Funnily enough, the original European residents of what came to be known as Nelson (after a certain admiral) didn’t want to be there at all.
They’d hoped to settle in Auckland or Canterbury, or anywhere else in the new land where you could run stock. In the end, though, at the insistence of the Government, the New Zealand Company who, by way of being a cross between travel agents, employment consultants, real estate agents and wide boys, were obliged by a directive to found a town in what was then known as Blind Bay.
The site didn’t have a hell of a lot going for it, but it did have a sheltered anchorage, tucked in behind a long (in fact, at 13km, the longest in the southern hemisphere) boulder bank.
As they grizzled – as farmers are known to do – about how poor the land was, they overlooked the potential of the magnificent terroir of the hinterland, the Waimea and the Rai valleys, to produce world-class wine grapes. And they failed to consider the bounty that was right there in the sea.
Today, Nelson is the largest fishing port in Australasia and the Nelson Haven behind the Boulder Bank is home to a large and productive fleet of cray- and wet-fishing vessels, as well as the tenders of shellfish aquaculture.
So you’d expect the kaimoana to be pretty good in these parts. Well, you’d be right. Fish and seafood features on the menu of some pretty classy restaurants in and around Nelson, from The Boat Shed right there on the waterfront to the famous Hopgood's in town.
But you don’t have to pay top dollar to enjoy a bit of beautifully cooked blue cod while contemplating a million-dollar view. In fact, your dinner will warm your knee all the way up as you nurse your newspaper-wrapped parcel of fish and chips on the drive to the Port Hills.
There, on a fine evening – and not for nothing is Nelson known as the sunshine capital of New Zealand – you can watch the fishing boats come and go through The Cut, the entrance to the haven, and the historic lighthouse on the Boulder Bank wheeling its beam out across Tasman Bay.
Or you can head for the domain and enjoy your meal at the exact geographic centre of New Zealand. When you get there, you’ll know you’re in the middle of something really very special.