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Best Things to do in Nelson: A Perfect 24 Hours


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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

Best Things to Do in Nelson

Where to Stay

Nelson is not a large town, so there aren’t an infinite number of places to stay in the area if you’re looking for the best things to do in Nelson, especially if you don’t have a car.

That’s why I recommend the Trailways Hotel. It has the perfect location right in the middle of Nelson, so it’s within walking distance of everywhere you would want to see. It also has an affordable price, even though New Zealand hotel rooms can be pricy. The rooms are clean and comfortable, so what more could you want?

If you’re looking for a great deal on this hotel, click here. And if you’d rather explore great deals on other great places to stay in Nelson, click here.

best things to do in nelson

Best Things to Do in Nelson

Shopping List

  • A cell charger so that you’ll be able to keep taking photos of the best things to do in Nelson
  • The best international travel adapter because if you’re American like I am, or European like I am not, you’ll need one to be able to plug in electronics in New Zealand
  • My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
  • Want to learn how I saved enough money to travel 16 weeks a year? Check out my top secret How to Afford Travel digital system.
  • My favorite travel guide to New Zealand which will help you find even more of the best things to do in Nelson.
  • I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by a champion rugby team during your time finding the best things to do in Nelson.
Things to do in Nelson

Best 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 the rest of the best things to do in Nelson. (About an hour and a half drive, to be precise.)

I spent my 24 hours finding the best things to do in Nelson as part of a guided tour of New Zealand. (I recommend the company G Adventures, and you can explore their amazing tour options here.)

best things to do in Nelson

I got to be driven to Cloudy Bay by our amazing guide whom I am calling Russell. 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 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

best things to do in nelson
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.

best things to do in nelson
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!

best things to do in nelson
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!

best things to do in nelson
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!

best things to do in nelson

Best 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

best things to do in nelson
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.

best things to do in nelson
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.

best things to do in nelson
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.

best things to do in nelson
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.

best things to do in nelson
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.

best things to do in nelson

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.

best things to do in nelson

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.

best things to do in nelson

Things to do in Nelson

Evening: Dinner Out!

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 where we ate 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 were two points in its favor.

One: their seafood curries were really tasty. Two: they were 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.

red seafood curry

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.

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.

This restaurant has since closed, so I suggest going to Hawker House instead. I’m sure you’ll have a delicious time!

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? Email me at [email protected]!

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.

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