Nelson is NOT a big city (population 56,000, not counting the seagulls) and has no famous attractions, but it’s a popular tourist destination. Why is that, you ask? Besides having New Zealand’s sunniest climate, it is within a few hours drive of some great outdoor attractions – the Golden Bay region and three national parks: Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi. Not to mention a nearby cluster of excellent wineries and the studios of contemporary artists. Sounds good to us!
The way to Nelson from Picton takes us through the harbor city of Havelock, the world capital for farming NZ’s green-lipped mussels. I love mussels, and had my first bucket of them at the Bay of Islands (blog of Sept 29). A bucket of mussels ended up being like only 12 of them – they’re huge, and tough, and I haven’t ordered them since. A crushing disappointment! But here we are in the epicenter of musseldom, so I am going to try again. Ginger demurs. Havelock is smaller than tiny, and the restaurant choice is pretty obvious (picture), so off we go.
The mussels come, and as you can see, they are not your Prince Edward little guys. They’re big, ugly brutes. Mind, when they’re small they’re kinda cute; but when they’re big you’re staring at body parts that do not look particularly appetizing. I try them, hopefully, and yep. They’re tough. Not all parts, mind you, but in that mix some serious chewing is required, and I confess it takes away from the pleasure. I eat this bucket, but the thrill is gone. Luckily there are other fish in the sea. Speaking of that, scallops in NZ are also different. They’re not much bigger than bay scallops in size and come not only with the white disk of muscle meat we’re all familiar with, but also with an attached red-colored gland that contains the eggs and is about the same size as the muscle. That new part has a totally different texture and taste, but nevertheless the package is tasty.
Nelson, like most small cities in NZ, is a sleepy town; all stores close at 5 or 6, supermarkets close at 9, streets are largely deserted in the evenings. The bar scene is more lively, and Friday and Saturday the music plays quite loudly until midnight, when it stops abruptly. Sunday mornings it’s a ghost town (see picture). The town itself gives me the feeling that I’m in a Western movie; surely I’ll find horses hitched out front and the bars will have swinging doors. That’s not the case, but that’s the feeling.
The city does have an interesting cathedral (Christ Church), perched high on a hill. Gothic in nature, it has good acoustics (I stumbled onto a choral rehersal!) and some beautiful stained glass.
The Nelson Saturday market is impressive, both for its food and for its art. Below is a small sampling. Look at that metal fish! Made of washers and nails. And those turned bowls and huge burls! Beautiful.
Nelson has a great beach that goes on forever, and the water is shallow for quite a ways out with occasional sand bars. Notice the very attractive turquoise hue to the water! It is stunning. As you might imagine, there are great seafood restaurants on the waterfront. Shown is Ginger enjoying lunch, wine and a good view at a wharf restaurant in a nearby suburb. Just below the restaurant, a local is enjoying lunch as well – a white-faced heron.
There are a lot of shallow inlets to the bay, and when the tide is out, the water is out of sight. We haven’t explored this intriguing effect; eg, walking and wading a mile or more out could be very interesting for shell-hunting and the like. We could probably walk beyond sight of mainland; but what happens when the tide starts coming in? How fast can you wade? We have a lot to learn about the sea and tides before we get too adventurous.
Early on I mentioned the wineries. There are about 25 wineries here, many with excellent reputations. The ones we tried in the restaurants were yummy. Definitely time for some more winery tours! Study, study, study.
I also mentioned a strong artist community in Nelson. There is a big ceramics group here – our main interest – but glass blowing is also a strength. Let me show you some amazing vases from Hoglund Art Glass. As in, Wow!
I will close Nelson with a quick note of its small but beautiful gardens containing – like most cities in NZ – roses and flowering bushes and water and streams and – as shown here – very interesting trees.
Next: On to Golden Bay and Abel Tasman National Park.