Skip to main content
Logo: Te Ara - The Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Print all pages now.

Nelson places

by Carl Walrond

This is a comprehensive guide to the towns, coastal and inland areas, and other places of interest in Nelson.

Nelson city

2013 population: 46,437

Nelson is the largest urban area in the upper South Island, and gives its name to the island’s north-west region. The city is the region’s commercial, cultural and industrial centre, and half of the region’s residents live in the city or its suburbs. Nelson city is bordered to the west and south-west by the Tasman District Council and the east and south-east by the Marlborough District Council. The city does not include Richmond, the region’s second-largest settlement.

The site of the city was chosen in 1841 as it had the best harbour in the region – Nelson Haven – and was close to the fertile Waimea Plains. The city was initially built upon the swampy river flats of the Maitai River, and its suburbs spread onto the low surrounding hills.

Nelson is bounded by hills to the east. These rise steadily to the tops of the Richmond Range, which separates Nelson and Marlborough. Most of the city’s water supply comes from dams on the Maitai and Roding rivers. With little flat land, many houses are tucked into small valleys, by humps and hollows. Suburbs and localities have English names such as The Wood, The Glen and The Brook. A walkway from the Brook Valley follows the line of New Zealand’s first railway, which served a copper mine on Dun Mountain in the early 1860s.

‘Kiss me Hardy’ 

Nelson is named after the British naval commander Horatio Nelson. An English settlement, the city has many names that make a nod to the mother country and to Nelson’s sea battles – including Albion Square and Britannia Heights. The main street is Trafalgar Street, after the 1805 battle in which Nelson died. His final words were reputedly ‘Kiss me Hardy’. Thomas Hardy was the flag-captain and a close friend of Nelson’s. Fittingly Nelson has a Hardy Street, at right angles to Trafalgar Street. 

Early city history

Māori have lived in the region since the 1300s, and knew the area that is now Nelson city as Whakatū. The sheltered waters beyond the Boulder Bank were also well-known to Māori. The shore had been settled at times, but had no permanent settlements in the early 1840s, when Europeans arrived.

Clay for early European huts was puddled (worked) with feet, and wooden structures went up once pit-saws were established. Houses of artisans and the well-off were next to tanneries, breweries, workshops and shops. In 1858 Nelson became a city when Queen Victoria made it the seat of an Anglican bishop. Yet it had just over 5,000 people, and cattle still wandered the streets.

Nelson grew very slowly from the 1860s until the 1950s, when population growth increased and new suburbs developed.


Nelson city is very compact and most things are within walking distance. The central business district centres on Trafalgar Street, the main shopping street. Nelson’s dominant landmark is Christ Church Cathedral, on Church Hill at the head of Trafalgar Street. In the 1980s the central streets were beautified and made more pedestrian-friendly. Coffee stalls are common on street corners and on Saturday mornings a market is held in Montgomery Square.

Across the Maitai River is 147-metre Botanical Hill. This is often described as ‘the centre of New Zealand’, but the country’s real geographic centre is further south, near Tapawera. The sports field at the base of the hill was the site of New Zealand’s first rugby match, between Nelson College and the Nelson Rugby Football Club on 14 May 1870.

Sleepy Hollow and Hokey Pokey 

Wakapuaka, on the northern shores of Nelson Haven, was known to early Pākehā settlers (who probably couldn’t pronounce it) as ‘Hokey Pokey’. Nelson was ‘Sleepy Hollow’, as it was such a quiet town. 

The port

The port has been critical to Nelson’s economic development, given the lack of other easy transport options. The imports and exports that flow through it are the city and region’s life blood. ‘The Cut’ (the harbour entrance), which was created through the Boulder Bank in 1906, was deepened and widened by dredging in the 1960s. The spoil was used to reclaim land for coolstores, ship yards, oil tanks and other port facilities. This reclaimed land adjacent to the port is the main industrial centre close to the city.

Whakatū marae, near the shores of Nelson Haven, was opened in 1995 and represents the six land-holding iwi of the region. Next to this is Founders Park, a heritage park which features a replica townscape of Nelson as it was from the 1880s to 1930s.

