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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 3

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

At about lunchtime we drive inland, up the Buller Valley and alongside the Buller River. Towns are very infrequent and when “Berlin’s Café and Restaurant” comes into view, we stop for coffee and scones.

Inside the café, there’s a display and historical records of local earthquakes! I’m disturbed to learn that we are at the “earthquake centre of NZ”!!! There has been a “serious” or “severe” earthquake every 5 years or so since 1905, and some have been so bad that the river has been dammed and the road blocked by rock-falls for weeks.

A couple of English cyclists stop for a break while we’re eating our date scones and coffee. They’re riding a tandem and making their way to Christchurch, 175 miles away. They tell us that they’ve just been driven off the road by a sheep lorry – massive trucks with trailers, and sheep three storeys high. They’d managed to stay upright, but the guy is very annoyed and eventually gathers up such a head of steam that he telephones the police and makes a report.

Replenished, we head off and are soon pulling into the outskirts of Nelson – the third biggest city on the South Island (after Dunedin and Christchurch).

Nelson is made up of several districts and has subsumed some originally separate towns like Richmond, Tahanuhui and Stoke. Tahanuhui is the beach area and a quick look around on our way to the motel gives us the resolve to spend a day there – the beach is extensive and very accessible.

Our motel is the Milton Chalet - about 1-mile from the city centre, and set in a quiet, residential area; the proprietor advises us that a restaurant and a fish and chip shop are just along the road – great. Since we are here for 4 nights/3 days, we do a major un-pack of the car and all our clothes. Bit of a mistake this; before we can head off to town, we have to do a wash and peg it out to dry!

We tramp the main streets and Chris takes a look around the cathedral while I study the town map we got from the motel. I notice that Selwyn Place is nearby and recall from earlier reading that the maker of “The ONE Ring” used in the LOTR – Jens Hansen - has his workshop and studio there. We find it easily, but “Jens” is a jewellery designer, and all his ‘pieces’ are very expensive – he wants £700 for a replica of The One Ring – way to rich for me.

We’re not really dressed for dinner in town, so we decide that we’ll have real fish and chips for the first time in NZ. Most guide books say that they are as good as you can get and recommend them to all travellers. We order, “Two blue-nose and a scoop” from our local chippy – I wait for the order while Chris gets the plates warn at the motel.

While I’m waiting, I notice that you can place an order in person, by phone, over the Internet and via a txt! I watch our order’s progress with interest; it’s so different to the way we do it in the UK. First off, everything is cooked to order, no bits of pre-fried fish lying in a hot lock here. Our fish goes in one fryer, our chips in another. When 90% cooked they are combined and placed in a third fryer to finish, and when done are hung in their wire basket to drain. The order is then wrapped in white paper, spiked around the edge to let the steam out (and avoid the steamy fish making the chips go all soft) and we’re away. They are delicious and, when I look at the wrapping paper there’s hardly a mark from the oil. It’s a good meal, well cooked and nicely served.

That night, we spend a little time planning our time in Nelson… Saturday is market day, so that’s a must. I’d seen a sign along the road that said, “To the Centre of NZ”, so we decide to investigate that in the afternoon. Sunday will be our ‘beach day’, and on Monday we’ll go to Abel Tasman National Park – NZ’s smallest!

Day 31 – The Market and a Journey to the Centre of NZ

Buying presents is always a problem when on holiday, so our trip to the market was intended (at least in part) to let us see what’s on offer. We walk into town and quickly find the market around the back of Trafalgar Street. Nelson is known as a bit of an centre for artists, and the market reflect that with stalls devoted to all sorts of arts and crafts – paintings, photography, pottery, jewellery, woodwork, metalwork, knitwear, glassware, sculptures, objects made from empty beer and coke cans, and so on. There are also lots of specialist food stalls, including dried meats, fudge, connoisseur coffees, bread, local cheeses and (of course) pies.

All this is mixed in with the usual rag-bag of bric-a-brac stalls, second-hand book stalls and buskers – it makes for a busy and noisy affair.

We notice a NZ jade seller and Chris stops for a chat; there are so many stories about NZ jade; “it’s not really jade”, “it’s not from NZ, it’s imported from China and Thailand”. The first is right; ‘NZ jade’ is really greenstone, the centre of a very special, glass-like rock found only on the south west coast of NZ’s South Island. The second is obviously wrong!

The stallholders are a young couple from down near Franz Josef (greenstone country). He buys, cuts and polished his own stones, and had lots of examples on his stall. There’s a pile of necklaces at a very good price, so we ask why? He explains that people will not pay the economic price for polished greenstone – the cheaper examples (which seem perfectly okay to us) have not gone through the last 48 hours of polishing. But, he says, rub them between your fingers while watching TV and in a few weeks they’ll shine like a finished stone!

Chris takes the plunge (after a top-up of money from the hole in the wall) and buys one for family, close friends and a few others – job done!

On our way back to the motel we pick up the walking track to “The Centre of New Zealand”. Before heading off, we watch 30-minutes of a cricket match taking place on the Botanical Sports Field – it looks like a good standard of play, with the batsmen having the upper hand.

“The Centre of NZ” turns out to be at the top of a local hill reached only by one of the steepest walkways we’ve come across. It’s only about a ½ mile walk but it’s up, up, up and steep all the way. Panting and sweating we reach the top to find a plaque marking the spot; there’s a monument too. In the climb up, I’d figured out at least three different ways of establishing ‘the centre of a country’ and was disappointed when I read the plaque because it didn’t say what method had been used. I was left wondering how many “centres of NZ” there were, and why this one just happened to exactly on the top of a hill, and not in someone’s back-garden???!!! Anyway, this centre of NZ provides a great view across Nelson; it’s port, the beaches and the surrounding hills. Once we’d taken it all in (and a few photos) we head back to the cricket match for another short look, and then back to the motel.

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