Sat 20 February 2021
My first order of the day is here to go for a morning coffee? Google suggests Lambretta’s Cafe. It’s Italian so that must be a good sign. There are mopeds and Dolce Vita art everywhere; its packed and has an appealing menu and cabinet food selection. Sadly the coffee is awful but I drink it anyway, like a good kiwi does – no complaining, but of course I won’t go back. Instead I find the Nelson market which happens on a Saturday. It has wonderful seasonal fruit and vegetables plus an excellent array of local art and crafts. There is no crap here which makes me happy. There are also a number of coffee outlets so I cannot help but lament that I had not waited until the market to get my morning cuppa. I must vacate my room and still have many hours until Aaron arrives from Auckland. I have time to stock up on hiking essentials such as gas canisters and food for the next six days. I’m still planning on the hike to Boyle village which will be at least that duration, weather permitting.
On Google I stumble across a reference to ‘The Centre of New Zealand’ which grabs my attention. I’ve not heard of it before and cannot pass up visiting such an interesting point of interest. It is located on Botanical Hill which I can walk to by following the perfectly situated Maitai River walkway through central Nelson. From the hotel it is only a 40 minute amble to Botanical park then a short sharp climb up the switch-backed trail to the top. Although Botanical Hill is not the actual ‘centre’ of New Zealand (sorry to disappoint), given its prominence and location next to the city centre, the top of the hill was used as an starting point for trigonometrical surveys by Chief Surveyor of Nelson, John Spence Browning in the 1870s.
So where is the actual centre? In 1962 the DSIR conducted a gravity survey that took in Stewart Island, the North and South Islands, and the smaller inshore islands, but not the Chathams. This survey located the centre of New Zealand at 41deg. 30min S., 172deg. 50min E., which is a point in the Spooner Range, just south west of Nelson.
Halfway back along the river walk from the hill is the Queen’s Gardens, named after Queen Victoria which adjoins the Suter Gallery. Entry is free although a donation is appreciated. I had not been into this new site and am keen to see what is on display. The exhibitions did not disappoint. The primary exhibition was a collection of works spanning the 40 year career of Waimea ceramicist Christine Boswijk. Also on display is a Suter piece de resistance; the Bill Hammond painting ‘All Along the Heaphy Highway’ which was acquired for over $250k. It is a surrealist landscape scene featuring a colony of bird figures perched in lofty tree branches, observing a lone car navigating a windy roadway. The painting references the controversial proposal to turn the Heaphy Track, located in the Kahurangi National Park and one of the nation’s Great Walks, into a road connecting Golden Bay with the West Coast.
Just before 4pm Aaron pulled into the carpark at the hotel. It has been three years since I worked briefly at the same company as him and found we both had a desire for the outdoors. It just happened that Aaron has time off from work and like “returning to your favourite restaurant” he sought out the Nelson Lakes National Park, which coincides nicely with me continuing the South Island. Firstly we have a 90 minute drive from Nelson to St Arnaud which I relish as I have not been along this road before. The first order of business is to stop on the shore of Lake Rotoiti. Photographs taken from the jetty looking across the lake to the mountains must be one of New Zealand’s most iconic views. The loop track through the beech trees is a nice introduction into the flora that we will encounter. Tomorrow we will climb up the Mt Robert Ridge track to the Angelus hut then take it from there afterwards before I continue up to Boyle.