Living in Nelson: Why It’s New Zealand’s Best City

Have you ever heard of Nelson? It’s a dreamy city on the top of the South Island. Many people overlook Nelson, probably due to its small size and somewhat isolated location. Yet, if you have a chance to visit or spend some years there, I would highly recommend doing so!

Nelson is the oldest city in the South Island and is situated in the Tasman Bay. Nelson is a pretty, coastal town with quick access to different landscapes and natural settings. This city is great for families foremost, retirees, and people looking for a Mediterranean climate and relaxed lifestyle. Due to the small population, there aren’t many high-paying jobs available, but they exist.

Nelson is my favorite city on the South Island so far. Read till the end to learn why!

About Nelson

Nelson is a city in the Tasman Bay, on the north of the South Island. It’s known as the arty town which attracts many creatives. Nelson is also one of the sunniest cities in New Zealand, with a fantastic close-to Mediterranean climate.

Nelson has a tiny population of about 51,000 and is the largest city in the Tasman District and Nelson Region. Nelson is popular among retirees and families, so, you won’t see many young professionals there, but they do exist! That said, the median age of Nelson’s residents is 43.4 years. 47,6% of all residents are married.

South Island, in general, has less Māori population, so, in Nelson, there are about 5,421 Māori people as of 2018. That’s about 10%. 23.9% of all Nelson’s residents are born overseas, meaning it’s an attractive place for foreigners, especially those coming from Europe, like the UK and Germany.

When it comes to jobs, here are stats on what people in Nelson do for work:

OccupationNelson Region (%)
Technicians and trade workers12.5
Community and personal service workers10.3
Clerical and administrative workers9.6
Sales workers9.9
Machinery operators and drivers5.6
Source: stats.govt.nz

The median income per capita is $29,600 per year, which is considered to be low by New Zealand standards. About 13.5% of employed make over $70,000 per year. That said, the majority of people who live in Nelson don’t have a college degree; this region is thriving on trades and crafts. 77.7% of all residents didn’t go to university.

Awesome things about Nelson

Why is Nelson my favorite city in the South Island of New Zealand?

1. Stunning green nature

Nelson is covered by green hills. Compared to most of the South Island, it has a lot of lush, including palm trees. The place has a tropical feeling.

In fact, half of the city lies between the green hills; it looks fantastic! Nelson is your gem if you love the landscape and prefer a more alive nature. This is probably one of the main things I loved about it.

2. Sunshine

Nelson and its neighbor Blenheim regularly ranked as the sunniest cities in New Zealand. Facts say it all, Nelson gets about 2,400 hours of sun per year, while Auckland – only about 2,000! Besides, many cities in New Zealand have less than 2,000 hours of sun, like Dunedin, for example, which gets only 1,683 hours.

During my time in Nelson, I have seen more sun than probably ever in my life! Sun hits differently in Nelson; it’s always there for you!

3. Beaches

Image credit: Steffen Hillebrand

Nelson and Tasman beaches, hands down, are some of the best in New Zealand! If you have been to other coastal locations in South Island, you have seen that the coast is pretty rough in most places.

Yet, Nelson has some of the calm, blue, and idyllic water you will find. Plus, the sand is golden! It’s like being on a resort in Fiji but in New Zealand! A dream!

There is one beach within the city of Nelson called Tahunanui and dozens of others located further away from the town. Abel Tasman National Park is home to the best sand beaches in New Zealand and is situated only one hour’s drive from Nelson. It’s a great destination for a day or weekend away if you are living in Nelson.

Some of these stunning beaches I would recommend visiting are:

  • Tata Beach, Golden Bay
  • Ligar Bay, Golden Bay
  • Wharariki Beach, Nelson
  • Tōtaranui, Abel Tasman National Park
  • Horoirangi Marine Reserve, Nelson
  • Kaiteriteri, Tasman
  • Awaroa Bay, Abel Tasman National Park

4. Everything is close

Nelson is a very compact city, meaning everything is close by, reachable by walk or a short drive. Generally, you barely need to drive! Hence, you can forget about the commute! It takes a maximum of 10 minutes to CBD, 10 minutes to the local beach, 10 minutes to the airport, and one hour to the most beautiful beach in the country.

