“Where would you go to eat?” I asked the lady standing next to me in the Nelson, New Zealand Post Office, as we packed up a gift to send home to our Son in the UK. Keen to engage a local in conversation, and discover more about this little City, finding out what and where, people who lived here, did and went. She sat down on one of the seats in front of the counter. My husband, daughter and I sat opposite her and at 4.49 on a delightfully sunny autumn New Zealand afternoon, she shared with us a few of the delights.
“For an evening meal, I’d say go to The Boat Shed on Wakefield Quay, overlooking Nelson Harbour. It’s one of the best places you can eat.”
With a delicious all day dining menu offering fried west coast whitebait or shucked Marlborough Tio Point oysters, our taste buds tingled at the thought of eating fresh south island seafood.
We strolled up there later in the day to check the menu out and wonder at the gorgeous location, overlooking the natural Harbour Boulder Bank.
Grabbing the on demand ferry will set you back $25 dollars return but it can drop you off at the start of the Hike point on the edge of the Bank and pick you up near Nelson’s historic lighthouse an hour later (remember to wear sturdy shoes, this is not a place for flip flops).
Haulashore Island, another place the ferry can stop or you can kayak to, is a popular place for bbqs, close to shore and with the unusual New Zealand autumn weather, meant the sun wasn’t setting until gone 8pm and curiously as the end of the afternoon drew towards evening the weather warmed up.
The lady continued. “We have plenty of good wines and vineyards up this end of the South Island. Try a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from just over the hill in the Marlborough Region and if you want to go out for the day, a great place for people to visit who live in Nelson is Rabbit Island, we go there with our family for picnics on the weekend.”
The thought of a picnic with fresh fruit and vegetables picked up from the roadside and the trust that comes from putting a dollar or two in the honesty box, with only you knowing whether you paid or not, connected with me. On previous days I had seen a few with apples in plastic bags, sweating in the sun, which I didn’t fancy, but it was autumn after all and the fruit was plentiful and easy to find.
The next day we decided to visit the destination she had suggested and drove out from Brook Waimarama, Nelson Bird Sanctuary, a few minutes drive from Nelson city and where we were staying – being bitten alive by the sand flies, a first time encounter for us, as our last visit was in the winter. (Rabbit Island could be located around 20km north of the city and closer to the smaller town of Richmond.)
Covered in Pine plantations and set up by Tasman Council, it provided bbqs, dressing sheds and toilets. Finding a variety of seabirds – white heron and royal spoonbill – off its 13km shoreline, along with walking and jogging tracks along its perimeter, we explored the area. The park closed overnight, seemed popular yet not to our taste. We were hoping for a more intimate cover and the long stretch of beach, crashed the water on its windy shore.
Picking up a Post Office label, she began to write down the names of the places she was talking about, for us to keep. I couldn’t help but smile to myself, at the thought and care this attractive grey haired lady was taking with us tourists.
Leaving Nelson, the drive to Cloudy Bay Vineyards takes around an hour an a quarter – that is without stopping time. If in summer or early autumn, leave early take the opportunity for quick dip in the Pelorus River – one of the shoot locations for ‘The Hobbit,’ and only a 5 minute walk from the car park and on Highway 1. In just a few moments you can enter its cool, clear green water and relish in its depth, before sunning yourself on the rocks to dry. Continue on your way, you can discover the beauty of the drive combined with the lure of the wineries. With over 100 to choose from in the Marlborough region alone, you can enjoy a glass of world renowned chardonnay or a bottle of Te Koko, Cloudy Bay’s very own Sauvignon Blanc.
Return from your long day out over the whirling mountainous Queen Charlotte’s Drive from Picton, buy a local ice cream in Picton town, sit on the harbour shoreline amongst the Palm trees and watch the interislander ferries dock a mere 5 minutes walk from where you sit, lastly providing two very different driving environments for the discerning tourist.
Nelson has some nice coffee shops, if you just want to sit and enjoy the sun,” she continued, “and our Saturday morning market is a great place to wander round.”
We had found ourselves earlier in the day, sitting outside a Robert Harris coffee shop, after trying the Japanese Curry, which tasted like stew, served by the street food vendor on the corner Hardy and Trafalgar – RH being a company that has been around in NZ, since 1972 and situated on the main trunk, allowing us to sit outside and people watch, whilst drinking hot chocolate and munching the little orange Jaffa famous in the country.
Nelson market is held on a Saturday morning and encompasses an eclectic blend of all things Kiwi – not the cheapest place to buy a gift but one of the most enjoyable. From hand knitted ponchos to mutton filled burritos, it has a little something to offer everyone and located in the central square – normally a car park – you don’t have to wander out of town to succumb to the smells and good conversations that can be had when talking to the small business owners selling their ware. Just park in the local Library car park for free, and you only need to walk a couple of minutes to reach it.
On she continued. “But the one thing I’d say do, is go to Guyton’s fish and chip shop, it’s the best in the city and down at the waterfront. A great place to sit at the end of the day and eat your dinner.”
Traditional Friday night fish and chips, what a perfect way to end the week we thought – once there queuing up to decide on what fish to try, whether it be red snapper or John Dory or just the locally caught fish of the day, the choice and list was long. Finally the red snapper won and the white flesh of the fish, delicately disappeared with each mouthful of carefully applied tartare sauce.
We both got up to stand back in the queue.
“Who’s next,” the counter assistant called, I stepped forward. “Thanks,” I said, realising the preciousness of someone taking time out of their day, to share with us some of the things they thought was great about where they lived.
“No worries, you all have a great time, ” she turned to the counter and the moment was gone.
Where have you stayed in NZ that you experienced something special?
I’d love to know your thoughts…