The streets of Nelson

Stained glass Nelson

The centre of Nelson is chilled and unhurried. The big grey cathedral sits on its hill overlooking Trafalgar street, surrounded by carefully chosen trees, meandering paths and impressive steps. It was deserted inside, save a lone elderly lady with her mop and bucket. We admired the massive organ, the memorials and lovely stained glass, and squeezed a donation into the tiny box.

Christ Church Cathedral

Then we sauntered back to the streets looking into shops and enjoying the sounds of the buskers.

We reached the museum at roughly the same time as a class of children from the local primary school. We looked at the exhibits and read the stories of Māori and shipwrecked Pakeha (white European) settlers in between the children’s excited chatter. Stories surrounded us. The one about the couple who wanted to buy a cow but had no money. So they went to dig for gold for a morning and they got their cow. The one about Widow Gibbs and her nine children who were shipwrecked off the coast when they arrived. Everyone was winched off the sinking ship, Queen Bee, using rope and the Captain’s chair. They all survived somehow but Widow Gibbs was terrified of the hoard of native Māori running towards them over the hill as they struggled ashore. In the event she recorded that nothing more alarming happened than the energetic rubbing of noses.

Upper Trafalgar Street

Finally we retired to the café and sat on a street table under the trees with our Flat Whites. Someone had parked an old piano on the pavement and painted it bright yellow with a giant pink cat. A man sat at the keyboard tinging three notes slowly. Eventually he gave up and went to lie on a bench. He lay perfectly still on his side, staring, his head raised in parallel to the seat but not resting on it. The pose was odd, but he seemed perfectly comfortable.

There are numerous homeless people in and around Nelson. Rents are high and many folk are just not able to afford a roof over their heads. The New Zealand government investigated the plight of the homeless during the pandemic and have tried various things to counter it, including emergency accommodation and making little villages of tin sheeted cabins for those most in need. They estimate that more than half of these people have mental health issues.

Their lives are slow, like the notes on the piano. As we sipped our coffee a young teacher brought the next class of children to the museum to await their turn. A member of school staff quietly closed the piano lid before the children noticed it.

It felt sad. The man who lives under the shadow of the cathedral can play whenever he pleases.

We watched as the teacher ushered them into the museum and got them to take their shoes off and place them in neat rows in the foyer. Training children to take their shoes off indoors starts early in New Zealand, and they are frequently seen walking home from school in bare feet on warm days. No one seems to mind a bit if they work shoeless. Memories of my nagging British teaching days came back to haunt me: “Where are your school shoes? Well put them on your feet then!”

We left Nelson behind us, although not for long as it turned out. Our next Homestay meant a drive back to Mapua along Highway 60, where we found our charming accommodation called “For Puffed Peddlers”. We arrived in our hired Toyota Yaris rather than on cycles, which rather spoilt the point of the name, but were pleased to find our first accommodation change to be delightful. We sat on our private deck admiring the passion fruit plant climbing up the balcony, and the owner’s art work adorning the walls, before setting off for burgers and craft beer at The Sprig and Fern Tavern down the road.




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