Moreover, about 26.1% of all school students walk or jog to school!

5. Friendly people

Nelsonians know what the sense of the community is. It certainly has a small-town vibe, and everyone knows each other. People are very friendly, welcoming, and warm. This is probably due to the Nelson climate and weather, as well as the lack of stress.

6. Beauty is everywhere you look

Nelson is beautiful all around; most parts of the city and Nelson region are gifted with incredible nature, which hugs the city tightly. It has a pretty and calm river Maitai, that adds perfectly to the landscape.

When following the Maitai River, you walk an eye-pleasing path that lasts for kilometers.

Right in the middle of the city, elevated by hills, you will see Britannia Heights – Nelson’s most desirable neighborhood. It has the most stunning views over the Stoke neighborhood and the Tasman Bay.

7. Excellent schools

Nelson is known to be a great place for families. It has several very good schools, and not all schools are zoned, hence, you will have a choice when allocating your children. St Joseph’s School Nelson and Nelson Central School are some of the best schools in the city.

8. Outdoors

Nelson residents are absolute outdoors fans and probably spend half of their lives outside. The nature and weather of Nelson are so incredible that you want to be out there to soak in. There are all types of outdoor activities you can even imagine, but swimming in the sea is by far the most enjoyable in the summer.

Nelson is great for hiking, tracking, and mountain biking. That said, you will enjoy every walk you take, even if it’s in your neighborhood. I haven’t had a bad walk in Nelson!

9. Weather and climate

This is a big one. Nelson has some of the best climates in New Zealand: it’s warm, it’s sunny, and it doesn’t rain much! The weather is close to the Mediterranean, with warm – hot summers and mild winters.

The problem with many beautiful cities on the North Island is that they all have a lot of rain. Nelson, on the other hand, has blue skies year around, warm temperatures, and about 900 mm of rain per year. Some parts of New Zealand get as much as 2000 mm of rain annually.

10. The arts and creativity

Nelson is New Zealand’s center of creativity, with a number of boutique art galleries, jewelers, designers, potters, and more.

Probably because of the beautiful nature, many people get inspired to create things. For instance, the father of nuclear energy Ernest Rutherford is a Nelsonian.

Not to mention that a Golden Ring from Lord of the Rings was made in Nelson by Danish-born jeweler Jens Hansen.

11. Fruits and veggies

Since there is so much sun in Nelson, plus it has a fruitful land, you will see many products coming from Nelson.

It’s a great place to grow all kinds of different fruits, including apples, feijoas, figs, pears, persimmons, and strawberries, but also hazelnuts and olives. What’s a goldmine!

12. Wine and beer

Did I already mention that Nelson is an excellent place for growing wine as well? Nelson’s climate is ideal for high-quality and delicious wine. There are not only amazing wineries but also some of the tastiest craft beer you will find in New Zealand.

When in Nelson, visit or buy a beer from one of these breweries:

  • McCashins Brewery
  • Sprig + Fern Brewing Co.
  • Townshend Brewery & Tap Room
  • Eddyline Brewery
  • Golden Bear Brewery
  • Hop Federation

When it comes to wine, the best wineries in Nelson are (also check out wineries in the next door Blenheim – it has more of them):

13. Markets

Nelson Saturday Market is well known in the region. It’s a mix of crafts, foods, produce, second-hand clothes, and anything else in between. Plus, there are special annual markets. Visiting a local market is a great place to mingle with locals as well as to stock up on some goodies.

14. Affordable housing

Nelson has lower rents and house prices than many other cities. In February 2023, Nelson’s median house price was $685,000. At the same time, the median house price across New Zealand is $945,568.

When it comes to rent, rates are also lower. Here is what Nelson residents pay for weekly rent according to the 2018 Census.

CategoryNelson Region
$600 and over1.9 %
$500–5994.6 %
$400–49919.4 %
$300–39939 %
$200–29917.7 %
$150–1994.5 %
$100–1496.1 %
Under $1007 %

The market prices, however, look differently, where most houses are rented out for between $500 and $700 per week.

There are more points I would allocate to Nelson and why it’s such a great place to live. But it also has its cons, such as limited career opportunities for some professionals. Ultimately, it depends on your situation and goals in life.

Similar Posts