A short trip on the Interislander to Nelson for our two year anniversary – yes it’s been that long since the Weston Air Show.
My morning rail commute rolls me past the Interislander ferry at sunrise – the scene is golden and beautiful. Motorhomes full of tourists queue to board the ship for their South Island adventure, while I’m destined for another day of living death. It could only last so long – I booked my escapism months ago to take Kate to the South Island.
We’re light travelers, but it’s amazing how much you ‘need’ when you can take the car. With the Jazz scraping asphalt we rolled down to the Wellington ferry terminal and sat about for an hour waiting for our boarding call. The Cook Strait ferries, while ‘roll-on roll-off’, aren’t anything like those of Scotland; you’ll run your battery flat with the radio trying to stay awake sitting about for periods not unlike those at LA airport. Eventually we got on and I excitedly went about to explore a ferry I hadn’t traveled on before – the Kaiarahi. Unfortunately the excitement I remembered exploring the ferries of my youth wasn’t to be found on this modern vessel – it’s all about the vehicle deck, and the ‘nice bit’ is locked away for the gold members, leaving little more than a glorified, 3.5 hour waiting room. And wait we did. For 3.5 cold, windy, slightly-barfy-after-reading hours.
For those of you overseas, the crossing isn’t actually that boring. It takes a while to clear Wellington harbour, and you pass the nudist beach on the way out so there might be something to ‘pique your interest’. It doesn’t take long to cross the expanse between the southern North Island and the Queen Charlotte Sounds at the top of the South – after which point you cruise past countless small coves, dotted with enviable baches (simple holiday cottages), right on their own little beaches, before arriving in Picton.
For many Picton is just the ‘gateway to the South’ – and quite rightly so, dominated by a ferry terminal and the associated noise of trucking and rail. But it’s actually quite lovely – especially if you were deaf! Disembarking I took Kate into town where we popped down the gardens and ate an amazing quiche Kate had pre-prepared for us. She saved a worm wriggling in the sunshine. We wandered the main street, exploring the craft stores. It’s a small town so I didn’t think it would take long – but it turns out that’s almost all Picton has going on. Every second shop is a craft shop. We were there forever. It’s quite nice actually, such an artisan side – an artist co-op had two old dears beavering away on crafts amongst the community’s offerings. One was knocking some flax together, her purple legs perched before a radiant heater. I mentioned my mum’s weaving endeavours to her. Regrettably she was quite interested, and I found myself at a loss to explain the specifics.
Leaving Picton we headed out along Queen Charlotte Drive. This is a windy wee road which sneaks around the northern edges of the mainland sounds to Havelock. Just outside of Picton there’s a lookout – we pulled in to see a lumber yard. Viewpoints usually encourage the fiction we aren’t ravaging the country, so it was an odd one – but behind it was a predator proof fence. There’s a project going on down there where they’ve fenced off a nubbin of mainland as a native fauna reserve – an unexpected and nice find. Outside the car park three pukeko browsed in the autumn leaves. Kate ventured to photograph them in all the wrong ways, and I watched from afar as she appeared from the bushes metres from them, scared them shitless and returned photo-less.
The drive to Nelson along this route was slow, but the most picturesque of our trip:
Eventually we arrived in Nelson and to our accommodation – the lovely Cushla Cottage. Our host here was absolutely lovely – fresh fruit and a bouquet of flowers, amazing coffee, free wi-fi. A lovely private space with harbour views – a real home for our three nights. We were just in time for this sunset from the lounge:
We were a bit bushed and decided to eat in, ordering pizza from the local ‘gourmet’ takeaway. Unfortunately the ’15 minute’ wait time turned in to 50 – we bought some beers from the local Sprig and Fern (Nelson’s craft beer powerhouse) but still got mindnumbingly bored and pissed off waiting for our 80% grease pizzas. This wasn’t our low-light though – that spot is reserved for terrestrial TV.
We just watch Netflix these days, so when we have a TV it’s quite a novelty. We enjoyed checking out the standard fare, though it quickly turned to despair. If I can get opinionated for a run-on sentence, if you watch terrestrial TV, stop consuming that pure horseshit – there are other ad-less, twat-less on-demand options now, don’t damage your brain with free-to-air shit!
In the morning we had a lovely (free trade thus virtuous) coffee in bed, then headed in to Nelson. We’d spotted an ad for the Sunday craft market and Kate was keen as a bean. Unfortunately, if the market turned up outside Kate’s shop she would have put the whole thing in the skip – rubbish.
After that we toddled over to the Nelson Provincial Museum. Having provincial in the name should have alerted us to the quality. For the cursory cost of $5 we toddled in and enjoyed the heat and set about the offerings. There’s so much more to Nelson than this museum offers – we know this – yet it consistently sold itself short. For example, Ernest Rutherford. This guy was the first to split the atom (nucleus really), he’s on our $100 note – he was the business, Kiwi-kick-arse, and was born and raised in Nelson. And for all that? He gets an A4 page on a corner of a baptism gown display. Pathetic effort. Another example might be hops – Nelson was settled by the English and the Germans, and they quickly set about growing hops – now growing special varieties sought the world over, like Nelson Sauvin and Motueka. Hops get one panel about some guy dying in a hop drier. They do great wine and apparently a lot of timber – I would have liked to see Nelson embrace and celebrate itself, to inspire the next generation of young Nelsonians – but no. They did put a dried orange on display, so there’s that.
Just up the street is the Nelson Cathedral. It was mentioned in our New Zealand Rough Guide so I dragged Kate up the stairs to check it out. If it weren’t in the book we wouldn’t have bothered – from the front it is a hideous ’60s insult to architecture.
