Nelson, named after Admiral Lord Nelson, has over 47,000 people within its urban area, and is located in the north of the South Island within the sheltered inlet of Nelson Haven at the head of Tasman Bay. It is 165 km west of Wellington on the other side of Cook Strait, 110 km west of Picton and 116 km north-west of Blenheim.

Farewell Spit

Wharariki Beach

Puponga – Cape Farwell

Kaihoka Lakes

Wanganui Inlet



Aorere Caves

Pupu Springs

Abel Tasman Drive

The Grove

Takaka Hill

Ngarua Caves



Mount Arthur


Cobb Valley

The first European settlement was by the NZ Company, under the direct guidance of Captain Arthur Wakefield, who arrived in 1841 to prepare the site for the first immigrants, 3,000 of whom arrived during the following year.

It had always previously been a heavily settled Maori centre, with a succession of tribes winning land rights by conquest in waves from the North Island. The Ngati Toa, led by the formidable chief, Te Rauparaha, had taken the region about 20 years before the arrival of Wakefield’s settlers. Sale of the site of Nelson had been negotiated by Te Rauparaha but as pressure for land built up in the fast-growing settlement, an attempt was made to move into the fertile Wairau Valley. This resulted in the Wairau Affray of June 1843, in which Wakefield and 21 of his followers were killed by Te Rauparaha and his nephew Te Rangihaeata. This retarded settlement of the area until gold was found at Collingwood in 1857.

Queen Victoria ordained in 1858 that Nelson be a bishop’s see and constituted it a city by letters patent, even though the population was only about 3,000, but it did not actually gain borough status until 1874.

The province of Nelson was established in 1853, with government offices in the settlement, and it originally comprised the whole area of the South Island north of the Hurunui River to its source, and then along a line to Lake Brunner and the Grey River. In 1859, the north-eastern corner was detached and named the Province of Marlborough.

The region is noted for its mild weather and high number of hours of sunshine per annum. It was traditionally the centre for production of hops and tobacco. Other primary products are pip and berry fruits and vegetables for processing, an industry which goes back to the 1880s. There are rich coal reserves and an enormous range of other minerals, including dolomite, magnesite, asbestos, serpentine, uranium and marble from the Takaka Hills.

Port Nelson is a suburb 2 km from the centre of the city, where the wharves take coastal shipping.

Nelson Creek is a tributary of the Grey River and also the name of a farming and sawmilling settlement on its banks, 33 km north-east of Greymouth.