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The History of Nelson

Nelson is a city with a strong history and the locals like to celebrate the richness of our past. Our motel in central Nelson has jotted down some notably moments in Nelson’s history and how you can make the most of this historic city during your stay. 

Maori Settlers 

Nelson’s history traces back as far as the 12th century, when Maori first discovered the area. At the time, the upper North Island – today’s Nelson and Marlborough regions – were called Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka a Maui – The Prow of the Canoe of Maui. 

Learn more: 

Nelson Provincial Museum – go to the source to learn all about our region’s rich history that started with the Maori settlers. 

The Dutch 

The first European to reach New Zealand was Dutchman Abel Tasman. In 1642, he reached the shores of the upper South Island, but cultural confusion between the Dutch and the Maori led to an infamous and deadly first meeting. Ultimately, Abel Tasman abandoned his attempt to land and instead decided to try his luck further north on the North Island. 

Learn More: 

Golden Bay – nature meets history at this gorgeous stretch of sand. Discover what was so tempting to Abel Tasman when he first saw Golden Bay (or, as he called it, Murderer’s Bay!) 

British Rule 

Under Captain James Cook’s direction, the Brits arrived in New Zealand in the late 1700s. In 1858, Queen Victoria declared Nelson a city even though it had only 5000 inhabitants and was a rural centre with cows roaming the streets. 

Learn More: 

Albion Square – the location of provincial government in the region in the late 1800s. View the historic fire engine house, trout hatchery and survey chain test marker 

The Queens Gardens – beautiful Victorian gardens, opened in 1892 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. 

Today’s Nelson 

After being declared a city, Nelson stayed quite small for nearly a hundred years. It was not until the 1950s that any significant population growth was observed. Today over 46,000 people live in Nelson and this vibrant city has become the largest in the upper South Island. 

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