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Nelson Tasman & Golden Bay – Guide for Backpackers

Tourism NZ

Three national parks in one!

This has to be on every backpackers’ must-visit list! The Nelson Tasman District and Golden Bay receives long sunshine hours and mild winters. Not only does the region get good weather, but there’s a ton of ways to enjoy it! We’ll go through all the highlights in this Nelson Tasman and Golden Bay guide!

Three national parks surround the area: Abel Tasman, Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes. Towns in the Tasman District provide a base for activities in the national parks. A couple of the towns themselves have beautiful beaches and walks, which is just an indicator of what you’ll discover in Abel Tasman.

To explore further into the region, cross the Takaka Hill to Golden Bay for caves, crazy rock formations and never-ending beaches to enjoy.

Things you can’t miss in Tasman and Golden Bay

  • Eat delicious seafood and jump off the wharf in Mapua.
  • Find adventure by skydiving or paragliding in Motueka.
  • Relax on the beach at Kaiteriteri.
  • Start the Abel Tasman Great Walk from Marahau.
  • Take on the huge selection of water activities taking you to Abel Tasman National Park.
  • Explore caves and a huge sandspit at Golden Bay.
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Tourism NZ

Nelson

The biggest hub for the Nelson Tasman region is Nelson! The sunniest city in New Zealand is a great place to base yourself for mountain biking, exploring the city, and excursions into the Abel Tasman National Park as a great deal of activity providers pick-up in Nelson.

Nelson’s claims to fame including being the official geographical centre of New Zealand where a walk to the Centre of New Zealand viewpoint is a must-do. There’s also heaps of quirky stores and galleries in town including the Jens Hansen Ringmakers which were the official ringmakers for The Lord of the Rings. You can also step back in time by visiting Founder Park, walk through numerous city gardens and so much more!

For more details on what to so in Nelson, head to Nelson – Guide for Backpackers.

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Mapua

If you love stuffing your face with a waterfront view, then Mapua is the perfect place. Situated by the Waimea Estuary, Mapua is a host to good eateries, recreation and art.

Hire a bike in the small town and take the ferry over to Rabbit Island. Not only will you get a tour of the estuary, but you can spend the day on the island riding the bike trails in between relaxing on the beaches.

Delicious seafood is easy enough to come by in Mapua. Taste hot-smoked salmon and greenshell mussels at The Smokehouse and Jellyfish Cafe. Drink local coffee and wine by the waterfront at The Apple Shed Cafe.

Don’t leave Mapua without being a loon and bellyflopping off the wharf!

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Motueka

A great place to get some seasonal work and meet other backpackers. Kiwifruit, hops, pipi fruit and wine grapes are grown in the area attracting workers looking to extend their working holiday visa or needing to make money quickly.

While you are in the area, you might as well see a shipwreck. Janie Seddon Shipwreck is towards to south of Motueka Quay. And, that sandspit you see ahead? You can walk on it! Access the sandspit from the north of Motueka Quay.

Motueka is also the place to be for doing the adrenaline and adventure activities in the Tasman District, such as the Abel Tasman Skydive, taking you as high as 16,500ft. A more soothing way to see the Abel Tasman National Park from the sky is by hang gliding and microlight flying. Or mingle with seals in the national park, by taking a sea kayaking trip. The kayaking day trip goes to Tonga Island and walk the Falls River track, complete with swingbridge and waterfalls.

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Kaiteriteri

One of the region’s gateways to the Abel Tasman National Park, Kaiteriteri has a pretty nice beach – a sign of what’s to come in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Wedged between the beautiful coastline and a 180ha mountain bike park, is the Kaiteriteri township. Play mini golf in true seaside town style. If you can’t be bothered cooking in your hostel, you have the option of either the Shoreline Cafe or Gone Burgers takeaway.

Walks in Kaiteriteri

If you have restless legs while in Keiteriteri, take one of the walking tracks close to town.

  • Kaiteriteri Walk – Walk to Little Kaiteriteri Beach, while getting a good lookout out on the hill between Kaiteriteri’s 2 beaches along the way.
  • Stephens Bay Walk – Take the above walk further by starting at Little Kaiteriteri beach to Stephens Bay.
  • Kaka Pa Point – A Maori pa site, which has stunning views of Kaiteriteri and Abel Tasman.

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Marahau

Marahau is the eastern gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park and the start of the Abel Tasman Great Walk! Remember to book the backcountry huts if you are planning on staying in the park overnight.

It is the much quieter village compared to the town of Kaiteriteri, but no less beautiful. The long stretch of beach is safe for swimming, walking and horse riding. Plus, there’s plenty of accommodation making it an ideal base for exploring the Abel Tasman National Park.

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Abel Tasman Activities

Starting from Kaiteriteri or Marahau, there are a number of ways to access the Abel Tasman National Park by water.

Feel like you are living the high life by taking a scenic sailing tour. You can also take the sea shuttle and aqua-taxi – no-nonsense ways of getting straight to the national park by water. Play in water by paddle boarding, waterskiing, biscuit rides, banana boat rides and wake boarding.

Kayak around the national park’s nooks and crannies, getting close to wildlife along the way. Speaking of wildlife, how about swimming with the seals?

For more activities, check out Abel Tasman National Park – Guide for Backpackers.

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Golden Bay

“Over the hill” lies another land! Golden Bay can only be accessed by Takaka Hill – a range of hills and a “Marble Mountain” made up of unusual rock formations. One formation worth seeing is the Ngarua Cave, a 300m trail through stalactites and stalagmites. You can also see the skeletal display of the extinct moa bird.

For a free cave option, visit the Rawhiti Cave. It takes an hour to walk from the nearest car park into the cave full of coloured stalactites.

The zigzagging road to the top of Takaka Hill rewards you with views of Nelson and Tasman Bay. Take the 45min waking track from Canaan Car Park to Harwoods Hole. This is a 183m deep hole! Only experienced cavers should explore its depths.

A walking track you can’t miss in Golden Bay is the Wainui Falls Track, a 30min walk through forest, farmland and granite rock. Obviously, the stunning waterfall awaits you.

Wharariki Beach is famous for the arched rock seen off the coast. By doing a walk from Whaririki Beach to Farewell Spit, you’ll see see rolling sand dunes, seals, gannets, rock pools, caves and off-shore islands.

For more information, take a look at 10 Golden Bay Must-Dos.

Videos About Nelson Tasman & Golden Bay

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If you have more time in the Tasman District and Golden Bay…

  • Learn to fly and do aerobatics in Motueka.
  • Go saltwater fishing from Port Tarakohe, Golden Bay.
  • Admire river views from the historic Salisbury Bridge, Golden Bay.
  • Town hop in Golden Bay to see their arty charm.
  • Take a wine tour in Motueka.
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