Staying in Nelson for a couple of nights meant we could relax and explore the region without having to think about too much driving. Hold on, there was still a bit of driving involved.
The city centre is compact enough to be easily navigated by foot – loads of shops, restaurants, cafe’s and more than enough micro breweries than you can poke a stick at. It’s no wonder this is New Zealand’s craft beer capital, and we sure had our fair share.
Our first stop, however, was more coffee-related – down on the waterfront at The Styx. Yes they do have local craft brews on tap, but the coffee addiction needed tending to. Love their enormous cheesy scone and flourless orange cake.
A great place to sample some local craft beers is at Harry’s, at the top of Trafalgar Street. More familiar bottled beers are up for grabs, but if you’re up for trying the local brews, there’s a rotating selection of local beers on tap.
The dark, cavernous space is very cosy and on cold winter nights you can settle in front of the roaring fire and get warm with a drink and a bite. The menu is predominantly pan-Asian and extends from prawn toast to curries and noodles.
Grilled warehou (28.5) sits atop a pile green tea noodles, wok-tossed with vegetables you’d expect to see in a stir-fry. Soy, lime and ginger give it the Asian touch.
The braised beef short ribs (29.5) are much more complex in flavour, with meat falling clean off the bone. Star anise is the dominant spice, permeating through to the spinach and shiitake mushrooms the ribs rest on. Whole cloves of soft and sweet garlic are scattered throughout with crispy and chewy rice cakes that add a nuttiness to the dish.
For dessert, the steamed ginger pudding (12) is light in texture and has a slight ginger bite, nicely contrasted with the sharp bite from crème fraîche and juicy poached mandarin.
A mild spiciness comes through in the chai crème brûlée (12), the smallest specimen we’ve encountered. At least we had spiced plum, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and tuile because the brûlée was gone in a flash.
Breakfast cafe of choice went to the Morrison Street Cafe in the centre of town. Pretty much every dietary need is catered for at this bustling eatery, and the counter laden with house-baked goodies is pretty irresistible as well.
We loved the wholemeal pancakes (17.5), a very generous stack layered with sautéed apple and a star anise-spiced syrup for an extra boost of flavour.
There was a whole lot of promise in the lambs fry (17.5), all sauced-up with bacon, silver beet and onion. Gorgeous flavours in the sauce, but it was totally let down by being overcooked. At least there was a damper-like bread to make up for the liver that wasn’t eaten.
Bircher muesli (11.5) fans can go wild with the enormous bowl of oaty goodness, laced with almonds, pear and blueberries. Sweet dukkah and banana lovingly top it all off.
Or perhaps a stack of corn fritters (17.5) and spinach topped with avocado and cottage cheese. Some chunky tomato salsa vamps it up a tad.
Trying at least one of the baked treats from the counter was a given, and the dark chocolate cake with lemon curd did the trick beautifully. Impossibly moist, a little sticky and totally addictive.
A relatively short drive from Nelson is the small town of Mapua. Visitors tend to gravitate to the wharf with its shops and eateries, but nothing was really open on this particular morning.
We never quite made it to Sublime Coffee in Nelson, but we did chance upon this little place in Mapua, owned by the same folk. The Java Hut it just that, a tiny shack that pumps out the java to locals and anyone that needs a caffeine top-up. There’s little room to kick back with your takeaway cup of coffee other one of a handful of coloured stools at a communal table, or the sun chairs outside.
Barely half an hour up the coast is the tiny hamlet of Kaiteriteri, a bit of a hotspot to those that love their camping and wide open spaces. With a stretch of golden sand and clear water as beautiful as this, how could you not want to immerse yourself?
We were here for a little kayaking, but before anybody’s feet got wet, it was lunch time first and foremost.
One of three places in Kaiteriteri was open for lunch on that particular day, so making choices wasn’t all that challenging. Gone Burgers it was.
Fish & chips and nachos are up for grabs at this little takeaway, but something tells me it’s the burgers that most people come here for.
It was the pretentious cow (14) that got my fingers all sticky. Juicy beef patty with fried egg, caramelised onion, bacon, beet, green tomato relish, aïoli, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Talk about a mouthful. Absolute perfection.
The chicken classic (11.5) may not have been as elaborate but it still packed some goodness. Seasoned chicken breast, cheese, tomato, relish and aïoli.
Thanks to Kaiteriteri being one of the key gateways to Abel Tasman National Park, it was an ideal spot to head straight to it via the water.
Sea kayaking is a very popular activity in these parts, and one of the easy circuits takes you from Kaiteriteri Beach, past Ngaio Island to Split Apple Rock. Loads of fun out on the water and onshore exploring nooks and crannies in the rocky headland.
Back in Nelson, one restaurant worth noting is Ford’s. Located in the upper Trafalgar Street precinct, it’s a classy establishment that feels casual at the same time. Fab service, as well.
And the food. Contemporary New Zealand fare through and through, from the tasty peppered seared venison (19) with poached pear, gorgonzola and walnuts, to the divine house-smoked fish ravioli (17). The one large ravioli is lovingly doused with brown butter and capers, with crispy leek and herbs for crunch.
