Trafalgar Centre and its legends


The Trafalgar Centre is the largest indoor multi-purpose events centre in the Nelson / Tasman Region. Built in the early 1970s as a sports stadium, the Centre also hosts major cultural and entertainment events and exhibitions. As well as the main stadium, it features the Victory Room, a popular venue for smaller events. The Trafalgar Centre re-opened in February 2009 after undergoing a major $7m upgrade, which transformed the southern end of the building. In 2015 the Centre was again closed for earthquake strengthening,1 reopening in 2017. In 2019  it was named the EVANZ Medium Venue of the Year.2

Trafalgar Centre. Photo courtesy Venue Web
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The Trafalgar Centre has been at the heart of sporting, and cultural, life in the region for decades, as one of the few big event centres in the top of the South. The World of WearableArts developed into the major event it is today during its life at the Trafalgar Centre. Some of the Centre's other legends are recalled below. 

Nelson Giants
Phil Jones of the Nelson Giants. Photo courtesy Nelson Mail
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The Fico Finance Nelson Giants have become one of the true success stories in New Zealand sport, establishing a reputation as the most successful and professionally run team in the New Zealand National Basketball League. Since 1994, the Nelson Giants have been in the play-offs eleven out of fifteen years, winning two national titles.  It is the only team to have continuously participated in the NZ National Basketball League since its inception in 1980. This is a major achievement for a team from one of New Zealand's smaller cities.

Due to the on-going success and style of the Fico Finance Nelson Giants, they have created a nation-wide support base, known locally as the Wannabees, attracting one of the largest home and away game spectator numbers in the league, as well as a huge amount of national and regional media interest.  

The Fico Finance Nelson Giants have an active coaching development programme running within the schools.  This coordinated programme uses Giants players to assist with the basketball coaching on a weekly basis, actively putting back into the community and acting as role models. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of young players and a huge increase in the popularity of basketball at a regional level. As a comprehensive and quality-coaching program it helps to ensure that every child and teenager in the region has an equal opportunity to receive regular quality basketball coaching.3

Ballroom Dancing

With ballroom dancing in Nelson at a low ebb, in 1966, a group of keen amateurs decided to organise an Easter Saturday dance competition. It was held in the old YMCA building in Bridge Street. The roof leaked and extra seating had to be scrounged from Trafalgar Park, but the hard-working group were pleasantly surprised to see a queue waiting on opening night. The success of the first Easter Championship led to the formation of the Nelson Amateur Ballroom Dancing Association (now DanceSport Nelson) and the annual competition soon became a two-day event.

Trafalgar Centre Easter 1975. Photo courtesy DanceSport.
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DanceSport relocated to the newly built Trafalgar Centre in 1974, enabling bigger and better competitions to be held each year. At that time The Nelson Amateur Ballroom Dancing Association donated a block of seating to the Trafalgar Centre.

The Association was well supported by long-serving patrons. The first patron of the Association was Betsy Eyre, MBE, a popular City Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Nelson for nine years, who remained Patron from 1966 until her death in 1983. Jean Brough was also a loyal supporter, helping to get the first Easter competition off the ground, before becoming the Patron. She was still in the role in 2010 when she celebrated her 90th birthday.  

The Trafalgar Centre’s Easter Competition had the reputation of being one of the best run, most friendly competitions in New Zealand and was recognised throughout the dancing fraternity as on a par with the NZ National Championships, attracting talent from all over the country. It was also recognised by DanceSport New Zealand as a qualifying event for NZ National Representation at International DanceSport Federation (IDSF) events around the world. Sadly, the competition began to wane in popularity  and struggled for funds from 2010.The competition, which would have been the 48th such event, was cancelled in 2013.5  

The growth and recognition of the Easter competition had led to attendances of up to 160 couples in some years, capturing the imagination of the Nelson public who were great supporters of the event. Top competitors were joined by international demonstration couples to provide a spectacular show each night. One show couple who captured the hearts of dancers and public alike was Stefano Olivieri and Natalie Lowe (Easter 2009), participants in televisions ‘Dancing with the Stars’.  

Darts at Trafalgar Centre. Nelson Provincial Museum. Geoffrey C. Wood Collection Fr 3024/5. Click to enlarge

The sport of darts dates back to pre-gunpowder days when soldiers would fill in time firing short arrows at a sawn slab of tree trunk. Popularised in English pubs during the Victorian era, soldiers again featured in bringing the game back to New Zealand after World War I. Darts flourished among working men who would stop at the pub on their way home for a few games. Like most towns Nelson has a darts club, which has had many bases and now has its clubrooms at Guppy Park.

The strength of darts in Nelson led to the city hosting the World Darts’ Championships in 1981, which is when the Trafalgar Centre started to play a part in this sport. Supported by the New Zealand Darts Council (NZDC) and the World Dart Federation, the local committee ran a very successful tournament with the world’s top throwers from fifteen nations competing. England out-threw the rest to take home the honours.