Nelson surrounds and suburbs

North of the city

The Glen is the point where the Boulder Bank, which created the harbour of Nelson Haven, adjoins the mainland north of the city. The first telegraph cable from Australia to New Zealand came ashore just north at Cable Bay (known to Māori as Rotokura) in 1876. A small settlement of up to 30 people grew up around the station, but in 1917 the cable was moved to Tītahi Bay, north of Wellington.

Delaware Bay was the site of a Māori . In 1863 the brigantine Delaware was wrecked there. Local Māori, led by Hēmi Mātenga and his wife Hūria, managed to rescue all but one of the crew by securing a rope to the shore. Hūria was feted and referred to as ‘New Zealand’s Grace Darling’.1


Rocks Road, built by prisoners, opened in the late 1890s to provide easier access to the coastal Tāhunanui flats (access was previously via Bishopdale). In 1899 the Nelson City Council purchased ‘The Sands’ (as the beach was then known) and land behind it to ensure its continued recreational use. Tāhunanui is Nelson’s main beach. It is very popular in summer and offers safe, shallow swimming, a fun park with a hydro slide, and a large campground.

Hillsides above Tāhunanui were subdivided for housing in the late 1930s. Stoke and Tāhunanui became popular residential suburbs after the Second World War. Tāhunanui (often shortened to ‘Tāhuna’) became part of Nelson city in 1949, and Stoke, Monaco, Annesbrook and Enner Glynn followed in 1958.


In the early 1840s Stoke was known as Suburban South. It was renamed after Stoke-by-Nayland in England. Isel Place is a park set in trees around the homestead of early settler Thomas Marsden, and is home to Nelson Provincial Museum. The museum also has another gallery and educational facility, Town Acre 445, in Trafalgar Street in Nelson city.

The main roads from Nelson to Stoke are Rocks Road, which skirts the harbour to Tāhunanui, and Waimea Road, which crosses the low Bishopdale Saddle. The Nelson railway also crossed this saddle until it was ripped up in the 1950s. Nelson airport is north-west of Stoke; adjacent to it is a light industrial area. Stoke was the 1981 birthplace of McCashin’s Brewery, a pioneer of New Zealand’s boutique-beer revolution. The World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum showcases classic cars and wearable works of art.

Suburban growth

The settlements of Richmond, Stoke, Tāhunanui and Nelson were once separated by farmland – but over time have merged into one greater urban area. There is little flat land, and as the city grew after the Second World War, newer suburbs such as Atawhai spread onto the foothills overlooking Nelson Haven. In the 2010s urban growth was forecast to continue. Infill housing was proposed in the inner city, along parts of Waimea Road, and in Tāhunanui, Stoke and Atawhai. New areas for suburban development were also proposed in Hira, Atawhai, the Stoke foothills and south Nelson.

    • J. N. W. Newport, Footprints: the story of the settlement and development of the Nelson back country districts. Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1962, p. 44. Back

Richmond and the Waimea Plains


2013 population: 12,276

Richmond is the second-largest town in the Nelson region, and lies on the shores of Waimea Inlet at the junction of state highways 6 and 60. The fertile flat lands of the Waimea Plains, including Richmond, were a focus of early settlement. The town was surveyed in 1842 and was known as Waimea East until 1845, when tailor John Snow renamed it after his home town, Richmond-on-Thames in London.

Richmond has long been a favoured town for South Islanders to retire to. It grew considerably in the 1990s and 2000s, especially its eastern areas. The headquarters of the Tasman District Council are in Richmond. In 2013, 21.4% of the population was aged 65 or over, compared with 14.3% nationally.

Waimea Plains

The Waimea River flows across the Waimea Plains into Waimea Inlet. Much of its water is taken to irrigate the rich, intensively cropped river soils of the fertile plains, which support market gardening, horticulture (mainly apples and kiwifruit), viticulture and farming. Increasing production will depend largely on irrigation, but in 2010 water takes were already over-allocated. A dam in the Lee catchment was being investigated to augment water supplies.


Appleby was originally known as Waimea West, and was one of the earliest farming settlements of the 1840s. Māori had conditioned its rich soils for growing kūmara. Much of the land between Appleby, Richmond and Stoke was swampy, and it was decades before it was developed. In the 1840s Waimea West was accessed by boat to the mouth of the Waimea River.


