Eight Night’s of Southern Hospitality

Picton, gateway to the South Island, opens its arms like a loving parent to a child returned from a trip away. Since our arrival in New Zealand, in the mid 1990s, we have always had a part of our hearts in the South Island. It offers such a wild expanse of escapism mixed with open, hospitable and friendly locals. The terrain can be challenging, but this adds to the magic of feeling a part of nature, vulnerable yet so very alive in the simplest form.

Tourism drives so much of the South Island, mixed with forestry and farming. Expats increasingly populate the island, mixed with older generations with gripping stories of survival and having to ‘make do’. Ingenuity and creativity are well-bred in this young, geological landscape that is still rapidly changing and growing.

Our own experiences in this landscape have been of sampling the natural beauty and enjoying the wonderful hospitality of welcoming restaurants and cafes. In Nelson there is so much space that cafes open up to grounds of creative genius with hedge mazes (Stoneridge Cafe, Richmond) to get lost in and fairy-like delights of the ‘Jester House Cafe‘ in Tasman.

Even the Indian Cafe in Nelson is accommodated within a yellow-painted villa, complete with fairy lights twinkling in the surrounding trees, set against distant red sunsets over the Nelson ranges. Clean-cut lines and flash modern interiors just don’t cut it. Soul and heart are strongly intertwined in the most successful ventures in this land.

On the night of my Birthday we enjoyed a very pleasant dining experience in the English styled ‘Honest Lawyer‘, which is crammed to the rafters with English antiques from various kitchens, stables and lounge rooms! There’s even a real oak tree trunk propping up one corner of the bar (Sophie was quick to ask, ‘Are we allowed to climb in it?’). It is set in the most beautiful grounds, positioned to enjoy the evening sunshine and bath in the colours of sunset. It was a particularly special place for me to celebrate my Birthday, as I’d been in that same pub with my dear Mum and Dad nearly six year’s ago, when Charli was only six week’s old! So I felt particularly close to them as I sipped my G&T and reflected on the rich tapestry of life!

Aye, it twas a very special Birthday indeed (and I was very touched with Charli’s gift – a hand-made necklace from the awesome Bead Gallery in Nelson!). Dan bless him spent a few well earned dollars on more than one visit to the Bead Gallery (and his reaction to me just telling him, ‘There’s an on-line shop for the Bead Gallery!’ was ‘Oh my God!’).

We certainly ate well on holiday. Sophie, who absolutely loves her food, couldn’t thank Dan enough with frequent statements of, ‘Thank you so much Daddy for bringing me here! I would like you to bring me here every night.’ Since we’ve returned from holiday she’s still talking about the restaurants and cafes we visited and I can only think, ‘Poor girl, her Mum’s cooking just ain’t up to much!’ She particularly enjoyed the Indian and has incredibly developed tastes and a will to try anything (much the way she experiences everything in life!).

We had the great pleasure of visiting two aquariums on our holiday. The first was in the absolutely breathtaking location and relaxing ambiance of Mapua. The ‘Touch the Sea‘ Aquarium at Mapua Wharf is small, but delightful, with a huge wealth of educational material. Meanwhile, the neighbouring cafes sell the most scrumptious fish and chips! The second, was ‘Eco World‘ Aquarium & Terrarium in Picton, where feeding time and an extremely knowledgeable host with a gift for talking to children made it all the better. Sophie and Charli spent the whole time with their hands in the air asking questions (the poor lady didn’t know whether to laugh or sigh with exasperation!). Sophie bravely handled everything in the touch pool, including Kina, spiny starfish and sea cucumbers (the latter of which Charli politely declined with a ‘No thank you’ – after hearing how when it feels threatened it squirts out its entire digestive contents!).

For children (and us big kids!) there is an array of activities – with or without a price. Simple is frequently best. We ambled away hours on the seemingly never-ending beach of Tahunanui, drawing in the sand, playing drums with drift woods sticks on a washed up tree trunk (Sophie’s favourite), headstands (c’est moi!), yoga (guided by Sophie), frisbee and plenty of digging and creating (including a Daddy and Charli Moa pit special!). Nearby the playground, mini-golf, ‘sack slide’ and bumper boats provided us with a few thrills! Charli invented some mind boggling games with the frisbee that involved drawing elaborate patterns in a circle, up to ten, depending on how the frisbee landing – we were stumped – but she clearly knew what was in her head! Definitely a work of science fiction mastery!

