Adele Thurlow gets a welcome winter dose of arts and artisans in Nelson Tasman.
Arriving at bespoke new Pic's Peanut Butter factory early on a Monday morning, I find the global marketing manager of one of Nelson's biggest success stories vacuuming the entrance in leopard-print killer heels. In hindsight, it's a rather accurate representation of the company culture – cheeky, daring, but enthusiastic and roll-your-sleeves-up unpretentious.
It's a far cry from Pic's beginnings a mere 12 years ago when, in his first year, Pic Picot produced 400 jars in his garage using a benchtop grinder and a concrete mixer so he could sell at the local Saturday market. Now, Pic's Peanut Butter World makes up to 24,000 jars daily, is the New Zealand market leader in its category, and exports to 14 countries.
The company's growth into international markets is assisted by the New Zealand Trace and Enterprise agency's Fast Track programme, with Dubai the most recent addition, and Canada and Korea next in the sights.
In Pic's new, custom-built glass and concrete building with an oversized jar-shaped entrance, visitors can tour the factory, make their own peanut butter, enjoy Nelson-based coffee by Pomeroy's at the in-house cafe, stock up at Pic's shop, take selfies with Pic's 1972 HQ Holden station wagon and his "chrome toaster" caravan, or atop a 3m tall peanut butter jar. It's the world's only attraction dedicated to peanut butter.
Although Pic's offerings have steadily expanded to include other nut butters, a boysenberry jelly with fruit from Tasman Bay Berries, and a yet-to-be-released marmalade, the company's goal is to be the best-loved peanut butter in the world.
It may seem ambitious but, given its rapid growth, there seems to be no stopping the spread of love for these Nelson-made edibles. And if you don't manage to find time to visit the factory, you'll still find Pic's peanut butter for sale at the weekend market – nice to see they haven't forgotten their roots.
Maybe it's the abundance of sunshine and vitamin D, the combination of sea and alpine air, or the "office" of mountains, orchards and ocean, but the creativity, drive and passion shown by the Pic's team is not an isolated occurrence in Nelson Tasman.
A very pleasant 35-minute drive out of town, in the direction of the snow-capped Kahurangi National Park, is Nelson Tasman's wine country, Moutere. Early German settlers arrived in the area in the mid 1800s with Black Hamburg grapes and later expanded into hop growing. Almost two centuries on, the area is still a hive of production.
Neudorf Road alone is home to strawberry, olive, and mushroom growers, a sheep dairy producer, a knife-maker, an artist and sculptor, and the Neudorf Vineyards – the latter of which, according to Bob Campbell MW, has been producing top wines across its entire range for three decades.
In fact, there are so many creators and producers in the area, the Moutere Artisans collective was formed. It's an easy walk or short drive between the likes of Bartlett & Gold, whose gallery of pottery and clay art are housed in an elegant German-built colonial home from the late 1890s, Moutere Gold with its art textiles and artisan foods in the village's old post office, and Moutere Inn. Built in the 1850s, it's New Zealand's oldest pub and now home to a vast selection of craft beer and local wine.
A particularly rewarding choice, on a fresh winter's day, is Forsters restaurant at Moutere Hills vineyard. In its new location among the rolling hills of Upper Moutere, the restaurant's north-facing floor-to-ceiling glass doors overlooking the vines are perfectly matched by an exceptional menu.
Diners make the journey here especially for award-winning owner-chef Alistair Forster's menu offerings. His descriptions are pared-down, which has the result, intentional or not, of under promising but over delivering. A glass of Moutere Hill's Sarau chardonnay and a plate of incredible Te Mana lamb with smoked celeriac, Savoy cabbage and bacon are only just outdone by what must be the most sublime banoffee pie on the planet.
Fame and flame
Another Nelson-based success story is jeweller Jens Hansen, who is considered one of the founders of craft jewellery in New Zealand. Hansen's work gained worldwide prominence when he was invited by Weta Workshop to create The One Ring for the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the late 1990s. His jewellery business rapidly grew and his gallery adjacent to Nelson's Trafalgar Square now attracts visitors from around the globe.