2013 population: 2,106

Wakefield was originally known as Pitfure, but the name was changed to commemorate Arthur Wakefield, killed in the Wairau affray in 1843. There were two separate villages – Upper Wakefield and Lower Wakefield – but the town centralised around the railway station from the 1870s. St John’s Church (1846) is one of the oldest remaining Anglican churches in the South Island. Hops used to be grown around Wakefield, and disused hop kilns (used to dry the crop) can be seen in the surrounding countryside. However, in 2010 most of New Zealand’s hop crop was grown around Riwaka.


2013 population: 1,749

Brightwater, on the banks of the Wairoa River, was named after a water-powered flour mill there, and was one of the early villages serving surrounding farms. A railway station was built in the 1870s. Spring Grove , just south of Brightwater, was the birthplace of New Zealand’s best-known scientist, Ernest Rutherford. A memorial to Rutherford stands where Lord Rutherford Road meets State Highway 6. Spring Grove is also where brothers Tom and Harry Newman began their coach service.


2013 population: 1,149

Hope is a small town, just a kilometre south of Richmond on State Highway 6, originally named Ranzau by German settlers in the early 1840s. While the town’s name has changed, there is still a Ranzau Road, and German-language headstones at St John's Lutheran Church.

Moutere Hills and Tasman Bay

Māpua and Ruby Bay

2013 population: 2,013

These two small settlements sit near where the main road from Nelson to Motueka meets the coast after crossing the Waimea Plains. Māpua was an important coastal port, and many shipments of apples left from its small wharf on the western entrance of the Waimea Inlet. The wharf area has become a tourist centre, with restaurants, shops and galleries occupying the old cool store and other warehouse buildings.

In 1945 the Fruitgrowers Chemical Company, next to Māpua port, began producing organochlorine pesticides. Chemicals contaminated the soil, groundwater and sediments in the nearby estuary. The plant closed in 1988, and in 1999 the government helped the Tasman District Council fund its cleanup, which was completed in 2007. A public park was planned for the site.

The Māpua Leisure Park campground offers a clothing-optional season for naturists every February and March. Ruby Bay, 3 kilometres from Māpua, has a safe, sandy swimming beach.

Rabbit Island

Rabbit Island (known as Moturoa to Māori) is a barrier island which separates the waters of Waimea Inlet from Tasman Bay. Planting of pines began in 1921, and the island is covered in exotic forests. Its 11-km beach is popular in summer.

Moutere Hills

The Moutere Hills, behind Māpua and Ruby Bay, were mostly orchard-covered by the late 1920s. The 1930s economic depression brought hard years for apple growers, and many orchards were ripped up and planted out in pine forests. The Woollaston Estates vineyard at Mahana was formed in 2000 ­by a group including Philip Woollaston, son of Toss Woollaston (the region’s most famous painter). It hosts art exhibitions and has a sculpture park.

Sun lovers

Nelson’s sunny climate attracts many people – from those who want to retire, to holidaymakers, alternative lifestylers and naturists. The nudist Nelson Sun Club has its base in the Moutere Hills.

Upper Moutere

Upper Moutere is a township in the upper Moutere valley, 18 km south of Motueka. German immigrants settled here in 1843 but winter floods forced them out of the upper valley to Waimea and Ranzau (later called Hope). Some returned later, and they retained their language and culture up until about the 1900s. Germans brought the first grapes into the region. Upper Moutere was known as St Paulidorf, and also as Sarau, after a town in northern Germany. During the First World War Germans were pressured to share their fellow New Zealanders’ allegiance to Britain. German names were anglicised and Sarau became Upper Moutere.

Lower Moutere

Lower Moutere is a farming locality in the lower Moutere valley, 6 km from Motueka, close to the Moutere Inlet. The road up the valley to Upper Moutere offers an alternative to the main route (State Highway 60) between Nelson and Motueka. The Riverside community in Lower Moutere was established in 1941 by a small group of Methodist pacifists. It operates a dairy farm and café. In 2013 some 24 people were permanent members, and 19 children lived there, but the community’s population sometimes doubled due to WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and other visitors.


Tasman is a locality among apple orchards on the shores of Moutere Inlet. Small stones are laid out on the inlet’s mudflats at low tide, forming ever-changing names, messages and pictures. Nearby Kina is a small beach settlement on Tasman Bay.

