A food and wine lovers’ guide to Nelson, NZ

If you love fine food and wine, throw in some sunshine and a stunning beach or two and you have all the ingredients for a sensational short break in the South Island city of Nelson.

Read on to discover some of the delicious delights on offer in the wider Nelson Tasman region, then start packing! Book your stay with Choice Hotels.

Nelson Tasman wine scene

The Nelson Tasman wine region is often overshadowed by its much larger neighbour, Marlborough. However, don’t overlook the wineries of Nelson Tasman, because they more than hold their own in terms of award-winning drops. The region is home to numerous boutique vineyards and more than 20 cellar doors. They’re spread across two locations, known as The Plains (Waimea Plains) and The Hills (Moutere Hills). The Plains have stony soils that are great for producing aromatic whites, while The Hills have a gravel threaded clay soil type that produces wines of richness and texture. The region is best known for producing pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, but you’ll also find wineries growing syrah, riesling, and pinot gris grapes.

The Taste Nelson Wines website is a great place to start planning your own wine experience. Alternatively, leave it in the hands of those in the know and explore the region with an expert guide.

Explore the Nelson Tasman wine region. Image courtesy of Nelson Tasman Tourism

Craft beers and ciders

Nelson is New Zealand’s craft beer capital, which comes as no surprise given the number of breweries in the region. Early European settlers discovered that the region was ideal for cultivating hops and 150 years on, the region produces all of the country’s commercial supply. If you want to sample some of the region’s best brews, consider following the Nelson Craft Beer Trail. It takes in breweries from Nelson City to Golden Bay (but with six stops right in central Nelson, you won’t need to travel too far to taste something amazing).

Beer and wine lovers don’t have it all their own way in Nelson. More than half of New Zealand’s ciders also come from the region. If you are keen on cider, you may want to put The New Zealand Cider Festival in your calendar. This annual event started just a few years ago and is proving popular with both locals and visitors to the city.

New Zealand Cider Festival. Image courtesy of Steve Hussey Photography

Fine dining restaurants

There’s an abundance of fresh local ingredients on offer to Nelson’s chefs, so you can expect quality food wherever you go. For remarkable fine dining, Hopgood’s & Co won’t disappoint. Their menu is outstanding and offers a wonderful selection of small plates, starters and mains. Everything is impeccably presented. Just around the corner is the popular vegan restaurant East St Eats. The food here is so good, you’ll often find confirmed carnivores taking the night off. Where there’s fine wine, there’s usually good food, and a midday meal at a picturesque vineyard is also a must-do during your stay in Nelson. Forsters restaurant at Moutere Hills winery is the perfect place for an exceptional lunch and wine tasting experience.

Fresh seafood

With its sublime coastal location, Nelson is home to a number of fantastic seafood restaurants. Urban Oyster Bar and Eatery’s name speaks for itself, and while this popular venue doesn’t take reservations, it’s worth taking your chances on a table. If oysters are not to your liking, never fear – they offer lots of alternatives. Mama Cod (previously known as the Cod and Lobster Brasserie) is a seafood eatery combined with a cocktail and whisky bar. Their lunch and dinner menus are full of fabulous seafood selections and you can wash it all down with your choice from the classic, tiki-style or negroni cocktail menus.

Urban Oyster Bar and Eatery. Image courtesy of Nelson Tasman Tourism

Unique kiwi treats

For a taste of traditional kiwi flavours, head to award-winning Kiwi Kai. It offers a range of indigenous dishes and strives to serve local organic produce where possible. Burger Culture is uniquely Nelson, and offers delicious burgers handcrafted from start to finish on site (including the mincing and baking). Both eateries offer dine-in and take away services, and you’ll also find Kiwi Kai at The Nelson Market on a Saturday morning. No visit to Nelson would be complete without a visit to Pic’s Peanut Butter World. What started as a garage-based labour of love is now a multi-million-dollar business. Even if you’re not a fan of peanut butter, the free factory tour is well worth doing.

Coffee stops

Café culture is alive and well in Nelson. Zumo is perfect for a grab and go, or combine coffee with creativity at the RED Art Gallery & Cafe. Located inside the gallery, this is also home to the ‘Best Ugly Bagels’ in town (with local toppings such as Pic’s Peanut Butter, Marlborough smoked salmon and Moutere Fruits jams). For weekend brunch with a waterfront view, you can’t beat the Boat Shed Cafe. Although open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, it does breakfast on weekends from 9am.

The Nelson Market

For a one-stop culinary shop, time your visit to Nelson to coincide with the Saturday morning Nelson Market in Montgomery Square. One of the best open air markets in the country, The Nelson Market has been operating for more than 40 years. From kombucha and teas, to cheeses and preserves, you’ll discover local produce and gourmet treats of every description, alongside arts and crafts made by the many talented artisans that live and work in the area. Food stalls and coffee stands make a visit to the market a great option for breakfast or brunch.

The Nelson Market. Image courtesy of Nelson Tasman Tourism

Mapua Wharf

And finally, leave time during your stay to get out of town and sample the bars, restaurants and cafés at Mapua Wharf – located about 30 minutes’ drive from Nelson. If you’re feeling energetic, you can bike the section of the Great Taste Trail that crosses the Waimea suspension bridge to Rabbit Island, then catch the Mapua Ferry to the wharf. Soak up the postcard-worthy views along the way.

Wine and dine at Mapua Wharf. Image courtesy of Jellyfish Restaurant and Bar

Need a place to stay?

Enjoy a generous helping of English country charm at The Honest Lawyer, Ascend Hotel Collection in Nelson. The hotel has just 13 rooms, packed with period features and elegant furnishings. The onsite Honest Lawyer Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers fireside dining in winter and al fresco seating in summer overlooking glorious Tasman Bay.

About the writer

Hailing from Aotearoa New Zealand, Karllie Clifton is an avid midlife traveller and blogger who loves an adventure. In the past few years alone, Karllie has visited over twenty countries and ticked off more than 50 cities across three continents. She loves the great outdoors – especially hiking and anything to do with the ocean.

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