Sadly, it was the last big project Jens worked on. About the same time as he created the iconic ring, he received a cancer diagnosis and passed away four months later. His sons, Halfdan and Thorkild, continue running the business of which production of The One Ring replicas plays a huge part. Other pieces of particular prominence from the Jens Hansen workshop include the creation of sterling silver trophies for the Super 14 and Air New Zealand Cup.
Halfdan says his father's Danish heritage resulted in a strong Scandi organic minimalist style which is still evident in the work coming from the Jens Hansen workshop. The diminutive but busy studio showcases collections that go far beyond film prop replicas and include signature pieces such as The Golden Kiwi, The Nelson Ring, and the Legacy Collection crafted using Jens Hansen's' original production notes.
Next door, another artist shines bright – along with the glow from his glassblowing furnace. Anthony Genet initially taught himself neon manipulation as a teenager and bought his first piece of furnace equipment for $1600 — "more than any car I'd ever owned," he laughs.
Two decades later, Genet sends hand-blown glass and neon art from his Flamedaisy studio around the world and creates large instalments for light festivals and sculpture exhibitions around New Zealand.
His eyes shine with excitement as he morphs 1200C molten glass into a one-of-a-kind luminous bowl. Genet estimates he's created 55,000 pieces in his career so it's no surprise there've been a few failures along the way. But he doesn't waste anything – in the corner of his workshop is "the bin of broken dreams" from which he remelts pieces of glass into new creations.
Genet is also currently working on a new series based around angels and, consequently, says he now sees angel shapes wherever he goes. "I get to make my own little dreams come true," he says. "And now that I'm older, I dream bigger." Rumour is the Nelson skyline will glow angelically bright this Christmas with a truly oversized Anthony Genet custom neon dream.
The WOW factor
Also bringing dreams to life for the past 30 years is Dame Suzie Moncrieff. Her name may not be immediately recognisable to people outside of Nelson, but as the founder and visionary of the World of WearableArt, her ambitious shows are well-known worldwide.
Far from the show's beginnings under a marquee in a Nelson paddock staffed by Moncrieff and a group of friends, the annual design competition and stage shows now employ a crew of about 400 and is worked on 18 months in advance. Despite the three-week show season now being held across the strait in Wellington, the legacy of WOW remains firmly in Nelson with a purpose-built museum displaying an ever-changing collection of elaborate WOW garments.
Spectators of the stage shows often make the trip to Nelson to view the intricate detail of the wearable art at close range and gain a true appreciation of the work that has gone into each piece. You don't however, need to be a fashion or art fiend to enjoy the exhibition – the unique creations are jaw-droppingly beautiful. It's a display of theatrical talent from around the world right in the heart of where it began.
5 Nelson Tasman winter warmers
1. Delicious dumplings and a tasting tray of craft beer and cider at Sprig & Fern Tavern on Hardy St. There are also six other Sprig & Fern locations to choose from in the Nelson Tasman – it's a local institution.
2. An injection of alpine air at Nelson Lakes National Park. Start with a photo of the illustrious Lake Rotoiti jetty and snow-capped alps at St Arnaud then head off on a track through the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project area. The short walks from here range from 15-90 minutes.
3. Natural skincare (Pure Peony is particularly protective for winter skin), hand-knits and hot poffertjes (Dutch mini pancakes) from Nelson's Saturday market, the birthplace of many local artisan businesses.
4. A saffron gin and berry bramble cocktail at the intimate Cod & Lobster Brasserie, featuring gin from Dancing Sands Distillery in Tākaka and sparkling coconut water from Tasman Bay Berries. Good luck choosing between the smoked fish chowder, seafood risotto or the seafood board for two.
5. A culture and caffeine fix at The Suter art gallery. Established in 1899, the gallery's collection of national significance includes work by John Gully and Sir Toss Woollaston. Follow up with lunch at the Suter's light-filled glass and timber cafe, overlooking the classical Victorian-style Queen's Gardens.
Air New Zealand and Jetstar fly direct from Auckland to Nelson