Nelson lakes


The original ‘Top House’ was the farthest-inland accommodation house on the overland route from Nelson to Blenheim, near where the route from Nelson reaches the Wairau Valley. The house was built in 1859. In a time before good roads these houses were vital stopover points for travellers.

Kawatiri and Gowanbridge

Kawatiri (the Māori name for the Buller River) was the end of the line for Nelson’s planned railway, the Midland Railway Line, which was intended to join the line up the Grey Valley to Īnangahua. It ended up being a railway to nowhere – the line reached Kawatiri in 1920, and although a further 6-km section was built to Gowanbridge it was only ever used for freight.

Kawatiri also marks the point where State Highway 63 branches off State Highway 6 to St Arnaud and onwards to Blenheim down the Wairau valley. At nearby Gowanbridge the Buller River meets the Gowan River, which drains Lake Rotoroa. A bridge over the Buller leads to the lake.

Nelson Lakes National Park

St Arnaud

On the shores of Lake Rotoiti is the tourist town of St Arnaud, with a population of around 200. St Arnaud is the main gateway to Nelson Lakes National Park (created in 1956). Camping at Rotoiti was popular from the early 1900s, and by 1925 cottages were built. There is a Department of Conservation campsite at Kerr Bay on the shores of Lake Rotoiti and another one at the outlet of Lake Rotoroa. Lake Rotoiti is an hour and half’s drive from both Nelson and Blenheim. The quickest access from Nelson city to St Arnaud is via Tophouse.

Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa

The national park includes two large glacial lakes – Rotoiti and Rotoroa – and the mountains and valleys to the south. The first Europeans to see these lakes were Charles Heaphy, Thomas Brunner and William Fox, who explored from Nelson as far as Murchison with Māori guide Kehu in 1846. Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa have largely unmodified catchments, so their water clarity is exceptional. The Buller River’s source is Lake Rotoiti. The upper tributaries of the river, including the lakes, are protected by the Buller National Water Conservation Order (1996). The river and its tributaries offer excellent brown trout fishing.

Tramping and skiing

Water taxis take trampers across both lakes, and tracks skirt their eastern shores. The most popular walk is the Travers–Sabine tramping circuit, which takes four to seven days. There are many other tracks and 22 huts in the park. Mountains in the national park are similar to those of Canterbury, with scree slopes of greywacke. They are higher than the other Nelson mountain ranges, with peaks rising over 2,000 metres. Avalanches are common in winter. Mt Robert (1,421 m), in the Travers Range overlooking St Arnaud, had a skifield from the 1940s. It closed in 2005, as the altitude was too low for reliable snow.

Upper Buller River valley


2013 population: 492

Murchison is Nelson’s largest inland town, often referred to as ‘Murch’. It is a rural servicing centre for the surrounding valleys, where dairy farming is the main industry. Murchison was a heavily wooded flat in 1846. The discovery of gold triggered settlement, and the township – then called Hampden – was surveyed in 1865. Its name was changed in 1882 to avoid confusion with the town of the same name in North Otago.

The town was also a staging post on the route from Nelson to the West Coast – from Murchison, State Highway 6 goes through the Buller River gorge to Westport. State Highway 65 branches off this, following the Maruia valley to Springs Junction and Maruia Springs before ascending Lewis Pass to Canterbury.

River sports

The town has long been a popular stopping point en route to the West Coast or Canterbury, and tourism has become important. White-water kayaking is popular on rapids in the Buller River and its tributaries. Murchison is home to the New Zealand Kayak School, which claims that the town is the ‘whitewater kayak capital of New Zealand’1. Within 20 minutes’ drive there are 14 runs ranging from class I (easy) to class IV (difficult) on the Buller, Matiri, Mangles, Mātakitaki and Maruia rivers. Trout fishing is also popular.

Earthquake country

On 17 June 1929 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the northern South Island near Murchison. The shaking triggered dozens of huge slips on the steep mountain slopes, which were waterlogged from winter rain. Landslides blocked many rivers, killing four people in the Mātakitaki valley and five in the Maruia valley. Roads were so badly damaged that vehicles could not reach Murchison for several months.

Where’s Jill?


