A city that's easy to love

A city that's easy to love

Posted on Wednesday 4 December 2019

When Auckland urban designer Alan Gray first visited Nelson Tasman with his wife, the pair quickly fell in love with the place – so much so, that three years later, they made it their home.

Normally big on researching his travel destinations, Gray hadn’t managed to get around to looking into Nelson Tasman before their trip. So when they first arrived, they stepped into a city flourishing with unexpected activity.

The Arts Festival was happening, the cherry blossoms were in bloom, you had this great Nelson Tasman weather, and beyond that, the great environment Nelson city sits within,” he says. “it was serendipity.”

Gray is a graduate of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and recently worked on the delivery of Auckland City’s revamped waterfront. Having previously lived in Aspen, Colorado, Nelson city struck a familiar chord with its action, proximity to the mountains, and beautiful natural surroundings.

“As an urban designer, I felt this was a great city centre and it seemed to have a lot going on,” he says. “Nelson city has a good, smart, creative community, and that was my personal connection with the place right off the bat. We fell in love with it.”

The pair returned every year for the next two years to enjoy Nelson’s boutique urban vibe – and the pull of the South Island’s smartest little city was so strong that 10 months ago, they moved here to live.


Centre of NZ credit Nelson City Council2Centre of NZ | Photo: Nelson City Council


That’s a common story in Nelson city. It’s a place so rich in lifestyle that people dream of moving here, wanting that relaxed and social holiday feeling all year round.  The outdoors environment is of such a world-class quality that it also draws entrepreneurs, scientists, technology leaders and artists from around the globe, who contribute to a smart and modern business and arts sector. It has a celebrated “five-minute lifestyle”; everything is five minutes away, either in minutes walking around the CBD, or minutes driving to the beach, the river, or favourite mountain-biking and walking trails. Parking is easy, and so is the living.

Gray found a job as Nelson City Council’s City Centre Development Programme Lead, and he’s now putting in place a programme to make the CBD even better. This will involve bringing in more bespoke, artisan retailers, and developing more walking routes, encouraging even more people into the city.

“There is interesting mix of heritage and scientific institutions such as the Cawthron Institute that is really unique,” he says. “Nelson city really impresses.”

Small enough to create that feeling of community that’s lost in a bigger city, Nelson is also big enough to be interesting, with a high-quality annual Arts Festival and dozens of events throughout the year that are celebrated nationally. That includes the Adam Chamber Music Festival, the Cider Festival, MarchFest, and events such as the globally important Aorere mountain bike event.

Nelson’s CBD has a human feel, creating an unexpectedly vibrant, central core perfect for a small city of 50,000 people, serving a wider region containing another 50,000. Arranged around a compact urban centre of three blocks by four, Nelson’s city centre is different from other New Zealand towns, which tend to have one main street. With a slower traffic flow and lots of courtesy crossings, cars move slowly and people rule – all experiencing those sorts of random social encounters that characterise human-sized geography.  

That’s something Renee Wilson particularly enjoys. She’s president of the Nelson Young Professionals Society, a former manager at Nelson-based fishery company Sealord, and owner of fashion store Palm Boutique. At 28, she says the region is full of young people who found the corporate world too crowded in the main centres and have come to Nelson to advance their career.


Renee WilsonRenee Wilson


“The one thing that people my age say stops them from moving here is that lack of ability to get experience in commercial business or the higher-end positions in management,” she says. “But before I bought my business I spent about five years with Sealord and worked my way up with a management role in the fleet side of things, managing factory trawlers.”

She was given “incredible opportunities” despite her youth. “Opportunities that wouldn’t exist in a big city, but because I was willing to work hard and there were fewer people on the hunt for those development roles, I was able to stand out and make a difference.”

She says in a smaller city, more people are promoted internally, which can give the impression there are not as many advertised jobs.

“That means there are hundreds of hidden job opportunities that a lot of people outside Nelson don’t see.”

Other than work, she enjoys Nelson’s seamless access to its outdoors, the high calibre of its restaurants and cafes, its galleries, and arts opportunities – many of which have been started by those looking to escape the rat race in the main centres of New Zealand and the world, and enjoy a higher-quality lifestyle, with less driving, less parking issues, just a few minutes to the airport, and fewer crowds.

“The biggest benefit of living in Nelson is your work-life balance is so much easier to achieve because you are close to your hobbies, especially if you love outdoor pursuits,” Edwards says. “It’s also a great place to live if you can commute or work remotely because the airport is so close.

“It’s a really relaxed atmosphere; people move here because they like to be active and healthy, and they’re interested in other things outside of their work.”

She says she has never lived anywhere in Nelson where she hasn’t been friends with her neighbours.


To discover more about living and working in Nelson Tasman click here.