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Getting Here and Around
Nelson Airport (NSN) is a small regional airport 10 km (6 mi) south of the city center. Air New Zealand links Nelson with Christchurch, Auckland, and Wellington a number of times a day. Sounds Air flies in from Wellington three times a day with a scenic, low-level flight over the Marlborough Sounds, weather permitting.
Geographically Nelson is quite isolated, so no matter which way you drive from there'll be a range of hills to climb. It's a 3½-hour drive from Westport, 6½ hours from Christchurch via the Lewis Pass, and 1¾ hours from Blenheim. From Nelson, head west to Motueka and the Abel Tasman Park, Golden Bay, and the Kahurangi Park. Once again there are some big hills but the roads are good.
InterCity buses run between Christchurch, Blenheim, and Nelson a couple of times a day. There's also a West Coast service running from Nelson to the glaciers. It's a full day trip, and leaves no opportunity to explore all the sights along the way.
Aside from tour buses, the only reliable local alternative is Atomic Shuttles. Atomic operates coaches between the most popular tourist spots and shuttle vans on the lower-profile regional runs. In the December and January holiday season, book at least a couple of days before you plan to travel, but during the rest of the year a day's advance reservation should do the trick. Bus tickets can also be booked at information centers.
Abel Tasman Coachlines runs the smaller routes to Motueka, Takaka, and the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi national parks.
Many of the smaller routes cut their service frequency in winter, some stop altogether, and others reduce their destinations, so double-check the schedules.
Once you arrive in Nelson get your bearings at the visitor center on the corner of Trafalgar and Halifax streets. The heart of town is farther up Trafalgar Street, between Bridge Street and the cathedral steps, also home to the region's museum. This area is lined with shops, and the block between Hardy Street and the cathedral steps is a sunny spot to enjoy a coffee. The lively Nelson Saturday Market is held at the Montgomery parking lot. There are a few art stores and galleries on Nile Street, too. For a dose of greenery, the Queens Gardens are on Bridge Street between Collingwood and Tasman. The Nelson Arts Guide, available at visitor centers and local shops, is a good resource for the area's crafts offerings.
A five-minute drive around the waterfront from town, Tahunanui Beach offers some of the safest swimming in the country. This long, open beach is perfect to watch the sunset from and is a favorite spot for kite-boarders with its rollicking summer sea breeze. There are also several bars and cafés, and one of the country's largest campgrounds.
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