Weekend adventures: Nelson, South Island

We first came to NZ 5 years ago, spending the whole of Dec 2013 backpacking our way around. We flew into Christchurch and worked our way down and around the South Island, including a super sunny less-than 24 hours in Nelson with our friend Jo’s parents.

Rob met Jo when he was in Oxford and while I tend to naturally gravitate towards Kiwis and try and make them be my friend … when I found out she grew up 15 mins from me before her parents emigrated, I knew we were going to get on!

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We stayed with Jo and her flatmates in Wellington on that trip, but before we got there she put us in touch with her lovely ma and pa. They ran a jet boat company (if there’s a cooler job title I don’t wanna hear it) at Buller Gorge, about an hour out of Nelson, so that’s where we met them. Half an hour later we were screaming down said gorge, inches from the rocky canyon walls, the engine roaring in our ears and the spray splashing our faces (and sandflies nibbling our ankles, but the less said about them the better). It. Was. Awesome. 

We followed Julian, Jo’s dad, back to Nelson, where he made us curry and cups of tea and we got to sit on a sofa for the first time in about two months. Just when we thought it was time to hit the hay, Julian bundled us back in the car with the dog and we went for a walk on the most incredible beach at sunset. Julie (Jo’s mum) gave me some crazy aromatherapy smelly stuff to put on the aforementioned sandfly bites and they waved us off the next day, saying they’d see us in Welly with Jo.

Flash forward 5 years. It’s early on Friday evening and Rob and I are sneaking through Julie and Julian’s kitchen, having followed their instructions to let ourselves in through the French doors super quietly, so we don’t wake their granddaughter. There was definitely a 5 minute period when we thought we were in the wrong house. But then Julie came downstairs and gave us both a hug and we felt a lot less like cat burglars. Phew!

It was a bank holiday weekend and we’d only seen a snapshot of Nelson last time, so we were excited to head back. The flight took a grand total of 36 minutes. 21 on the way back!!

Nelson is such a pretty city. The only bit I remembered from last time was the big church at the top of the main street (and J’s kitchen… dream house alert). We happily killed time sat out on the pavement with some bank loliday burgers and beers. Well, for Rob, not me, I am off the booze til after the half… it was a struggle in that sunshine, I can tell you! But the burger was the best of the trip so far!

We certainly burnt them off the next day. As you may know from our Napier weekend, we love a bike ride, so on Saturday we took on the Taste Trail. So-called because you’re meant to stop off at breweries/wineries etc en route, but we focused on edibles instead!

First stop, the farmers market for early-morning coffee in the sunshine, lots of free samples, two smoothies and one croissant. All excellent.

12k later, another coffee stop (I appear to be replacing booze with caffeine; not sure if that’s any less bad for me!) at a pub called… The Honest Lawyer! Sadly, there was no magnificent, mysterious, Jamaica Inn-style back story… they just thought it was a good gimmick. Guys, just make something up!

Next stop, lunch. This is making it sound like all we did was eat! Which is only … actually yeah, that’s pretty fair. We shared an epic ploughmans in the gorgeous cottage garden at Grape Escape, then hopped back on the bikes.

The cycling required a lot more concentration than Napier (though Napier got easier the more wine we had…). It was quite gravelly and I was nervous about coming off and falling down a hill and scuppering the half marathon. But I did just about manage to take in the amazing scenery! Where else in the world can you be cycling through a pine forest with a sweeping sand of beach on one side and snow-capped mountains on the other?

We cycled as far as the ferry to Mapua, just under 40km in total, and rewarded ourselves with boysenberry ice cream (me) and Mapua’s own Golden Bear beer (Rob).

This was meant to be a chilled weekend but my knees were really hurting by the end of the ride!! Bit worried we’d overdone it… We’d planned to go to a museum on Sunday but the weather was so LUSH we wanted to stay outdoors. We had brunch of dreeeeams sat outside (in OCTOBER, yesssss): pancakes with rhubarb compote, coconut yog and grilled banana. Yes. Please. The waiter was from Anglesey! We resisted the urge to ask him, “OMG do you know our friend Josh!?!?”… #dontbeatourist.

Fully fuelled, we walked up the hill to the Centre of New Zealand. It’s a geographical survey point with amaaaazing views. It was short but pretty steep and, again, we thought we’d overdone it… We chilled out for a while at the top as my knees were not having it!

We wanted to go back to Tahunanui, the amazing beach we’d been to the first time, but it was about an hour’s walk soooooo we lay in the sun in the park instead. Sounds relaxing, and it was… apart from a brief interlude where we were chased by a rather aggressive duck. Not even joking. It was scarier than it sounds.

We had dinner at a delish veggie place called East St – so good I didn’t even take a picture! And that’s saying something!!

If you are looking for a weekend escape in NZ, Nelson really does have everything – and you will not go hungry! But the best part was seeing the wonderful Wisemans again. It’s funny where life takes you, isn’t it? We’ve talked about that day in Nelson so much since we got back – the beach, their house, Julian’s awesome lizard tattoo on his foot (inspired, me?…). Being back in that kitchen 5 years on, thinking about everything that had happened in between, was a really special feeling.

5 years both is and isn’t a long time. We don’t think we’ll ever be back in New Zealand after this trip – but it goes to show, you never really know. Wonder where we’ll be in another 5?…

Slang of the day: It was pretty fun trading slang with Julie and Abi, Jo’s sister… “dooner” (no idea how to spell it) is a duvet, and “mean” or “mean as” is a way of saying really good! They enjoyed “be there now” and “now in a minute”… #welshisms!

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