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Nelson region

Nelson City Council is a unitary authority, which combines the functions of both a City Council and Regional Council. Its area extends from Waimea Inlet to Cape Soucis along the eastern margin of Tasman Bay in the northern South Island. It covers approximately 42,000 ha of mostly hilly land, with over 580 km of streams which flow from the backcountry ranges to Tasman Bay.

Māori lived in the Nelson/Whakatū area as early as the 13th century, and by 1850 CE, 1,000 Europeans had settled in the area. Nelson’s population has increased 1.7% per year over the past 10 years and the urban area contains the largest settlement in the upper South Island. In 2020 the population was 54,620 and it is expected to rise to around 66,040 by 2050.


Anyone who has approached Nelson by sea or air will be aware that Nelson City is located at the head of Tasman Bay and surrounded by hilly terrain, which influences the shape of the city. Most of the population lives in the city centre and its suburbs, and the surrounding rural area is sparsely populated. Rural valley floors and lower slopes are mainly used for agriculture, and the number of lifestyle blocks is increasing. The rest of Nelson’s terrain is either plantation forest or native forest.

Of Nelson’s regional land area, 8% is an urban environment of houses, factories, shops and parks. Native forest including regenerating kanuka on hill slopes accounts for 48%, exotic production forest for 26%, pastoral farming and low intensity dairy a further 12%, and areas of gorse and other exotic woody vegetation cover 6%.

For information about Nelson City Council’s environmental monitoring and programmes please visit