Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours of the best things to do in Nelson. Nelson, New Zealand is a completely adorable city. It’s historically important because it is the oldest city on New Zealand’s South Island.
It is famously home to many artists, so you could spend your entire 24 hours with the best things to do in Nelson just exploring the galleries. There’s more than enough attractions in and around Nelson to keep a person entertained for well over a full day.
So that’s why for our 24 hours of the best things to do in Nelson, I’m going to take you out of the city altogether. We’ll spend the morning drinking fine New Zealand wines. We’ll spend the afternoon drinking fine New Zealand craft beer. Only when we’re properly a little bit tipsy will we be able to explore the city itself.
But when your time is limited, you’re going to want to see everything that New Zealand has to offer, and a lot of that everything is booze. So grab your designated driver and follow me! That beer isn’t going to drink itself!
Best Things to Do in Nelson
What to Pack and Where to Stay
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
New Zealand is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re not from Australia, New Zealand, or the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. NZ electrical outlets don’t work with American or non-UK European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
And if you’re looking for places to stay while you find the best things to do in Nelson, you can find lots of great deals if you just click here.
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Things to do in Nelson
Morning: Cloudy Bay Winery
New Zealand is an extremely young wine producing country, compared to a powerhouse like France or Moldova. But its wines, especially its whites, are gaining in international popularity literally as I type this. And one of the most prestigious wineries in New Zealand is Cloudy Bay. It’s just a short hop, skip, and a jump away from Nelson. (About an hour and a half drive, to be precise.)
I went to this winery on an Intrepid Travel tour of New Zealand, so I had our trusty guide, who I’m pretending was named Russell, to drive us. If you don’t have access to Russell, some poor soul in your group will have to forgo the booze for the day. Or you could just get a child who is too young to drink to drive you over.
We were able to sample several wines at the brewery, but don’t worry about getting sloshed. Altogether they probably added up to a glass. I wish I could pass my glasses of Cloudy Bay wine through the computer screen for you to sample. But all that would do is make my laptop sticky, and I don’t want to have to explain that to the Geek Squad at Best Buy. So instead, I’ll share with you…
three fun facts: cloudy bay winery
1) What’s the Most Famous Cloudy Bay Wine?
That would be their refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. (It’s also the easiest Cloudy Bay wine to find in the United States.) The grapes for this wine are grown in the Marlborough Wine Region on the South Island, probably the most famous wine region in New Zealand. You can see some of the vineyards when you go outside the wine tasting room.
There are many different types of white wine grapes, but two of the most popular are Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Chardonnay tends to be more buttery/oaky and Sauvignon Blanc more crisp and fruity. (At least in my experience. I’m not a wine expert; I just like learning things and also drinking things.) The Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc tastes of kaffir lime, according to the wine notes. My palette is not well developed enough to sense that specifically, but I did get the citrus. I refuse to pretend that I picked up on any “minerality” though. I don’t believe that’s a real word because my spellcheck doesn’t recognize it.
2) Do They Make Any Red Wines?
I think my picture above answers your question, Internet Stranger! Cloudy Bay does make a fine pinot noir, aka the wine Paul Giamatti was obsessed with in the movie Sideways. Giamatti liked pinot noir because it’s a prickly, complicated wine that’s not always easy to love. But the Cloudy Bay pinot was smooth and very drinkable. Pinot noir is the most popular type of red wine in New Zealand, though it’s not as popular internationally as their sauvignon blancs. I guess they’re all rabid Paul Giamatti fans!
Pro tip! Do not confuse pinot noir with the very Not Safe For Work song “Peeno Noir” the TV show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
3) Can I Get All Their Wines in the United States?
According to our server at Cloudy Bay, the answer is no. Their delicious sparkling wine, which they call Pelorus, is not available in the United States. This wine was extremely popular with our group, except for one strange person who had an aversion to sparkling wine. How sad! The Pelorus was made with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. But how do they get the color out of the Pinot Noir grapes? I assume it’s magic. Or maybe they just remove the skins.
Anyway, I could only fit one bottle of Pelorus in the suitcase, so I brought it back for my dad and now he says I’m his favorite daughter. So glad to know it’s possible to buy a father’s love with drink!
24 Hour Tip
Stop and get a snack at Cloudy Bay’s charming outdoor restaurant before heading to the next destination. You’ll enjoy the beautiful garden, and you won’t have to drink beer on an empty stomach. Everybody wins!
Things to do in Nelson
Afternoon: MOA Brewery
All right, enough of the classy stuff! It’s time for a proper beer. I didn’t realize until I went to New Zealand that Kiwis are arguably just as passionate about their craft beers as they are about their wines. So it’s lucky that the small MOA craft brewery is just a short distance from Cloudy Bay. It’s run by two locals, one of whom claims to be New Zealand’s only official Cicerone. (That’s a beer sommelier.) I’m sure there are plenty of guys in New Zealand who would be happy to declare themselves unofficial Cicerones.
