Small sawmills operated in many valleys in the 1800s as lowland forests were cleared. Exotic forestry in Nelson began around Tapawera. Land had been given to returned servicemen after the First World War, but many of the farms failed due to poor soils. Forest was planted from the late 1920s in the upper Motueka River valley, and was named the Golden Downs Forest. By the mid-1950s the area’s exotic forests were second in extent only to the great forests of the central North Island. Log exports began in 1959, and from 1967 pine chips were exported.
Native beech trees were also turned into wood chips for export, but this drew protests. A large sawmill and chip mill was built near Brightwater in 1986, the same year that Nelson Pine Industries opened a large medium-density fibreboard plant near Richmond. Large piles of wood chips and logs awaiting export on the wharves have been a daily sight for Nelsonians since the mid-1960s, and forestry remained an important contributor to the region’s economy in 2010.
Fishing and aquaculture
For many years fishing was relatively minor, with small boats fishing inshore. In the 1980s deep-sea fishing changed that. Nelson’s central location, close to many fishing grounds, encouraged a massive expansion. The deep-water species orange roughy and hoki were exploited in the 1980s and 1990s, and the industry became a major employer. In 2010 Talley’s and Sealord, two of New Zealand’s largest deep-water fishing companies, were based in Nelson. Talley’s had their head office at Port Motueka. In the 2010s Nelson was the largest fishing port in Australasia. Seafood industries and aquaculture employed almost 2,200 workers, 5% of the employed population.
In 1962 a factory to house a cotton mill was being built at Stoke when the government pulled the plug on the project. A car company, Standard-Triumph, bought the building and set it up as an assembly factory in 1965, churning out Triumphs and Leyland light commercials, and, later, Rovers and Jaguars. Production slowed in 1977 and in 1982 the factory switched to assembling Hondas. It closed in 1998, after tariffs on imported cars were removed.
Nelson has varied landscapes and tourist attractions – snow-covered mountains, golden-sand beaches, limestone caves, trout-rich rivers, orchards, vineyards and craft trails. The Nelson art guide, published regularly since 1994, includes a craft trail of many potters, jewellers, sculptors, artists, weavers and others. Tourism has boomed since the 1980s, and in the 2010s was a significant, if seasonal, contributor to the region’s economy. In the early 2000s it was the third-largest industry in the region. Domestic tourists were about 70% of visitors in 2008, but international tourism was growing faster.