144km (89 miles) W of Picton; 226km (140 miles) NE of Westport; 424km (263 miles) N of Christchurch

Nelson is the sunniest playground in New Zealand. Its 2,500 hours of annual sunshine, tranquil waters, gold-sand beaches, vineyards, and craft activities make it one of the most popular destinations in the country. And the good thing is, this applies to winter as well. While the rest of the country is lashed with foul winter chills, Nelson sits in a sheltered haven, blissfully unaware of everyone else's discomfort.

Perhaps this accounts for why the area is one of the last bastions of alternative lifestylers, especially in the Takaka-Golden Bay area. Immigrating Europeans and Americans have sought it out, too, so you'll find a variety of accents among the locals.

The combined population of Nelson City and nearby Richmond is about 45,000, and for the whole Nelson-Tasman region, 140,000. An hour's drive east is the small town of Motueka, population 7,500, and between the two is an area rich in tourist pickings. This is where you'll find most of the 300 full-time artists and craftspeople. It's thick with orchards, vineyards, galleries, quaint shops, and cafes, and a visit here should not be rushed. It's a laid-back province that quickly convinces you that laid-back is best. The region's tourism body, Nelson Tasman Tourism, is also right behind keeping it that way. It operates the Nelson Tasman Sustainable Tourism Charter to improve the environmental performance of all its members. You can find out who is working to protect this beautiful region by checking www.nelsonnz.com/sustainable.tourism.