MOA produces many different beers. Some are ordinary types, while others are wacky and experimental. So I can’t guarantee which beers will be on tap when you visit. But I can share with you my…
approximately top 5: Moa Brewery
1) Moa Lager
So beer tours have gotten really popular all over the world. It seems like almost every city I visit has a beer tour. And I like trying new things, so my travels have taught me a little bit about the beverage that Ben Franklin said was “Proof God loves us and wants us to be happy”. There are two main kinds of beers I have encountered: ales and lagers. I hope you don’t need me to tell you that the MOA lager is a lager, Internet Stranger!
Lagers are made with bottom-fermenting yeast, and ales are made with top-fermenting yeast. (I don’t know why that’s important, but they keep telling it to me on beer tours.) Lagers are the world’s most popular type of beer, as they are very easy to drink. Tellingly, this was the favorite beer of most of the people in my tour group.
2) Clam IPA
So we went from the most drinkable beer on tap to the weirdest beer on tap. This is the Cloudy Bay Clam IPA. It is actually made with the meat and brine of real Cloudy Bay clams. Most of the people in the group were weirded out by drinking a beer with mollusks inside. Not me! I had already had a stout made with oysters in Dublin. But certainly this clam IPA packed a powerful punch. I happen to think that the saltiness and brine of shellfish go nicely in a beer. One dude in our group even said this was his favorite.
3) Temperance Ale
If you’d like to make friends with an ale, but aren’t ready to jump into the Clam IPA Ocean, try the Temperance Ale. It gets the name because the alcohol content is pretty low. (Its alcohol by volume percentage, aka the ABV, is only 3.3 %. The other beers we had possessed between 5 and 6 percent ABV.) I liked the citrusy taste, but I liked the name even better. It made me feel like I was Carrie Nation, going around and smashing bars with a hatchet.
4) Calypso IPA
The Calypso is an American IPA. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, but it was invented by the British, not the Indians. They needed a beer that would stand up to the long, hot sea voyage to the British colonies. I suppose not drinking beer or not colonizing India didn’t occur to them. But I have to admit that the IPA is my favorite kind of beer. I like a beer that smacks me in the face and says, “Hi! I’m a beer!”
Now, you may be asking how something could possibly be an American India Pale Ale. Apparently American India Pale Ales add a little citrus flavor to the IPA. That makes sense that Americans would want a little fruit to make an IPA more drinkable. After all, the British are tougher beer drinkers than we are. They can even drink their beer at room temperature.
5) Chocolate Stout
I feel like I’m going to shame myself in front of all beer snobs by saying that this was my favorite beer of the evening. I mean, it actually had high-quality chocolate in it! This beer was a collaboration between Moa and the Lewis Road Creamery, which I presume is where the milk in this milk chocolate stout came from. It was like a Guinness and a chocolate milk had a baby, and that baby was delicious.
Things to do in Nelson
Interval: Centre of New Zealand Walk
So now that we’ve had our fill of wine and beer, it’s time to go for a little hike! Your head should clear after the 90 minute drive back to town. And if you’re visiting New Zealand during their summer, it will stay light out until late, so there will be plenty of time for this walk. You just take a short walk out of town up Botanical Hill. At the top of the hill is the Centre of New Zealand monument and amazing views of the Nelson area.
Nelson is in the northern part of the South Island of New Zealand, which I thought put it right in the geographic center of the country. But to be clear, the Centre of New Zealand Monument is not actually the center of New Zealand. It was just used as a central point when New Zealand was surveyed by the British in the 1800s. But I guess the Not Actually Centre of New Zealand Monument doesn’t sound as good.
Things to do in Nelson
Evening: Dinner at Golden Bell
One thing that surprised me about New Zealand was the number of excellent Asian restaurants. But really this shouldn’t have been a surprise because New Zealand is quite a bit closer to Asian than my hometown of New York. The Thai restaurant, Golden Bell, might not be the most famous restaurant in Nelson, and it might not be on most lists of the best things to do in Nelson, but there are two points in its favor.
One: their seafood curries are really tasty. Two: they are open on Christmas Day. Yes, when my tour group showed up in Nelson on Christmas, this was the only place that would take us in. The waiters cheerfully served us all while wearing adorable Santa hats. So I’d like to return the favor by giving them a shoutout on this blog.
24 Hour Treat: Red Seafood Curry
This curry was very different from the Thai curry I get back home. First of all, in New York you’d normally be offered chicken, tofu, veggies, or beef with your curry. I’ve never seen a seafood option. And this curry was served with cuttlefish and mussels, which I’ve definitely never seen in a Thai restaurant in New York. (Cuttlefish is a mild and chewy mollusk with a freakishly ugly face.) My favorite thing about the curry was how spicy it was. A curry should make your mouth feel like the food is angry with it.
At the end of the meal, I gave the waitress a big tip because it was Christmas. She actually told me it was too much and made me take it back. That’s also something that would never happen in New York City.
That’s the Best Things to Do in Nelson!
What do you think are the best things to do in Nelson? Is doing a beer tasting and a wine tasting in one day too much or just enough? And should we tear down the Centre of New Zealand Monument and put up a monument to Accurate Measurements instead? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours with the best things to do in Nelson. If you want to add an itinerary for 24 hours in Kaikoura, click here. And if you want to add an itinerary for a day trip to Abel Tasman National Park, click here.