In the late 1800s tracks were rough, and wagoning was a hard job attracting hard men. The group who hauled the first gold dredge into the Mātakitaki River valley – Jack Hagan, Joe Fowler, Jack Maude and Jack Mead – were known as ‘the four Jacks and no Jill’.2


Mātakitaki River valley

Gold was discovered in the Mātakitaki River valley in 1863. A walking track 10 kilometres up the valley gives access to the Six Mile hydroelectric plant, built in 1922. The head of the Mātakitaki River valley and the nearby Tūtaki River valley give good tramping access to lesser-used parts of Nelson Lakes National Park. The valley floor is farmed.

Maruia River

The Maruia River is a tributary of the Buller River. The Maruia Falls formed after a landslide caused by the 1929 Murchison earthquake shifted the river’s course – it flowed over an old river bank and eroded the gravels beneath, over time forming a waterfall with a 10-metre drop.

Matiri River valley

The Matiri River valley flats are farmland. The road end at the head of the valley offers access to Lake Matiri and the Thousand Acres Plateau and nearby Hundred Acre Plateau (also dubbed the ‘Devil’s Dining Table’), and other earthquake-shattered landscapes in Kahurangi National Park.


Motueka and the Motueka River valley


2013 population: 7,377

Motueka, or ‘Mot’ as locals call it, lies on the small Motueka Plain near the Motueka River mouth on the western shore of Tasman Bay. It is the third-largest settlement in the Nelson region after Nelson city and Richmond. A further 5,397 people live in the surrounding area. To the west are the Arthur and Pikikiruna ranges, and to the south the Moutere Hills. Motueka is 48 kilometres from Nelson and 57 kilometres from Tākaka.

The exceptional soil fertility and the suitability of the surrounding land for small-farm settlement were the main reasons that the second town of the Nelson settlement was established at Motueka in 1842.

Motueka is primarily a rural service centre. Sheep and cattle are farmed, and hops, fruit (especially apples) and vegetables are grown. Motueka used to be New Zealand’s tobacco-growing centre. However, the crop was no longer profitable after the government removed the requirement for some New Zealand-grown tobacco in locally produced cigarettes in the early 1980s.

The town has a large seasonal component to its labour force, as orchard workers arrive to pick crops in late summer. Wooden apple crates stacked up at packing sheds are a common sight. Port Motueka is home to the deep-water fishing company Talley’s, and the nearby tidal foreshore features a salt-water swimming pool.

Motueka’s Māori community is centred on Te Āwhina marae.


2013 population: 867

Riwaka is a township 6 km north of Motueka. The Riwaka River valley, like the area around Motueka, is home to many orchards, and most of New Zealand's hops are grown around here. Old hop kilns abound, and red netting stretches over many apple orchards. A road leads up the valley to the Riwaka resurgence, where a branch of the river emerges from a spring at the base of Tākaka hill.

Lower Motueka River valley

The lower valley has many small farming localities such as Pangatōtara, Ngatimoti, Pokororo, Orinoco, Woodstock, Thorpe, Dovedale and Stanley Brook. Two important tributaries, the Pearse and Baton rivers, enter the Motueka River from its western bank. Partly originating from springs, they have water temperatures that are often much colder than the main river in summer.

Wangapeka River valley

The Wangapeka River is one of the main tributaries of the Motueka, draining the western hills. Gold was discovered in the valley in 1861, and Wangapeka (along with Tuapeka in Otago) was immortalised in the ditty ‘Gold, gold, fine bright gold. Tuapeka, Wangapeka, bright red gold.’ 1

The flat lands are farmed, and many of the lower hills are planted in exotic forest. The Sherry River, a tributary of the Wangapeka, was named for the colour of its water. The road end at the head of the valley gives trampers access to the Wangapeka Track and to Mt Owen in Kahurangi National Park.

Golden Downs

The land at the head of the Motueka valley was open country in the 1840s and had probably been burnt off by Māori. A shepherd named Gordon worked there, and the area was originally called Gordon Downs. An accommodation house was built at the Motueka River crossing in 1856. The land was farmed for sheep, but was poor country. From 1926 exotic forests were planted – the beginnings of the Golden Downs State Forest.

Grow your own


Tobacco was grown in the Nelson area from the 1840s. Gold diggers at Tadmor in the 1870s grew their own. They compressed it into plugs by applying a weight to a long pole, which forced the tobacco down into a mould.



Tapawera was established as a centre when the Midland railway was built in the early 1900s. Small locales such as Kiwi, Tūī and Kākā in the Tadmor valley were also stations on the line. Kiwi was the site of a 1954 protest, where women sat on the lines trying to get the government to keep the line open. Their protests failed.


