Welcome to another thrilling instalment of “what did Sophie get up to about 2 weeks ago? In this week’s episode – Nelson, Punakaiki and Greymouth.
As you may or may not know, I spent the week around Easter weekend in Nelson. I decided to spend a bit longer in Nelson with the intention of hiring a car and exploring some of the nearby national parks (Abel Tasman and Nelson Lakes). That… didn’t happen. As the weather forecast for that week was so bad, complete with flood warnings and pretty much a week solid of rain, I decided to cut my losses and save the money. Sod’s law (or should it be Murphy’s law? I always get confused between those two), of course, then dictated that, after a day of really torrential rain when travelling from Picton to Nelson, the rest of the week would be fine. There were a couple of rainy days, but nothing like as bad as forecast. No cyclone in Nelson, that’s for sure. I comforted myself in the knowledge that I wasn’t missing out on much by not hiking in the mud. Please, do not burst my bubble. I’ll go back to the national parks before I leave New Zealand, I promise!
I arrived in Nelson on Wednesday afternoon, and left the following Tuesday morning, leaving me five full days in the city. Did I make the most of it? No, not really. Did I enjoy it anyway? Yes. Yes, I did. Bank holidays in New Zealand work slightly differently to the UK. Last I checked at home, shops were open (although maybe with reduced hours) on Good Friday, and most shops were closed on Easter Sunday (perhaps not Tesco these days!). In New Zealand, it seems to be the other way around. Pretty much everywhere was closed on Good Friday. A couple more places were open on Easter Sunday, but the majority of places remained shut. One of the few places that did remain open on both days was the cinema. Bear in mind that these were the two rainiest days after the awful Wednesday. Now, do you want to guess what I did on those days? That’s right, I went to the cinema! To see Lion and Beauty and the Beast, in case you were wondering. I enjoyed them, and the cinema was the cheapest one I’ve seen in NZ (taking the exchange rate into account, also cheaper than Cineworld and Vue at home), so I can’t complain.
Saturday was, for the most part, a very sunny day. Nelson has a weekly artisanal market on a Saturday so, of course, I had to go. While artisanal markets aren’t quite as much fun as farmer’s markets (there’s generally less free food samples :P), they’re still a lot of fun to walk around and see what’s on offer. There are the “wow, that’s so beautiful/clever/handy” stalls, and the “why are they trying to make a business out of that?” stalls, even the “HOW much are they charging for that?” stalls. In a far from exhaustive list, this market had stalls selling upcycled tin can model aeroplanes, gourmet peanut butter and rocking chairs. There truly is something for everyone if you look hard enough.
All market-ed out, in the afternoon I visited the Founders Heritage Park. Operated by Nelson City Council (I think), this “park” is a collection of recreated or relocated buildings and businesses either from the early days of or important to Nelson. Some of the buildings, such as the bakery and brewery, house existing businesses within buildings representing the original 1800s businesses. Others are simply open as a display for the public, such as the newspaper building with its display of printing presses through the decades, or the doctor’s surgery with it’s display of Victorian and Edwardian medical equipment. They even had a miniature railway complete with station (the station entrance was made to look like a steam engine cab, I was suitably impressed) and you could also climb up into a Bristol Freighter and pretend to fly the plane. You enter and exit through a windmill, and the church was relocated from its original site, but is still the original building. It’s free to get in if you live in Nelson, and super cheap if you’re a visitor to the area, so well worth making the time on a sunny afternoon.
Other highlights of my trip to Nelson include the Cathedral on top of the hill, walking along the riverbank and even walking to the geographical centre of NZ (spoiler alert: not actually the accurate geographical centre of NZ, and holy crap that hill is steep!). Despite once again being smaller than Chesterfield (Nelson is slightly bigger than Invercargill, but way more interesting), Nelson is a lovely little city, and there would certainly be enough going on to keep you occupied if you had a job. Another one of those places where I would be happy to live if I had a car.
Moving on from Nelson, I stopped for one night at Punakaiki, home of the pancake rocks. This is one of those stops that, if you were travelling by car, you would stop for an hour or two, see the pancake rocks and maybe have some lunch, then get on your way down the West Coast. In my opinion, that would be a mistake. It’s true that there is absolutely nothing going on in Punakaiki – they don’t even have a corner shop (although they do have a pub. Priorities) – the hostel was right by the beach. It was an incredibly peaceful corner of the world, and the sunset was spectacular. If you wanted a break from the world, Punakaiki would be the place to go.
So, what are these Pancake Rocks I’ve been going on about? They are basically a much-eroded outcrop of limestone cliffs off the mainland. Exciting, right? What makes them such a popular attraction are both the vertical blowholes (if you get the timing right and come at high tide, the sea bursts through these blowholes, it makes quite the show) and the unique “pancake” layering of the rocks themselves. So named because they look like a stack of pancakes.
Disclaimer: I know bugger all about rocks, and could have made all of that up. Always check the facts provided to you. If no proof is forthcoming, you may have been told an alternative fact. Also known as a “lie” in the real world.
After spending a peaceful night in Punakaiki, I moved on to Greymouth. Greymouth is, if possible, even less exciting than Invercargill was. It’s main tourist attraction is a gold rush “Shantytown” about 10 minutes drive out of town. As I didn’t have a car and had no one to split the cost of a taxi with, I didn’t make it out there, unfortunately. There’s a good bike trail, an art gallery and a short bush walk. I did have a very yummy brunch at a hipster cafe where the order numbers were old records. Other than that, there’s only really the lookout point, where on a clear day you can see Mount Cook. It wasn’t a clear day when I was there, but it’s a good point to look back on the town, or turn around and stare out into the Tasman sea. Apparently, there are dolphins near the bay on days when the sea is calm. While in Greymouth, I did make friends with a lovely, retired Swiss-French couple also staying at the same place. It was great to share a meal with them and get chance to brush up on my neglected French.
That’s about all for those few places, short and sweet. It was a rather low-key week and a bit, but as I’ll soon be working again, it’s good to make the most of the peace and lack of schedule while it lasts. Hopefully, tomorrow I’ll be able to post the Fox Glacier update, which should be a bit more interesting for you guys to read. Then, in a few days, it’ll be Wanaka and Queenstown. Almost up to date!
Coming soon to a screen near you: Fox Glacier (brrrrr)