The deliciousness continued with the thyme & orange confit duck leg (36), wedged upright on celeriac purée and green beans. And that sauce – a dark chocolate jus. Yep, it was pretty special.
The mixed mushroom risotto (26) packed just as much flavour, if not more. Roasted portabella played the hero and the rice was perfectly cooked, with a chive crème fraîche slowly melting into the warm mound of earthiness.
A little town worthy of a day trip from Nelson is Takaka. Getting there by car is scenic, to say the least, but those that suffer motion sickness may want to prepare for it. The drive involves a very windy road over Takaka Hill – or Marble Mountain – taking in gorgeous panoramas as well as around 250 bends.
The town itself holds onto its hippie past with a firm clutch. Bright colours decorate buildings and shopfronts, tie-dye and dreadlocks adorn some of its locals and organic is the theme almost everywhere you look.
One such organic place is The Dangerous Kitchen, a magnet for in-tune-with-mother-nature locals that add to its laid-back vibe. From brick oven pizza and burritos to house-made V & GF-friendly edibles in the cabinet; it has a menu that’s driven by local produce from ethical suppliers.
No gripes with the exceptional fair trade coffee and a big two thumbs up with the killer orange and almond cake.
Takaka is the gateway to the Golden Bay region, and whilst we didn’t make it that far up the coast, we did drive along the coastal route to Wainui Bay northeast of town.
A mere 7 kilometres from Takaka are the Pupu Springs – officially known as Te Waikoropupu Springs – home to the worlds clearest spring water. As rain decided to shower over us, we trudged along through the serene forest to the gushing spring. I couldn’t help but notice the wild edible vegetation like flatweed and watercress, resisting the urge to forage and nibble as we walked the boarded trails. Ok, perhaps I had a little nibble of the watercress, straight from the spring.
The building that stood out the most in Takaka, for me, was the Telegraph Hotel. I’m always up for supporting rural pubs like this – a grand old building that first opened its doors 100 years ago – so deciding on where to have lunch was taken care of.
Inside it’s your typical country pub. Sepia coloured photo’s from years gone by up on the walls, bench seating all ’round and locals playing pool, sipping on lager or feeding pokies.
No gastropub food here, folks. It’s either roast of the day, a burger, nachos, a wrap or soup. Plus a few things from the kids menu and what we ordered. A BLT (9.5) done club sandwich-style and fish & chips (14). Really good fish, mind you.
The 2-hour drive from Nelson to Blenheim takes you through mountainous terrain, along the stunning Queen Charlotte Drive and down through the seaside town of Picton.
So here we were in Blenheim, the heart of the wine-growing region of Marlborough. World famous for its sauvignon blanc, we didn’t even make it to one vineyard, although we did drink a little vino. The town itself is pretty quiet and can be navigated quite easily, and not being sure whether it was normal, but there weren’t many people about.
Word had it there was a place in town that did the best pies, so naturally we drove on out to The Burleigh to do some investigating.
This tiny coffee shop-cum-deli has a nice little collection of European cheeses, South African bintong, baked goods and quality food items. And it looked as if we’d arrived just in time. They were almost out of pies! Rather than offer a huge variety of pies, the varieties available were limited to three. That means one thing, right?
Order all three.
The ever-popular pork belly pie was the one I’d heard about, and wowsers, it’s something special. Firstly, that pastry is serious business. And that filling – a little sweet, loads of it and if I can make comparisons – it’s very similar to what’s inside Chinese char siu bao.
The steak & blue cheese pie has large chunks of very tender meat, a little gravy and a generous amount of cheese. Sensational.
The jerk chicken pie may not have shone as much as the others, but it was still decent enough with its spiced chicken meat filling.
It’s all about artwork depicting 1960’s pop culture, tiki paraphernalia, formica tables and mismatched chairs at this downtown coffee shop. Ok, perhaps it’s also all about brilliant certified organic coffee that’s roasted onsite, and a menu we never got to try.
The breakfast menu ticked all the right boxes, but we soon learned they weren’t open on the only day we needed them to be. At least we got to try that beautiful coffee.
The last night on this leg of our trip was spent chilling with drinks at The Corner Stone and moving on to The Yard Bar & Bistro for food.
Be it drinks and nibbles in the bar, out in the back garden or inside by the fire, The Yard Bar is all about playing things casually.
Pizza takes up a good chunk of the menu so I thought it’d be fitting to try something to nibble on during beverage hour. Garlic pizza bread (10.5) sounded promising – garlic, parmesan and sea salt – but the only thing that made the cracker-like pizza was the cheese and a little greenery.
The regular menu is like something you’d see at a decent pub, only less to choose from. Think vegetarian cannelloni, pork belly and S&P squid.
The crispy skin salmon (25) on egg noodle and red curry broth reminds me of a very thick laksa when you’ve eaten all the soup and the solids remain. Somehow the salmon just didn’t belong with overcooked noodles and curry.
The beef cheek (23.5) hit all the right spots. Slowly braised in black beer and served over kumara & carrot mash, with a hidden prize of creamed spinach. That was one fine bit of cheek.
All other posts from this South Island trip –