Western Tasman Bay

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest of Nelson’s three national parks. It was created in 1942, 300 years after the visit of the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. Conservationist Pérrine Moncrieff had lobbied the government to protect the area, including its native forest, at a time when much of the country’s native forest was being logged. The park includes the coast and the mountains between Tasman Bay and Golden Bay.

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of the country’s busiest walking tracks. It is 52 kilometres long and offers accommodation in 18 campsites and four huts. Tens of thousands of trampers and campers visit each year. The sheltered coast offers good moorings and sees many sea kayakers, yachts and other boats in the summer. There are pockets of private land and baches (holiday homes) at Torrent Bay and Awaroa.

Tākaka hill

Tākaka is just 57 km from Motueka, but the winding road over Tākaka hill or ‘marble mountain’ makes the trip take almost an hour. The top is distinctive for its fluted marble outcrops. Quarries on the hilltop supply lime, and marble from here was used in Wellington’s Parliament buildings. Hawkes Lookout offers views over the fertile Riwaka River valley. There are guided tours to Ngārua Cave’s stalactites and stalagmites, and a lookout with views onto the eastern Abel Tasman coastline. On Tākaka hill’s western side, Harwood’s lookout takes in Golden Bay and its wild mountain back-country. These vistas inspired artworks by Toss Woollaston and Colin McCahon.

Canaan Road branches off the main road on top of the hill. Canaan, a biblical name, was given to the strange hump-and-hollow landscape caused by sinkholes. Massive dance parties known as ‘The Gathering’ were held there each New Year’s Eve from 1996/97 to 1999/2000. Walking tracks give access to New Zealand’s largest sinkhole, 357-metre-deep Harwood’s Hole, and huts of the Abel Tasman National Park. Jim Henderson, chronicler of Golden Bay folklore, grew up on a struggling sheep farm on Tākaka hill.


2013 population: 789

Kaiteriteri was nearly chosen as the site for the Nelson settlement in 1841. It has a safe swimming beach and its beaches of coarse golden sand are typical of the Abel Tasman coast. Water taxis and guided sea-kayaking groups depart from here and nearby Mārahau for the coast of the Abel Tasman National Park.


Mārahau may be reached by a narrow winding road from Kaiteriteri or – more commonly – a turn-off from the main road just before Tākaka hill. It has a large sandy estuary, baches and a camping ground. Mārahau is also one end of the three-day tramp along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Sea-kayaking tours operate from here, with tractors towing trailers of kayaks onto the sand flats at low tide.


The road from Golden Bay into Abel Tasman National Park leads to Tōtaranui, 38 km from Tākaka. Previously a farming settlement before the park was established, Tōtaranui has a campground that is very busy over summer.

Eastern Golden Bay

Golden Bay

2013 population: 3,756

Māori know Golden Bay as Mohua. It was named Murderers' Bay after four of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman’s crew were killed in a skirmish with Māori in 1642. In 1770 James Cook included it as part of Tasman Bay (which he called Blind Bay), but in 1773 he corrected his mistake and referred to it as Murderers' Bay. In 1827 French explorer Dumont D'Urville changed the name to Massacre Bay, which it retained until the 1840s.

Following the discovery of coal at Tākaka in 1842 the bay was called Coal Bay for a time. It was renamed Golden Bay after gold was found near Collingwood in 1857.

Golden Bay is very shallow. In the late 1800s and early 1900s it was plied by small vessels, with wharves at Waitapu (Tākaka), Onekakā, Parapara, Collingwood, Pākawau and Pūponga.


2013 population: 1,236

Tākaka, Golden Bay’s main town, arose in the 1880s. It was never surveyed and just grew organically. Sawmilling was the main early industry. Dairying was established in the district from the early 1900s and became an important part of the economy. The milk-powder factory was a major employer in the 2010s.

The nearby Te Waikoropupū springs, a tourist attraction, have some of the clearest fresh water ever measured. Many artisans live in the Tākaka area, and their signs are visible along the roads. The flats are mainly dairy farms. Roads are crossed by dung-and-mud tracks marked by a small orange flashing light on a pole, showing where herds cross to reach the milking sheds in the early morning and evening.