In 1984 darts returned to the Trafalgar Centre when NZDC ran the National Championships.  National president Matt Lindsay (Picton) and Secretary Ian Fraser (Nelson) pushed to have this event in Nelson. From 1984-2015 the Trafalgar Centre hosted the National Championships every alternate year, with Matt and Ian continuing to ensure the success of the week-long championships until their retirement, around 400 people to Nelson on each occasion. In 2015 the Trafalgar Centre was closed for earthquake strengthening and from then alternative venues have hosted the event in the South Island.

At the National Championships the Nelson-Marlborough Women's team won the Teams Event in 1984 and 1990. In 1984 Karen Rackley and Lillian Bird won the Ladies Pairs and in 1990 Karen Rackley won the event again, this time with Tai Williams. Other local players who have done well in the Nationals include Pat Mahuika, Girl Manihera and Errol Meares. Camaraderie and a sense of achievement hook people into this game of skill, with its spin-offs of family involvement and speedy maths! Many darting heroes have emerged, but the lasting friendships are what count for gold for Sun City Darts Club members.


Smokefreerockquest is a Nelson success story that began back in 1988 when two school teachers, Pete Rainey and Glenn Common, saw the opportunity to take over a Christchurch radio promotional music contest and make something major from it. Initially the bands played covers, but very early in the evolution of the event (and running parallel with the evolution of music in New Zealand) there was a shift to original music.

Rockquest fans. Photo courtesy Nelson Mail.
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Smokefreerockquest has a constantly building legacy in the body of songs created by bands and individuals who have been motivated by the experience. This is cumulative, as each year more songs become part of our culture, not only from performers recently coming through the competition, such as Midnight Youth and Jesse Sheehan; but also from the large numbers of musicians who have competed over the last two decades and are still creating songs the nation is humming, be it Opshop from 1989-90, Kora from 1991, or Bic Runga from 1992.6

Smokefreerockquest’s other great strength is that it is truly nationwide. Whether you’ve driven into Rotorua in the school van from the tiny and remote school at Ruatahuna, or you’re on stage at the Trafalgar Centre, the event gives you a foretaste of musical success. For kids in small towns around New Zealand Smokefreerockquest is the event of the year, sometimes literally it is the only live ‘under age’ music gig in the whole year.

Since the late 1990s Smokefreerockquest has been proud to call Nelson home, although, with an office opening in Auckland, recent finals have not all been held in Nelson, or at the Trafalgar Centre. Both of the Founder-Directors have whanau in Nelson. Initially this region was considered too small to have its own regional final, but it soon became one of the biggest events of the 24 regional finals held annually. For generations of Nelsonians the mosh pit in front of the stage at the Trafalgar Centre is their first and most lasting experience of rock and roll. For a select few, appearing on stage in front of a audience of their peers is just the beginning of a career that will take them to much bigger venues, but none that will stay in their memories like their home town beginnings at the Trafalgar Centre.

2009 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  2. Nelson City Council. Trafalgar Centre. Retrieved 11 December 2012:
  3. Nelson Giants. Retrieved 11 December 2012:
  4. Neal, T (2011, January 5) The Dance will go on at Trafalgar Centre. Nelson Mail.
  5. Dunn, S. (2013, 23 March) Easter dance contest off. Nelson Mail on Stuff:
  6. History. Smokefreerockquest. Retrieved 2 September 2021:

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Further sources - Trafalgar Centre and its legends



  • Bleasdale, Kate  (2012, May 21) A musical education (smokefreerockquest) New Zealand Education Gazette, 91(9),p.2-4
  • Erb, Wayne (2008, May 19) No smoke but plenty of fire; Quarrying for rock; Doing it for themselves New Zealand Education v.87 n.8
  • McLean, T P  (1991, September 21) Shooting for high goals New Zealand Herald, s.2 p.2 [history of NZ basketball]
  • Manoeuvres at Trafalgar (2009, Sept/Oct) Architecture New Zealand, Sep/Oct 2009, n.5, p.49-50 
  • Matthews, Philip (1998, November 14) Rock of all ages. Listener, 166 (3053), p.38-39 [Rockquest profile]
  • Opinion...  (1971, March 6) Nelson Photo News, 124: p 6
  • Raising the profile for Dancesport (2001, April 5) Nelson Mail, sup. p.8 [Hitchcock, Samantha (ca.1983-, Nelson)]
  • South, Bob  (1994, September) Grandad behind the Giants. New Zealand Sport Monthly, 29:p.48-49
  • Trafalgar Centre: A White Elephant? (1971,March 6) Nelson Photo News, No 124: p.4 
  • Trafalgar Centre a Reality  (1968, September 21) Nelson Photo News, 95: p. 53


  • Melodies, moshpits & mullets [sound recording] : 20 years of Smokefree rockquest (2008)  New Zealand : Smokefree

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