Surprises and adventures at Nelson – the start of our South Island travel in New Zealand

After a long gap, continuing the chronological posts of our travels in New Zealand. The previous was about our entry into the South Island of New Zealand by ferry, from Wellington to Picton.

The next day was a Saturday, and Nelson has one of the most popular Saturday markets in New Zealand. Artists from all across New Zealand come here with their creations. Paintings, metalwork, woodwork – it’s all there. There are some stalls of stone art, mostly Maori symbols carved on jade. There are artisanal cheese and bread. Handcrafted woollen products like woollen shoes and sandals were something we saw for the first time ever.

Honey, mainly from the Manuka flowers was one of the main products at the Nelson Saturday market. All of it is organic and single flower origin. The beekeepers had themselves put these stalls. So they could explain to you what exactly was in the honey, what were the advantages of particular honey over the others. At one such beekeeper’s stall, he had us taste all the honey he had – of the manuka flower, and the kanuka flower. There was a thyme flavoured honey he had made. Some of his honey also had the honeycombs in it, and he had us taste that as well. We rarely buy anything to bring back home in our travels. That honey we couldn’t resist! The guy besides being a beekeeper was also an artist and he spent time showing us his stone carvings, explaining to us what he wanted to portray in each piece.

Besides all the artisanal stuff, it was also a farmer’s market. Fresh off the farm fruits and food stalls were all around. The famous kiwi mince pies, crepes, and of course fish and chips. There was also an Indian stall selling masala dosa, which was quite crowded. We bought some apples, drank the fresh brews of mochaccinos and spent more time wandering around. People were out there with their families, enjoying fresh food and conversations. Everyone seemed to know everyone. They were exchanging more than pleasantries with the stall owners. We figured they must be the locals and the Saturday market visit their regular weekly feature.

A puppet at a stall caught our attention. Its creator was sitting, dressed strikingly in a red shirt, white coat and white trousers. The “body language” of the puppet and the artist was exactly the same. We asked the guy if we could take their photo, he willingly obliged. His art stall was filled with the kind of stuff that transports you to a fairy tale world. Quirky objects, jewellery, dresses – all made in metal. Nelson is famous for WOW – world of wearable fashion. Eccentric designers display their fashion here – made from un-imaginable materials. This artist was a regular at the WOW, making him a celebrity. For sure, while we were taking his picture, a lady came over to meet him, told him how she loved his work, and where was his work being displayed at the moment.

We showed him the pictures we clicked and asked for his email id to send the photos. To which, he put his puppet down, and said, “that’s not so easy”. He took a metal wire out and asked Sandeepa to put out her finger. He then put the metal wire around the finger to get an idea of the ring size. He got his clippers and squeezers and in no time, a beautiful rose ring was ready.

While carving it out, he asked us in the most poetic, almost musical English accent we had ever heard, “And home is where may I know?” When we told him India, he smiled and nodded. He had spent a month in Udaipur, staying in a secluded palace somewhere, working on his book! “The mother of my children though spends a lot of her time in India”, he informed us.

We were still trying to figure out what was not so easy about handing out his email id and the metal rose ring and all, when he in the same poetic accent said, “The email is on a bag”, and he picked out a red envelope with his name and email id in a font that matched his quirky personality. “And I can’t give you a bag that’s empty, can I?” He put the ring in the red envelope and handed it to us. Wow! To be made a piece of jewellery by a famous artist himself! Love these small surprises that travel springs up every now and then!

After we stepped back on the road, we realised there were a few real word issues we still had to deal with. We had checked out of the hostel that morning and put our bags in the reception. We went back to the YHA to make sure there were 2 beds available. The same girl was back at the reception, she said the beds were available. She didn’t seem it was necessary to ask us if we had found a place to sleep the previous night. As that thought crossed our minds, we realised we were in fact getting used to the extreme politeness and courteous behaviour of the Kiwis. We were kind of expecting a warm friendly behaviour everywhere, and its rare absence was becoming conspicuously noticeable.

