Nelson: First, kill your fish

By Alan Perrott

If the setting wasn't rugged enough, I murdered a fish and then watched my woman feast as I supped a classy sav.

Now, tell me that's not dead romantic. In a hairy chest-beating kind of way at the very least.

A great start to what we hoped would be a starry-eyed getaway. Don't go thinking it was a doddle though - that was a well-earned kill.

We'd had to drive all the way up and down Takaka Hill to get there, that's a pretty long way, and all those twisty bends test the hardiest of tummies.

Then, once we'd reached Anatoki Salmon in its Shangri La setting, we'd had to beat off the attentions of some hungry-looking chooks and the occasional peacock to get at their 7000-odd salmon. It's a great scheme, even for non-fish fans such as myself.

You grab a rod, toss a hook into a well-stocked pond, catch your fill (at $18 per kg), then have it gutted, flavoured (ginger and coriander on one fillet, tandoori on the other, thanks), and smoked within 15 minutes. But I do have to admit one thing. After 10 minutes of watching fleets of fish treating my hook like a leper, we tossed in some fish food. Yes, we cheated and I don't care. I still had to stab the poor bugger.

Actually, it took several pokes before I found the right spot. Who knew they bled so much? Anyway, once we'd reclaimed our ex-fish we headed upstream to find a cosy spot. The salmon was so good I almost ate half myself. But please don't tell my mum, officially I still can't stand the stuff.

Then it was back on the road to Collingwood, a sleepy outpost named after one of Admiral Lord Nelson's favourite officers. It was once touted as a national capital and was where some tree-toting locals once threatened to throw me out of the pub for wearing a lava lava in an almost-built-up area during the hours of lunchtime.

Loins clearly needed girding before my return so a quick stop was made at the Mussel Inn, a rough around the edges tavern that produces its own booze. Personal favourite? The chilli beer. But enough gadding about, we were here for relaxation and "us" time, so we steered for Adrift, a collection of cottages set alongside a Golden Bay beach. This place has a definite South Seas feel with the beachfront constantly dangled before you.

The hosts offer two breakfast options, but the ingredients are provided unprepared, so be ready to do your own cooking. But we quite liked the idea as it meant we didn't have get up too early or fit into other people's plans. Be warned, though, Adrift is well named.

The nearest anywhere, Collingwood, is a 10-minute drive away and the shops close early, so pack some food and booze if you plan on stopping by. A few steaks wouldn't go amiss, each cottage comes with its own barbecue and a jacuzzi.

So after test-driving the aforementioned we were up with the tuis and ready for a 40-minute jaunt to Wharariki Beach - basically head to Cape Farewell and keep going straight when everyone else turns right.

After 10 minutes of gravel, there's a 15-minute up-hill-down-dale walk through sheep-infested farmland until the dramatic beachscape hoves into view: dunes, rocky spires, seals and birds book-ended by cave-riddled cliffs. Not a soul in sight so we sit back and sigh. But the big ticket item for today is the six-and-a-half-hour tour of Farewell Spit, a 27km sandy nature reserve that extends beyond the horizon.

We return to Collingwood and meet the bus, a big-boned ML Bedford named Gypsy, after coffee and cake at the historic Courthouse Cafe. The banter during the trip is worth the price of admission. Who knew Pillar Pt was home to the first radar station outside of Britain? It was considered far enough from any baddies for them to practise without the risk of anyone picking up the signal.

Operators would track a circling gyroscope whose true bearing came from a woman yelling co-ordinates down a funnel attached to a hose. And so the commentary continued, punctuated by regular stops to eyeball each new species of bird or critter encountered, until we reached the tip, where we visited the gannet colony.

Fortunately, we were upwind and so managed to avoid the full sensoral experience. Then it was back to the lighthouse for an exploration, a cuppa and a muffin before checking out some fossils and collecting a stray bulb dropped from a squid boat.

It was a long day, but a stroll along the beach outside Adrift with a glass of something nice sorted us out for another early start.

This time we took to the high seas (following the return trip over, around and through the hills to Marahau, which marks the southern end of the Abel Tasman coastal walk).

We caught an Aquataxi up to Awaroa Lodge, an hour-long, commentated trip with a few stops to enjoy the scene and a pause to watch a seal gently rip the guts from an octopus. Our bush-shrouded destination had recently changed hands and is now run by Barry and Salina Walters who also own Queenstown's Nugget Point.

It's postcard stuff and they are pushing it even further in an eco-friendly direction while pitching themselves at a higher-end luxury market. It's a testing mission, but all the fixings are there.

Our weary eyes get some vigorous rubbing when we arrive at our next stop, the Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco. Well, for starters, that's some name they've got, but I'm guessing the owner is a big Coro St fan.

We kept expecting to run into Ena Sharples as we wandered about checking out the roses, duck pond, two-up-two-down cottages and restaurant. It's an odd theme park really but we couldn't fault the service and their jacuzzis are big enough for three - oooh, matron.

Then onto our holiday highlight, a meeting with Nelson artist Anna Leary. The idea is that she interviews couples about their lives, dreams, nightmares and predilections and when suitably inspired, trots off to create you some art.

It was a pleasantly narcissistic way to spend a few hours and we'll soon be getting something interesting to hang on the wall. I'm hoping for a bunch of flowers, but chances are it'll be rather more conceptual.

So over three days we'd done the sun, sea and sand trifecta while wearing out a stick pointing at the scenery. It's a visit requiring a souvenir. Ten minutes later we were at Everyman Records.

From now on, whenever I'm lying back to the saucy sounds of Cerrone's Supernatural, I'll be thinking of Nelson.

LINKS

Anatoki Salmon
Adrift
Farewell Spit Eco Tours
Abel Tasman Aquataxi
Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco

Alan Perrott saw the sights courtesy of Air New Zealand and Nelson Tasman Tourism.

- NZ Herald

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