From Blenheim we drove west to the city of Nelson, near the northern tip of the South Island. Billed as the sunniest city in New Zealand, Nelson is a popular vacation spot with a thriving arts + culture scene.
Upon arrival in town we had some time to kill before getting into our rental, so we stopped at the Founders Heritage Park. The heritage park is a replica of a historic village which had a number of old buildings and artifacts from Nelson’s early days. Many of the artisans’ shops were closed, but we still got a taste of life as it used to be in New Zealand’s second-oldest city.
We arrived in Nelson on a Sunday, which happened to be the day that the Nelson Society of Model Engineers was running their ride-on model trains. I’m determined to ride a train in New Zealand, and most of the scenic railroads were still closed in the aftermath of the pandemic-driven tourism slowdown. Discovering running trains (even small ones) was quite exciting (to me…). Rides were a bargain at $1 NZD, and even Lauren agreed it was more fun than she expected (though I suspect she had very low expectations). The kids are now making plans to build a ride-on train at home. I’m fully supportive, but have no idea where they will put it. Perhaps the neighborhood can band together to make a track around the block.
In Nelson we split our time between a pair of rented summer homes. The first was in the tiny suburb of Mapua, right on an estuary. The tides in this part of New Zealand are very high (up to 15 feet) and we discovered that the estuary is a giant mud flat for half the day! This plus the sun were ideal for playing in the mud, which Nate did with gusto.
The other home was on a spit of land in a different part of town. There are 2 roads to access it: a paved road, and a beach road that is awash at high tide. Some of the homes on the spit didn’t appear to have a driveway to the paved road and were only accessible when the tide is out!
One day we took a boat cruise up through the Abel Tasman National Park. The park, named after the first European to sight New Zealand, boasts stunning forests and beaches. The scenery evoked the New England shoreline – Maine, perhaps. Midway through the trip we stopped at a nearly-deserted beach, where we saw a handful of “trampers.” Tramping (hiking) is a popular activity in New Zealand, and one of the country’s famed Great Walks is the Abel Tasman Coast Track. At 3-5 days, the tramp was more than we are up for and we were happy to stick with the boat!
Lest anyone think Nelson was all sunshine and outdoor activities, we had several days of bad weather as well. Not quite as bad as the torrents we encountered in Seville, but wet enough to keep us indoors. New Zealand homes have a reputation for being damp, drafty, and poorly heated (or unheated!). We’ve seen no evidence to the contrary, and I’m convinced a very cold and damp bedroom conspired to give me a mild head cold during our time in Nelson. We used the downtime from the weather to catch up on schoolwork, reading, and (ahem) video games.