From tickling your toes in the golden powdery sands of Kateriteri to sizing up sublime art at Suter Gallery, abundance radiates across the Nelson-Tasman region. The Pigeon Valley fire of recent weeks, New Zealand’s worst forest fire in six decades, thrust the region front and centre on the news agenda. I happened to be in the region at the height of the fire and despite the pervasive sense of fear rippling through the community, the outpouring of generosity and goodwill was as golden as the blazing sun.
A year ago, it was ex-Cyclone Gita that barrelled into town. In a sure-fire sign of how adept Nelsonians are at bouncing back, it was particularly heartening to see the magnificent Boatshed Café back in business and bustling, after being smashed apart by the storm. For history buffs, there’s a smorgasbord of choice in these parts. After all, Nelson is the South Island’s oldest city – and second oldest in New Zealand.
Climb the steps at the top of Trafalgar Street to marvel over Christchurch Church Cathedral, a towering showcase of Takaka marble. As the self-described craft brewing capital of New Zealand, a surfeit of choice awaits, however, the Moutere Inn is just the spot to raise your glass, it’s the country’s oldest pub, as old as the Treaty of Waitangi. The booming hops industry can be traced back to those early German settlers who brought hops plants with them, to the well-suited climate of Nelson, 170 years ago. The region abounds with specialty food producers fiercely competing for the attention of your taste buds. Moutere Fruits does a very fine line of jams and chutneys, from chilli jam to cherry and cinnamon conserve.
Over the long summer months, their hydroponically grown strawberries are fawned over – in a region that is certainly no stranger to hydroponics! A Tahunanui powerhouse since the 1980s, Sujon is the superfruit company of Sue and John. They produce all manner of fruity concoctions from smoothie mixes and snap frozen berries to berry powder supplements. In a similar vein, another savvy family business is Little Beauties. They make dried feijoa, kiwifruit and boysenberries, which also come paired with white or dark chocolate. Tasty goodness.
Macadamias may well be my favourite nut, and Karapuke’s spray-free macadamia trees thrive in the Nelson climate. Insatiably moreish, Karapuke Macadamias can be bought in bulk or in snack-packs. But the nut that packs the biggest punch in the region is undoubtedly Pic’s Peanut Butter, a runaway export success story. Their all new Pics World of Peanut Butter tour opens this month, and kids go gaga over their factory tour which includes the chance to make your own peanut butter. Pic’s also does a very fine job with almond butter and cashew butter, but nothing excites my nostrils quite like the whiff of freshly roasted peanuts.
One of my most indelible childhood memories is walking into Farmers Department Store, and the aroma of freshly roasted peanuts swept you up. It was intoxicating and probably a shrewd ploy to try and impel shoppers to linger longer. In a region famed for its bucketload of sunshine, it stands to reason that the artisanal prowess of the food producers have turned their hands to icecream. Best in Show? Appleby Farms, for the complete paddock to cone experience. They own the paddocks, grow the grass, nurture their herd of A2 cows and churn their milk into face-melting icecream. Routinely decorated with awards, you’ll find their products in supermarkets or at Hamish’s on Mapua Wharf.
Home to one of the nation’s burgeoning creative art communities, the spectacular natural environment clearly helps crank up the expressive energy. Short on time to do justice to all of them, I made a point of popping in to the Hoglund Glassblowing Gallery. Situated in Appleby, glass artists Ola and Marie Hoglund have been welcoming the world to their studio and gallery since 1982. Swedish heritage meets Pacific flair in the creation of their globally recognised artworks. Their bold but balanced use of colours and sophisticated designs have led their art glass being exhibited all over the world. Whether you’re looking for a keep-safe souvenir or a more lavish art work, the expansive collection of pieces in the gallery, spans all budgets.
While you’re in the neighbourhood, Seifried Estate, the South Island’s oldest family winery, is just a stone’s throw away. Harvested from sustainably accredited vineyards scattered across the region, Seifried Estate is home to the globally recognised Sweet Agnes late harvest Riesling.
Finally, you must not miss a visit to Jens Hansen. The Nelson jeweller has been crafting distinctive hand-forged pieces for nearly 60 years, but their greatest claim to fame is being hand-picked by Sir Peter Jackson to create The Movie Ring, as worn by Frodo. Born in Denmark, Jens (pronounced Yens) move to New Zealand in the early 1950s, passing away in 1999. On a visit to the Nelson studio workshop you’ll learn all about the making of the Movie Ring, plus you can even buy an officially licensed replica! His legacy lives on in the hands of the workshop’s jewellers and the Jens Hansen style.
Situated at the base of the Richmond Ranges, the Tasman District’s fastest growing town, Richmond, is an ideal launch-pad from which to explore the region’s marvels. Oxford Court Motel was my roost, a superbly equipped and sharply priced accommodation option, with swimming pool, playground, laundry – and it’s pet-friendly. It’s also firefighter-friendly, as many of the gallant volunteer firefighters who tackled the Pigeon Valley Fire would arrive back to the motel after pulling a 12-hour shift, looking physically shattered but grateful for a comfortable crash-pad. Motel units are well-appointed, with full kitchen facilities and Sky TV. I booked my accommodation through Booking.com who boast hundreds of options across Nelson-Tasman, plus an excellent filter highlighting where your four-legged travelling companions are welcome. Booking.com offers a diverse array of options from hotels and apartments to holiday homes and campsites. Whether you’re on the website or via the app, Booking.com is super easy to use with incredible deals and total flexibility, whether you need to amend or cancel your bookings. www.booking.com