Fortunately we wandered along the side, and I could see stained glass panels reminiscent of Britain (albiet hidden behind unfortunately necessary vandal-proofing wire mesh). We toddled in and it featured that special silence I reserve for British houses of worship – the oppressive hand of the old church. When we visit churches I always give Kate a moment, but Nelson Cathedral didn’t speak to her. While grand by New Zealand standards, it’s a less-impressive reproduction of a multitude in Britain, and the grey stone gave it a real unwelcoming, cold and depressing air. That said, for all its faults, the stained glass was top notch and the rose window was magic. I see the potential of humanity in these buildings, and while I don’t believe in the almighty, I believe in the potential of people and what we can do when we rally around a common goal, and grand churches are a fine example of this. In a corner they have the original architects’ plans for the cathedral, sadly cut short – a forever reminder of our societies’ changing priorities. I’d be too bummed to leave those on the wall if I were the parishioner, but it’s interesting from a historic perspective. Though an oppressive building, the people were welcoming and certainly worth a pop in.
We wandered east to the Queens park – a small botanic garden situated a few blocks from central Nelson. It was formerly a swamp. The ducks were well-chuffed to see people yet not reliant, and we enjoyed watching them do their thing.
After visiting Queens Park we returned home and hung out – Kate beat me at Scrabble, which is unsurprising.
In the evening we headed back to Trafalgar Street for dinner. On our way from the car we passed one homeless lady belting out ballads in the 2 degree weather. On the next block, an elderly homeless chap had a nicely set up sleeping quarters outside the bookshop, cooking dinner on a street-side chair. Not begging, just hanging out there, under the shop balcony. I was surprised to see homelessness in the provinces, I naively thought it was just the big cities who couldn’t take care of their populations.
We went to the Cod and Lobster for dinner, at the foot of the famous stairs beneath the Cathedral. Arriving without a reservation, they plonked us in the bar area. Initially I thought this due to my unkempt beard (a new neuroses of mine, borne of my new messy look) but after they plonked a tidy old woman in the bar I got over it. I ordered a basic Waimea plains Chardonnay – Kate a swish Cocktail. Involving smoked wood in an iced decanter, being in front of the bar we got to enjoy the whole rigmarole of building the drink. So it was with a mixture of enjoyment and frustration that after ten minutes we saw the bar staff pass the drink to the waiter, and the waiter promptly take a swig!
A ten minute reproduction later, Kate had the smoked Manhattan in her hot little hand where it was enjoyed all night. We had amazing Tuna steaks (eat them while you can!) and extremely sweet desserts before heading home past the same homeless folk who’d been sitting outside the whole time. I felt quite bad, having had such a spendy evening in throwing distance of these folks’ less-than-ideal circumstances. More often these days my enjoyment from the meager amounts we spend on ourselves is corrupted by our societies’ failures, but I don’t think private funding should window-dress government failings – can’t we just pay more tax and care a little bit? I’d vote for the party! But I digress.
In the morning I convinced Kate to come with me on a short trip to the geographic centre of New Zealand. It turns out it’s on a little knoll a leisurely 20-minute stroll above the Nelson botanic garden, and has a great view of Nelson and the surrounds. It’s such a great spot for a centre I am sure it’s a crock of bollocks but hey – a nice wee walk. I pinched a couple of Kowhai tree seeds from the side of the track – hopefully they’ll grow and be nice wee reminders of our trip.
We piled back in the Jazz and drove north west to Mapua, a small village across the bay from Nelson. I got lost in following the sat-nav and drove right past it – we eventually arrived at a neat semi-freecamping spot right on the beach. A bunch of tired motorhomes, caravans and buses were arranged along the coast – what a spot to squat! We pottered on the beach a bit then headed back to Mapua.
As we drove in, construction of car parking was in earnest; it’s quite the summer holiday hotspot, however with winter upon us people were few and far between. Mapua hosts a whole bunch of artists and crafty neat stuff in its old dockyard buildings – and the Smokehouse, who threw together fish and chips for us. We sat out by the wharf and ate under the watchful eyes of seagulls more used to summer tourism level scavenging.
Happily fed, on our way home we stopped off at the Höglund Art Glass Gallery. These guys are world-renowned for their skill creating glass artwork, and their showroom kindly doubles as a gallery for those of us who aren’t prepared to fork out the hundreds on these elegant ornaments. I was strictly hands-in-pockets reading price-tags ranging from 300-3000 – and worried Kate’d do her thing and we’d end up buying some expensive shards. In the other room they have a great video of them doing glass blowing – man it’s neat. They do live demos in summer, so if you are dropping by, drop by then.
The Waimea plains are just south of Nelson and are a ripe grape growing location. We dropped in to the Waimea Estate winery to taste some, and coming in winter was a blessing; we had our host to ourselves. We had a grand chat and sampled most of their offerings – all quite lovely it must be said! Great mouthfeel. Mouth feel. We took three home.
We didn’t fancy going out for dinner again, instead ordering a takeaway from Thai Tahuna. They had our food as soon as we arrived (the local takeout could learn a thing or two) – when we commended their speed the girl replied ‘we try to beat McDonalds and Burger King’. The food was divine, some of the best Thai we’ve had. They do dine-in too – well recommended. We popped a bottle of plonk and watched some shit movie.
That’s it really. We had a leisurely morning, tidied up and drove back to Picton for the trip home, with an average roast lunch at the pub. We were left feeling we’d made a bit of a mistake here – while we had four days ‘off’, two of them were pure travel. If we are going to stick with the car for short escapes, we won’t be heading south again! It’s fly or be there for ages. It’s a lovely region down there though and we can’t wait to explore it further – bring on the next van!