Article by Anna Leary. Invited by the Nelson Mail to share a day of a Nelson experience with visitors to the region.
I love the word "synergy". It is essentially about components creating something greater than their individual parts. In its simplest form it is 2 + 2 = 5. Great concept.
In my experience, the potential synergy between three of my great loves -- art, wine and food -- is pretty much guaranteed in terms of an end-user experience. Integrate these with a day roving the Nelson region and I'll guarantee you will make a memory.
Creative people love concepts, so rather than a random day wandering, I'd suggest a mission of travelling the region experiencing great art, cuisine, wine and environs, while gathering goodies for a picnic at the end of the day -- gourmet hunting and gathering.
The central city might seem an unusual place to start, but getting hold of a new edition of the Nelson Art Guide is essential, as is an early morning espresso from Crema at the Church Steps. Local bookstore Page and Blackmore stocks the art guide. So does the i-Site at Millers Acre and the WOW museum in Annesbrook.
While enjoying your brew, I suggest you flick through the guide and select artists of interest. Some have set open hours and some by appointment, so it is good to suss this sooner than later. I've included some creative visits to suit this itinerary. There are some excellent galleries such as the Suter and Reflections at WOW that allow you to see a cross-section of artists' work if time is tight, but being able to meet the artists who create the work is something that makes Nelson that extra bit special.
If it happens to be Saturday, the market is a great place to start. Kakariki olive oil and some Kerstiens chocolates are well worth picking up.
The WOW Museum is a must-do in my mind. Even if you've had the good fortune to have been to a show, the museum experience offers a couple of bonuses: first, the chance to see the detail in the garments which is often impressive in terms of intricacy and the time taken to craft them; and also the classic car collection, which I have to say was a surprise to me when I first visited. The cars are themselves works of art and can take you from era to era -- I'd like to meet a person who doesn't have some memories evoked. It was the classics that inspired me to track down a 1968 V8 Daimler from my childhood that is now at the WOW workshop patiently waiting for some TLC.
Toss Woollaston apparently said: "You paint the way you paint." He certainly had the courage to do things his way and his legacy lives on. There is a good chance you will get to see some of his work at Woollaston Estates in Mahana as well as a collection of sculptures including Marte Szirmay's massive Yantra for Mahana at the entrance. Down in the cellar there is a half-dome sculpture by Neil Dawson suspended over a table and lit so theatrically you almost expect the Knights of the Round Table to show up. Woollaston makes, in my opinion, the best rose in the region, so I recommend you do some tasting and grab a bottle for the picnic.
From here, there is a back road that connects with the inland highway taking you to Upper Moutere. The quaintly restored Old Post Office in Upper Moutere Village is a great source of good things local, including Moutere Gold chutneys, "Proper Hand Cooked Crisps", a good selection of olive oils and Golden Bay feta. They have tastings to encourage you to be a bit more adventurous.
Across the road, take a historic home surrounded by rambling gardens, add a gallery, two talented potters, and a moa and you have the studio of Katie Gold and Owen Bartlett. Just call in.
The nearby Moutere Inn is a real local. Last time, I was no sooner in the door than someone was asking me to play pool. The great thing about it is that you get a snapshot of local wines and beers in an authentic country setting. I like the Manuka infused Captain Cooker which is brewed by Golden Bay's Mussel Inn -- inspired by the resourceful Captain Cook who used manuka tips in the absence of hops. On the wine front, Orinoco Wines are made a stone's throw away by the talented Christian Le Gros. The pub also serves wine by the glass from Blackenbrook Vineyard and Seifried Estate Winery, to name a couple well worth trying.
Or, if high tea is more your thing, Monterey House in the Orinoco Valley provides a touch of contemporised old-world charm -- rambling roses, lavender lemonade and tiered treats. In a country estate-like setting, the food is excellent, wine list crafted, service polished and it is perhaps one of the region's best-kept secrets. In a word, it's romantic and one of my favourite places to escape to. You won't have time to do both on this itinerary, but there is always another day.
Neudorf Vineyards is a special spot to visit, picnic, attend concerts and taste wine. It has staff who are both accessible and informed about the wines, whatever your level of understanding. It'd be hard to find a Neudorf wine not to recommend, but for me its pinot noir is outstanding (judges seem to think so too). Tom's Block is $29 or the Moutere Pinot $49 and I suggest you take the advice of the father of a good friend of mine "When you are having fun, don't look at the right side of the ledger."
Neudorf also has a great selection of bits and pieces perfect for picnics. You get the sense that most of the things stocked are either sourced from friends or are essentially recommendations; they are quality.
Neudorf cheeses are good, especially the Richmond Red. For something a little unexpected, Te Mata Pania ash-rubbed brie is great with the ginger oatcakes. I love the combination of red wine and chocolate the Rosie Glow dark rum and raisin is good with pinot; the panforte would also be a good choice. Quite possibly the best tasting strawberries in the region come from a stall just down the road from Neudorf and $5 for a big punnet is a bargain.
Next stop is Motueka-based Tasman Helicopters, to fly to Awaroa Lodge for lunch. Now, if this seems a little grand for a day in the region, trust me. It is a really special experience, the perfect way of experiencing the Abel Tasman with limited time and, in my opinion, good value for money at $200 per person including hosting, return flights and lunch at Awaroa Lodge. The trip itself is spectacular with 360 degree views over Tasman Bay around to Mt Arthur, and you get to see Abel Tasman National Park in an entirely new way; the azure of the water meeting the golden arcs of the beaches and native forest reminds me of just how much a part of the Pacific we are.
The trip can take between two and four hours depending on the time you have available and there is also the opportunity to explore the park by either heading to the beach or going for a bush walk along part of the Abel Tasman track. Pilot Andrew has an extensive knowledge of the region and is one of the most welcoming people I know.
Awaroa Lodge has evolved over the years from a collective cooperative with a vision, to a luxury eco-lodge. While the latest additions designed by Ian Athfield (who has a hobbit-like bach down the beach) are in a more contemporary vein, there are still subtle aspects of the lodge that pay homage to the original vision. One of my great memories is sitting around the fire there drinking Irish coffee after a day on the Heaphy.
Once back at base, drive through to Mapua and if time allows, stop at the Sealevel sculpture studio in Tasman, and the Coolstore Gallery on Mapua Wharf which has a good selection of painting, sculpture and jewellery. Look out for the work of Dean Raybould and Tracy Duncan who are both on my wish list.
On the wharf, go to The Smokehouse deli for salmon pate, smoked fish, and ask for a half-baked bread to be baked for you. This takes about 10 minutes, which leaves you time for a quick beverage at the recently opened Good Bear, or a real-fruit ice-cream from Hamish's named after an Okarito white heron that visits Nelson from time to time.
So, you should be sorted for an end of the day picnic. There are lots of great spots in the region, but Rabbit Island is a pretty good choice given it's a long stretch of largely uninhabited beach, and if there is a sea breeze there is always some sheltered spot in the recreation areas.
A couple of things to note: it doesn't have the most glamorous entry (pine trees), but that's something that locals have got used to and it has its own charm.
On the weekends it represents something of a twilight zone with groups gathered playing games out on the reserves you could be a world away.
There is this magical light as the sun drops in the sky before the end of the day, where everything seems to glow as if sprinkled with fairy dust and things just seem a little better. I've dubbed it McCahon light. Colin McCahon talked a lot about Nelson light having special qualities and I've taken the liberty to give that particular time of the day that honour.
Like a lot of artists, his time spent here inspired and influenced his work. It'd be hard not to be inspired by a region that offers such richness and complexity of experience with such simple ingredients. Enjoy.