Shifting the bags and relocating to the new hostel done, we set out walking around the town of Nelson. The fall covers were starting to be visible here. In a tree-lined street, a red or orange would pop out. This was the main street of Nelson. As the day progressed, it got busy with probably the weekend visitors. Shops, restaurants, cafes, many hostels, and food trucks – it was a happy atmosphere everywhere. At the end of the street was the Nelson Central theatre. It stood out by its art deco architecture, with posters from old movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Goldfinger on its front walls. More shops selling more fresh produce and organic meat were also here.

Further down here was a trail to the highest point of Nelson, which was also the geographic centre of NZ! Behind the main streets was the residential part of NZ, with houses and their well-manicured gardens. Another path led to a stream. We headed here and started walking on a garden path along this stream. From behind we heard some footsteps following us. We turned back and saw a young couple walking close behind. The guy came forward and in whispering tones asked us, “Do you want some ganja?” We wanted to burst out laughing. We had heard stories of how foreigners visiting India would be approached by dealers like this. Some of our Couchsurfing guests had told us stories of such approaches. We had never imagined that there would be a time when we would be these foreigners approached by someone in New Zealand, of all countries. We wanted to tell this young couple, that we come from India, the land of the Himalayas, also the land of the best ganja. We wouldn’t want it in New Zealand! But we just gave no, not interested nod. The couple went off ahead!

After a while, we sat on a bench overlooking the garden and the stream and started to eat some sandwiches we had packed. An old guy walking by saw us and without any hesitations asked us weren’t we Indians. “Yes, we are, from Mumbai.” “Why are you eating these sandwiches? Don’t you like your curries?” He said there was an Indian restaurant here which made decent curries. We told him we were enjoying the healthy slices of bread and fresh fruits and veggies in New Zealand, so not really missing the curries. He said he had been to India, done some charity work in Kolkata. “When people complain about their lives here, I tell them to go and have a look in India”, he said. He had also worked on a UN peace mission in Afghanistan. “We have to make peace, not war” were his words as he bid us goodbye.

Nelson had a relaxed enough feel to think of it as a base when we would return to New Zealand for a longer stint. It was big enough to keep us engaged for a few weeks and yet didn’t have the feel of a big city. We could look for a place in a centrally located neighbourhood. Make a local supermarket and cafe our regular jaunts. Being digital nomads like this would need us to get a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to protect ourselves from the dangers of a public Wifi, especially if we would be doing any financial transactions. We would, of course, need to review the various VPN options and decide what worked the best. This could be easily done with a bit of internet research, but choosing a locality would need some on-the-ground research. We soon realised, that for the first time ever, the thought of living longer at a place like this, had crossed our minds!

Fall colours starting to make a mark in Nelson, New Zealand

Back in the hostel, we met a senior man from the Christchurch and a young guy from Germany. It was around 5 PM, and they were busy making dinner. We had just had our lunches, so we chatted as they went about their cooking. To the man from Christ Church, we naturally asked how things were after the earthquake. To our surprise, he said that as massive as the earthquake was, the loss of life was as low as it could be. He then told us about how the citizens and the local government had done some things right – sticking to wooden houses, making the earthquake-resistant foundations, not falling into the temptation of getting things done cheaper. We were surprised to hear of positive things about the government even in the wake of a disaster. He also threw a new light into the Kiwi way of things. He pointed to the dustbins in the hostel and commented on how recycling in New Zealand was a joke. Because the population was so less, it was cheaper monetarily to just ship the garbage overseas than have recycling plants within New Zealand.  “The society is not exactly as egalitarian as it appears to be”, he commented. We couldn’t help wonder what a society it was, where recycling was one of their biggest worries.

That evening we had our first full meal, made from everything we bought in the supermarket. Feta cheese and spinach spread with tomatoes in a thick, dark, multi grained bread, boiled eggs, carrots and buttered prawns (which we found at a super saver deal!).

Our travels in the South Island had begun well in an adventurous, amusing and unexpected way!



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