Motupipi was originally surveyed in 1842, but only a few colonists had settled there eight years later. Tākaka instead became Golden Bay’s main town.


Clifton is a small locality on flat land on the road to Pōhara. The Grove Scenic Reserve offers an interesting short walk through limestone outcrops with nīkau palms and northern rātā.


The safe swimming beach of Pōhara is one of the busiest Golden Bay beaches during the summer. It offers many types of accommodation to holidaymakers. Onetahua Marae in Pōhara was established in 1986. Although it is the home marae for three local iwi (Ngāti Rarua, Ngāti Tama, and Te Āti Awa), its multicultural approach includes the wider community.


A memorial to Abel Tasman stands on a headland near Tarakohe, not far from the anchorage where Europeans and Māori first met, in 1642. At Tarakohe there are offshore bluffs of limestone outcrops and rock stacks. A plant manufactured and exported cement between 1909 and 1988. The small harbour was built in several stages to serve the cement shipments, and today is a popular moorage for fishing and pleasure boats.

Western Golden Bay

Onekakā and coastal settlements

Stretching along the road and coast from Tākaka to Collingwood are the small locales of Patons Rock, Puramāhoi, Onekakā, Tukurua, Parapara and Milnthorpe. As well as farmland there are houses, artisans’ studios, a micro-brewery and live-music venue (the Mussel Inn at Onekakā), and places to stay. The rusting and rotting piles at the western edge of Onekakā inlet mouth mark the remains of Onekakā wharf, which served the old ironworks.


2013 population: 231

Collingwood is Golden Bay’s oldest and second-largest town. Gold was discovered nearby in 1857, and some people suggested that the town should become New Zealand’s capital. The town was surveyed on terraces on the eastern side of the Aorere River mouth, but Collingwood – originally called Gibbstown – was never built there. Instead settlers established themselves on the flat land below. The town’s wooden buildings were damaged or destroyed in major fires in 1883, 1897, 1904, 1930 and 1967.

Western Golden Bay gets more rainfall than the east, and dairy farming is the main activity alongside tourism. Mt Burnett, overlooking Collingwood, is the only source of dolomite in New Zealand. This is quarried and is used mainly as an additive to phosphate fertilisers. Solly’s, an important trucking firm in the bay, was established in Collingwood in 1928 – a time when the trip to Nelson by truck took 16 hours.

Aorere valley

The road up the Aorere River is a dead end, which finishes at the start of the 78.4-kilometre Heaphy Track. Trampers walk this in three to four days to reach Karamea on the West Coast. The valley flats are mainly dairy farms. Langford’s store at Bainham opened in 1928, and in the 2010s remained an old-fashioned country store. The locality takes its names from its first European settlers, Bain and Graham.

Red boys

Hec Shaw remembered playing in the abandoned paintworks at Pākawau with his brother. Covered in red ochre, the boys ‘thought we had a good day until we met Mum’.1 They were sent to the freezing-cold creek to scrub their bodies and clothes with caustic soap.


Coal seams were worked at Pākawau from the 1840s. All transport was by boat, and jetties were built. In the 1860s trial shipments of plumbago (graphite) were sent to England. Pākawau also had paintworks in the early 20th century. In 2010 there were houses, baches and a pub/café.


Coal seams were worked at Pūponga from the late 1890s. Its location at the base of Farewell Spit offered sheltered waters for shipping, but the old wharf is long gone.

Buried treasure

On 7 August 1877 the Queen Bee was wrecked on Farewell Spit. The cargo broke up and the shore was littered with flotsam – including a 30-gallon (136-litre) barrel of whisky. A hopeful early settler couldn’t get the barrel into his dinghy, so he rolled it up the beach, buried it, and marked the spot with a stick. He returned with a larger dinghy, but – alas – the tide had washed his marker away.

Farewell Spit

New Zealand’s longest sand spit extends some 32 kilometres eastward from Cape Farewell. It has been formed by sand drifting up the west coast and being deposited in the calmer waters of Golden Bay. The spit was named by British navigator James Cook in 1770 as he was leaving the coast. Cape Farewell is the northernmost point of the South Island, with a latitude similar to Levin in the North Island. The spit is renowned for its bird life – and for whale strandings; more than 400 pilot whales standed on the spit in 2017..

