Reluctantly dragging ourselves from the Sounds we made our way to Nelson in search of a seafood lunch before arriving to Motueka and the Abel Tasman park. Totally unexpectedly, as we tend to forget to read the guide beforehand, we stopped on instinct at an extraordinary spot, the Pelorus Bridge. A pocket of deep green forest locked between pastureland, it’s clear water and forest- almost the only bit to be left stand after all the deforestation that has gone on since 1910- was used various times in the Hobbit. Were it not for the sand flies that quite literally ate us alive it would be the idyll of all time…

The weather then got all Scottish on us once again, and out came the waterproof coats and boots and slightly long faces. Using the ever faithful TripAdvisor we finally ate some of the green mussels the area is famous for, fresh from the Sounds, and incredible line caught snapper at the charming Cod & Lobster Brasserie.

As there was little rush to get motoring to the beach with yet another storm approaching, we chanced upon the Nelson Provincial Museum, a wonderful little place where we spent two genuinely entertaining, and moving, hours. First, a visit to their temporary exhibition on New Zealand bugs, seeing live giant poisonous centipedes, tree wētā, stick insects, locusts, crickets, cockroaches and Avondale spiders, which the girls adored. Then the permanent exhibition tells the story of the European settlement of Nelson from the 1840/ or so. Time for a brief bit of NZ history, as learned from omniscient Wikipedia and the Lonely planet 😝 before getting back to Nelson and its place within it.

The Maoris are thought to have arrived in New Zealand, probably from Polynesia, about 700 years ago. In the heat of global colonisation years later, the first European to sight the country was Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in December 1642, but never landed after a a few skirmishes with the understandably aggressive Maori. Captain Cook was then the first European to reach New Zealand in 1769 for the first time, circumnavigating and mapping both islands. Inevitably, this led to regular visits to the country by missionaries, whalers, traders, adventurers and colonisers- as well as disease, muskets, possums, and all manner of other problems the islanders had no desire of whatsoever. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British Crown and various Māori chiefs, bringing New Zealand into the British Empire and giving Māori the same rights as British subjects. British settlement continued throughout the rest of the century and into the early part of the next- and in Brit colonial fashion, war and the imposition of a European economic and legal system led to most of New Zealand’s land passing from Māori to European ownership, and most Māori subsequently became impoverished.

Back to Nelson! The grand idea of the London based New Zealand company was to buy cheap Maori land- over 200,000 acres- and sell as profitable lots to intending settlers. The Company earmarked future profits to finance the free passage of artisans and labourers and their families, and for the construction of public works. However, by September 1841 only about one third of the lots had sold. Despite this the Colony pushed ahead. A lack of arable land was also a problem, so After a brief initial period of prosperity, the lack of land and of capital caught up with the settlement and it entered a prolonged period of relative depression. The labourers had to accept a cut in their wages, organised immigration ceased and by the end of 1843, artisans and labourers began leaving Nelson; by 1846, almost a quarter of the immigrants had left.

What the museum did so well was to recount the ‘real’ stories: the story for example, of a British widow with 9 children who, having heard about the good school founded at Nelson, felt she had nothing to lose and set off with her children for a new life. After 108 days at sea, close to Abel Tasman, a terrible storm whipped up at Farewell Spit, a beautiful but treacherous 30km sand split reaching far out to sea and the family was divided. Incredibly, her two sons that hadn’t made it onto the life rafts somehow managed to reach land many kilometres away in the Marlborough Sounds and were rescued by the Maori and reunited with their mother two months later. There were so many stories like that- of incredible bravery, adventure, desperation and determination – well worth a quick visit.

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