We had a very long list of places to try in Nelson, offered by FWK (friends without kids) who were doubtless imagining us spending long, balmy evenings driving over the hills to sit quietly with wine glasses in hand, perusing summer menus and chatting about important grown up things.
In fact, the only part of Nelson we saw was the inside of the airport (oh, and the excellent Don Rodrigo Sourdough Bakery, where we stocked up on bread or our trip out to Tasman.) The truth is that once we arrived at our rented bach, kicked off our shoes and drank in the view, we never ever wanted to leave…
Tasman is that perfect, sultry, heady mix of lush native bush and golden beaches. There are rocks to climb and catapult off, gentle lapping waves to bob around in, and - we found – enough of a smattering of fabulous food spots to completely nullify any requirement to make the hour-long trek back over to Nelson.
At Marahau, the entrance to the spectacular Abel Tasman National Park, we popped in to Hooked – a simple beer garden and eatery with a lovely view of the water. It’s an approachable family-friendly menu of seafood and salads with a number of absolute highlights – namely, its oka (a Samoan ceviche done just right), fresh fish tacos, maple sriracha chicken wings, and an enormous steaming pot of mussels in a herby broth that had us all squabbling over the last slurpy mouthful.
The Motueka Sunday Market is both flea-and-food market - a somewhat confounding arrangement but boasting some of the best food in the region. We began with fat whitebait patties served on the obligatory white sandwich bread. Then, at the Bratwurst Grill, where traditional German sausages are also served encased in bread, we bit into a juicy, smokey Nurnberger Stadtwurst. These sausies are top notch – made with natural ingredients by Doris, a trained sausage maker, and containing absolutely no filler. And the Stadtwurst, billed as the stand’s extra large, extra tasty ‘wurst’ is exactly that. We were also impressed with (but did not try) the plump salamis hanging on hooks - and there is a range of other smallgoods on show to take away.
Next, we moved on to meet Flavia and Flavio from ViaVio, who craft Italian cheeses in Nelson, and sell to trade as well as through their market stalls. The cheeses are delicious, nutty and delicate, and we delighted in chatting to Flavio about his rugby playing days, and how they arrived at their brand – an amalgamation of their names.
But the highlight of our outing was without doubt the most perfect empanada (I’ve been to Argentina and this one tops the lot) from the Viva la Vaca caravan, where you can purchase buns filled with slowly smoked, falling off the bone Argentinian barbeque – or, if you’ve stuffed yourselves already as I had – a pillowy $6 empanada, with a heavenly, beefy, wonderfully spiced filling that I still dream of.
Speaking of barbeque, The Smoking Barrell is an absolute must-do, with a mouthwatering menu of brunch, burgers, and banh mi using superb, quality meats cooked low and slow and served in a breezy space on Mot’s main street. And then, there are the doughnuts. Tantalising, technicolour and well worth queuing for, we chose a Chocolate and a Homer (pink frosting, sprinkles, ridiculous) and loved them both.
Finally, no trip to Tasman is complete without fish and chips by the water and the best are to be found at the Smokehouse Café on the Mapua Wharf. And once you’ve battled a few windblown seagulls for your dinner, there’s ice-cream for dessert from the rich, creamy real fruit selection at Hamish’s, also on the wharf. Tasman, take a bow.
For family friendly food, you’ve nailed it.