Māori knew Farewell Spit as Onetahua. They used to camp at its base and portage (carry) their waka across the dunes when travelling to or returning from the West Coast. The Department of Conservation runs Pūponga Farm Park at the base of the spit and this has many short walks. No private vehicles or bikes are permitted on Farewell Spit. Foot access is allowed for 4 km on the ocean beach and 2.5 km on the inner beach, and guided vehicle trips go out to a lighthouse near its tip.

Whanganui Inlet

Whanganui Inlet (also called Westhaven), on the west coast, is one of the largest estuaries in the South Island. It was well known to early skippers who would put into the harbour to escape westerly storms. As flax mills and sawmills were established in the late 1800s, ships called to take away cargo. It is a largely unmodified estuary – the southern third is a marine reserve and the rest is a wildlife reserve. The road skirting the eastern shore, Dry Road, originally crossed mudflats and could only be used at low tide. It leads to the remote settlement of Mangarākau. While the road continues for about 10 kilometres beyond the Paturau River, a ford there means it is only suitable for four-wheel drives. Sheep farms continue as far south as Big River.

    • Quoted in Carol Dawber and Cheryl Win, Ferntown to Farewell Spit. Picton: River Press, 2003, p. 77. Back

North-west Nelson

Kahurangi National Park

Kahurangi National Park, at 452,002 hectares, is the country’s second-largest national park (after Fiordland). It was created in 1996 and takes in almost all of the mountain lands of north-west Nelson. Around half of the park is in the Nelson region and half in the West Coast region. It offers tramping, caving, brown-trout fishing, hunting, rafting and kayaking, with almost 50 huts and thousands of kilometres of tracks and routes.

Before 1996 most of this mountainous forested country was managed as Northwest Nelson Forest Park (created in 1970 by amalgamating eight regional state forests). A large part of the central western part of the park is managed as the Tasman Wilderness Area.

Extensive prospecting and mining have occurred in the north-west Nelson mountains. Many of the open tops, such as the Mt Arthur Tablelands, the Cobb Valley, the Thousand Acres Plateau and the area around Boulder Lake, were burned and grazed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The main access points to the park from the Nelson side are the Flora Saddle (near Motueka), the Wangapeka valley, the Matiri valley (near Murchison), the Cobb valley and the Aorere valley road-end (the start of the Heaphy Track).

Cobb River valley

A prospector by the name of Cobb gave his name to this elevated valley in the mountains at the head of the Tākaka Valley. Planning for a hydroelectric scheme began in the late 1920s when the Hume Pipe company became interested in exploiting nearby asbestos deposits. The scheme was taken over in the late 1930s by the government. The river was dammed and water piped down to a power station adjacent to the Tākaka River. Water drops 593 metres – the highest vertical fall for any hydro station in the country. The road that serves the dam is one of the main access points to Kahurangi National Park.

Heaphy Track

The Heaphy Track begins at the end of the Aorere valley road and leads to the West Coast. The route has long been touted as a road linking Golden Bay to Karamea. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Ministry of Works conducted a Heaphy Highway survey. Local bodies in Golden Bay and the West Coast pushed for a road – the preferred route was Kahurangi Point to the MacKay Downs, then to Lewis Hut and down to the Heaphy River mouth, then along the coast to Kōhaihai. This road would have eliminated part of the Heaphy Track. The project stalled due to lack of government funding and growing public opposition.

Lord of the rocks

The bizarre rock outcrops of Mt Owen – one of the best examples of a glaciated karst landscape in the world, along with those at Mt Olympus in the Aorere River valley – were scene locations in the Lord of the rings film trilogy.

Mt Arthur and Mt Owen

These marble mountains dominate the western outlook from Nelson city and are often snow-covered in winter. Mt Owen has the longest caves in the country, and Mt Arthur has the deepest. A pack track leading up to the Flora Saddle gave early graziers access to the tablelands and the Cobb River valley. Prospectors also worked the area, their numbers rising briefly during the 1930s when a government work relief scheme bankrolled them. The Flora Saddle offers easy access to the vast Karamea catchment via the track down the Leslie River.

Hononga, rauemi nō waho

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Carl Walrond, 'Nelson places', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 April 2024)

He kōrero nā Carl Walrond, i tāngia i te 7 o Hepetema 2010, updated 22 o Āpereira 2015