are free range. /

Before heading back to town, call in to the Bartlett and Gold Gallery on the same side of the road as the pub. Describing herself as a clay artist, Katie Gold’s colourful and quirky pieces are much sought after and have featured in many exhibitions. /

One final stop at the Mapua Wharf where, if it’s not too late in the day, you could hire a bike and then jump – along with the aforementioned bike – on the ferry that plies between the wharf and nearby Rabbit Island. A leisurely ride around the enormous pine plantations and the sandy beach (a popular stopping off point for passing seals), and there’s your exercise quotient for the day all done.

Finish the day sitting in the late afternoon sun with a house-brewed beer from the Golden Bear Brewing Company just off the wharf where, if you’re lucky, there’ll be some rousing live music to enjoy. /

Then amble over to The Smokehouse to order your fish’n’chips, but be prepared to join a queue. /