Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Maitai River and The Queen’s Garden

Jan. 26, 2013


Much of New Zealand is all about untamed nature – seeing penguins swimming up to their nests among the rocks, boating in the fjords and watching the dolphins play, hiking up and down volcanoes or geothermal wonderlands – and we’ve done much of that.



But New Zealand is also part of the British Commonwealth, and nature in Britannia is somewhat more tamed, perhaps even deliberate and planned and manicured.  As in gardens.  And while Christchurch claims the title “City of Gardens,” I believe Nelson is running a close second.
The town of Nelson is on the central part of the north coast of the South Island, nestled between the Tasman Bay to the north and various foothills and mountain ranges on the other three sides.  The city has one of the most temperate climates in NZ, or so the residents claim – and the areas south and east of Nelson are known for the vineyards and wineries.  Gardening and farming are a big part of this area.

Nelson has the obligatory hanging flowers and various flowerbeds scattered around town.  But the real jewel is the Maitai River (yes, pronounced like the drink) which runs through and winds around the town, and is bordered by parks along the length, with bike and footpaths, picnic tables, and benches.  Even where private property runs down to the banks of the river, people have added flowers and rock gardens to beautify the banks of the river, for everyone to enjoy.

I had a delightful walk along the river, watching ducks mingle with sea birds, tourists wandering along, workers having a picnic lunch, students enjoying the last few days before school begins.  Everyone along the river was relaxing and enjoying the scenery and the sun.  It was beautiful and lush and green, with willows draping their arms into the stream of clear water, flax and reeds waving in the breeze, and flowers providing dots and dabs of bright color to the picture.

Eventually I came to the point where Queen’s Garden came closest to the riverwalk, so I headed over.  What a beautiful public garden!  There was a huge duck pond with a fountain, paths winding through tamed woods, a waterwheel, all kinds of exciting things.  A Chinese garden had been donated and was just lovely, with wrought iron gates and bridges and a little pagoda, as well as stones that came right out of Chinese scroll paintings.  There was a very manicured rose garden with hedgerows encircling a gold and white fountain, almost reminiscent of Versailles and all the French chateaus.  Impatiens mixed with native New Zealand trees and plants, and a Christmas cactus was in full bloom because, after all, this is just a month after Christmas.   

I just rambled and enjoyed the beauty of this place, a little tranquil bit of wildness and well-maintained Old Country Europe and transplanted China – sort of an oasis of nature in the middle of a small but busy metropolis.  I think I found every nook and cranny of that park, or garden.

And then I walked home, noticing how the house owners almost all had lovely gardens surrounding their homes, no matter how small the house.  It’s the height of summer, and flowers are blooming and the air is fragrant with the scents of lilies, lavender, roses, blossoming trees.  And butterflies – suddenly the huge orange monarch butterflies are here, and several circled me as they flew by in search of nectar.  I’m not sure if the monarchs who come through here eventually go back to Mexico – but that flash of orange fluttering by just adds to the beauty of the gardens here.

I also found a number of houses that look like hobbits or sprites or elves might live there – the usual small Victorian cottages or bungalows with gingerbread and spires – but then there was a Hansel and Gretel house with an upstairs door that led to nowhere.  One would need to be a magical being with wings to enter the house through that door.  Or the gate to a garden that had a large round opening in the gate, giving rise to the thought that one was entering a hobbit hole, or a rabbit burrow. 

And of course there was a signature manhole cover in this part of town, along the riverwalk and garden area, showcasing the fish in the river and the music and art of Nelson.  All rendered in the whimsical style of a child’s drawing.  I think manhole covers are a neglected, underrated, and often overlooked art form, and I really find a lot of them express a town’s view of itself and the importance of visual art in the community.

It was a wonderful few hours exploring the cultured and cultivated side of nature in Nelson, and it was a lovely break from exploring the wild side or the major cities.

Jan. 26, 2013
Our morning was spent at the Nelson Market – sort of a farmer’s market, arts and crafts fair, and taste of New Zealand, all in one huge parking lot.  It was fun looking at gorgeous produce, tasting bits of fudge or whatever, buying a few treats (chocolate cannoli!), looking at handmade jewelry and clothing and crafts.  We didn’t buy anything other than a few treats, because our luggage is full, but it was fun nevertheless.

We then drove from Nelson to Picton, through hills and valleys and passes, over rivers and streams and more mud flats, to Queen Charlotte Sound.  We wound through vineyards and wineries, and may stop at a few tomorrow – but today we only stopped at the Makana Chocolate Factory, because, well, this is a Phebe and Richard trip and we have our priorities.

Oh, and I have to add a photo of Sophie, the house cat from A Woodsy House in Nelson, because she is so beautiful.

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