Michelle Langstone heads to the centre of New Zealand, where 'it feels as if the sun is on you, no matter where you go'
I don't know if you plan your activities around icecream but I do, particularly when in Nelson, one of my favourite places in Aotearoa. I organise Nelson visits around at least two, preferably three stops for real fruit icecream, made with berries grown in the Nelson area. It's the region where those real fruit soft-serve machines were invented, after all.
The first time I visited Nelson I was lucky enough to have a real fruit icecream at Toad Hall in Motueka, where the icecream was absolutely out of control. It was enormous and so jammed with boysenberries.
This trip, I found a good real fruit icecream in an anonymous little fruit shop on the edge of town, so I got my fix of ice-cold berry heaven before getting on with a couple of more touristy things I'd always meant to do in Nelson but had issed because I'd been out in the Abel Tasman National Park, or stargazing in the Mārahau Valley.
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You can get the real vibe of a town from its market and Nelson's famous Saturday market, established in 1978, is a good one. It's very relaxed, the stalls sprawled through a car park in Montgomery Square but crammed with people, good food and loads of things to buy. You can easily dawdle for a couple of hours, browsing stalls of organic produce, terrariums, handwoven bags, clothing and locally made skincare. On the Saturday I was there it was full of happy people basking in the sunshine, yet somehow the lines for coffee were not daunting. I grabbed mine from the Crossbow Coffee Makers cart. I've gone over to the sad side of coffee life, opting for decaf but I can honestly say it was the best decaf flat white I have had in New Zealand — creamy, strong and life-giving.
I sampled cheese at a cheese stall, snaffled up some organic sourdough samples at a bakery cart, then decided that rather than eat my way in small bites around the carpark, I'd get a proper breakfast. I ended up with a vegetarian roti from Taste of Sri Lanka that was bursting with green beans and dahl, salty, spicy, and delicious. Though not typically breakfast food, it certainly helped fuel me for the steep walk up Botanic Hill to the centre of New Zealand.
Disclaimer: the centre of New Zealand is not technically the dead centre but it was named that way because it was the central point from which surveys were conducted back in the 1800s. The glorious panoramic views made the steep, sweaty, 20-minute hike worth it.
I am always amazed by Nelson's endless views and blue skies and the way it feels as if the sun is on you, no matter where you go. You can wander alternate routes down again, one of which takes you to a swimming hole, if you're up for a splash. I should mention you can also visit the site of the first-ever rugby game played in New Zealand, if that's your sort of thing. To my uneducated eye it looked a very nice field and the dog I was with seemed to approve, galloping in ever-widening circles around it.
The Cable Bay to Glenduan coastal walk is famous for its expansive views. I would like to say I did the three-hour walk but the fact is, I got up at 5am to be on the hillside for the sunrise and as it was cloudy and I got cold, I just hiked up the first part of the track to get a good view of the clouds that were coming over, pink and silver in the breaking light. If you want to do the coastal walkway it's a decent hike through farmland and you'll need someone to collect you in Glenduan at the end. Apparently, the view from the top vantage point of the walk is spectacular - but you'd expect nothing else from Nelson.
After three hours of hiking it shouldn't be hard to convince anyone that you deserve a real fruit icecream as a reward.