Inland, the rich countryside is a rural delight. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to Nelson Lakes National Park on this occasion, but we did enjoy a thrilling morning at Happy Valley Adventures, Cable Bay. We quad biked through the lush bush and admired 2,000 year old Matai trees, differing in form – females sleek and splendid in their grandeur, male trees with their veins proudly bursting on the outside on the trunk, nobly and masculine in their powerful might. The girls waited whilst Dan and I got a feel for the bikes with a few practice runs (Dan – a natural – me – a few kangaroo jumps!). Our wonderful guide took Sophie, whilst Dan took Charli… I didn’t feel confident enough to have a child and a bike to handle at the same time! Charli, like me, was a little nervous to start with, but quickly found her confidence (as did I!) and I could hear delighted shouts of glee from behind me, whilst Sophie sang away to the guide and frequently let off high pitched squeals of excitement in front of me. Near the end we parked up so that Dan and I could let rip (well, Dan did – I kind of hummed along trying not to run over any sheep!).

We took an exciting walk through the Ngarua Caves on my Birthday (with the girls singing Happy Birthday in the wonderful acoustics of ‘The Catherdral’). The caves were discovered in the 1870s by bushmen clearing the hillside of scrub, after a bushfire had destroyed the surrounding bush. The early settlers visited the cave by horse coach. As visitors destroyed and removed stalactites and wrote their names on the formations, the cave was locked up for several years, officially opening in 1970. In the cave several remains of the now extinct Moa birds of New Zealand have been found. A complete skeleton of a Moa is on display.

This area of Takaka Hill is also called Marble Mountain. The rock is marble, which is metamorphic limestone, altered by heat and pressure. The chemistry is still the same: CaCO3. But the limestone recrystallised which changed its grain and colour. The rock is about 450 Million years old. The marble was quarried near Ngarua Cave and used to build several buildings in New Zealand: Parliament Buldings, the Beehive in Wellington and the Nelson Cathedral.

The drive over the winding Takaka Hill ambles down to Golden Bay and the exquisite Abel Tasman National Park. Lush, green vegetation sweeps down to golden sands and the crystal waters of the marine reserve. Home to dolphins, seals and rich in blue cod and muscles. We took a water taxi out from Kaiteriteri (an easier option than doing the long drive over the hill). Kaiteriteri Beach itself is rich with golden sands and a beautiful spot to easily while away a day. There is a fabulous play-ground for children and cafe overlooking the stunning scenery. Dan and I reminisced on our wonderful three-day kayak and camping adventure in the late 1990s.

Our evenings on holiday were so relaxing and we were ready for bed early after all the fresh air. The views from our holiday home were absolutely breathtaking. The weather was fabulous and the sunsets magical.

Friday afternoon we had the most relaxed time at Founders Heritage Park, where a ‘Farmers Market‘ is held every Friday. The girls played with the other children, whilst we tasted the organic beers brewed on site and chilled out. I couldn’t think of a more relaxing way to do the grocery shopping on a weekly basis!

Our last day was spent taking an autumnal walk along the Maitai River and enjoying the wonderful Nelson market – so many wonderful arts, crafts and edible delights.

Driving back to Picton on Sunday we were all full of talk of our amazing week’s holiday. Dan and I couldn’t resist looking through the property press and considering a change of lifestyle, with Dan working from home a couple of day’s a week and commuting between Wellington and Nelson via plane. Wellington’s a great city though, when it isn’t windy! Unfortunately the weather on our return was not very welcoming and post holiday blues have sunk in quickly! We’ll soon be back to our regular routines and life here, but the holiday memories will long linger on. Charli was so excited to be returning to school on Monday. She is making some wonderful friends (mostly boys – as they are into Star Wars!).

The South Island is just so breathtaking with the most incredible array of outdoor pursuits. We really did have the best time and the girls were exceptional for us throughout. So much laughter and good times. And seeing dolphins as we left the Marlborough Sounds, just at the same time as Charli had drawn a picture of one, was a real send off!