Home-basing in Nelson, New Zealand New Zealand / Travel

Kia Ora! Nau mai! We’re so glad you made it to our first New Zealand installment. Settling into a new country is always an adventure for our family. The fun, and sometimes the frustration, all come as part of this process of discovery. We never really know what to expect, so it always turns into an interesting combination of surprises.


Brandon took this photo just minutes from where we were staying.

Air New Zealand

Just for laughs, let’s start with a frustrating one — our flight into the country. Air New Zealand completely threw us for a loop. To make a long story quite short, 7 kgs is the carry-on luggage allowance per person, which is about the same weight as a standard carry-on piece of luggage — without anything in it. They may or may not weigh your carry-on luggage. If they do, and if you’re over the limit, which you most likely will be, all your excess must go into your checked luggage.

If you also didn’t see the non-obvious memo on their website about adding any checked luggage to your ticket at the time of booking, you could possibly incur a whopping $200.00 charge — per checked bag — at the airport. Basically, you’re pretty much toast, especially if you’re a family of five. By the time we finished emptying all the contents of our carry-on luggage into our checked bags, we had two very heavy checked bags!

Also, please don’t argue about gate checking your travel guitar, even though you were allowed to carry it on during a previous flight with this same airline — and even if you find oodles of space for it in the overhead storage compartment onboard. They might start threatening you with not being able to take your instrument on the flight at all.

Beyond that, and it’s not the airline’s fault, but the 15-minute walking journey along the painted line from the international terminal to the domestic terminal, at the Auckland airport, is the perfect recipe for losing every member of your family along the route. We actually ran along the line, due to a short layover combined with an extended wait time in the forever-long customs queue, which almost caused us to miss our next flight and temporarily lose our family. So, good luck to y’mate!

Speaking of customs checks, their inspections are so strict in New Zealand they had us shaking in our boots. You know, when you carry basically everything you own with you all the time, as we do, there’s bound to be something they’ll find questionable, right? Thankfully, the only thing they wondered about was a rice-stuffed sock snowman that Emily brought along which, lucky for us, was deemed allowable after a bit of debate between staff workers.

Ah well, we could get all hung up on the frustrations of life, but the truth is, there is always the opposite to be experienced at any given moment, and that’s a much more desirable focus to align ourselves with.


So, on the flip side, there are no security checks for domestic flights in New Zealand, which was very relaxing. Also, our last flight with Air New Zealand, when we flew out of the country, was surprisingly quite blissful. They didn’t even weigh our carry-on luggage at all that time. Thank goodness, because we were definitely over the limit again, haha!

Additionally, we had a really connecting and personable flight attendant, Kelsey. She was curious about our family and our life, and really friendly with the girls, bringing them things to color, and a blanket for Aysia, which also folds up into a cute little lion pillow. She even asked if the girls wanted to help hand out cookies to the other passengers, and of course Marie had a lot of fun with that.

Ocean Dreaming Holiday Rental

Jared, the manager of Ocean Dreaming, our holiday rental, welcomed us once we arrived from the Nelson airport. He was always so attentive and available for anything we needed, and really great to chat with as well! We were even invited to a dinner with his family at their home, near the end of our three month stay in Nelson. It made for a lovely note on which to leave New Zealand. We really enjoyed visiting with everyone, and the girls had fun with their two young daughters. There was an intern staying with their family who we enjoyed getting to know as well.


We had fantastic internet at our place because the owners agreed to upgrade the speed for us, which we needed for all our online classes, Skype calls, and business.

We also had lots of windows overlooking the scenic ocean harbor where we saw many sailboats, kayaks, big ships, and paddle boarders every day, and we basked in the colorful sunsets from the front balcony in the evening. I just couldn’t get enough of the view, and I’ll probably miss it forever.


In fact, we were just a five-minute walk from the ocean, so we strolled down together one night as a family. We enjoyed the atmosphere amid the water, boats, planes, shops, and restaurants around the harbor. We stayed to watch the sunset for a bit while Brandon took some nice photos. Then we climbed back up the steep roads to the house.


It was a four bedroom home, so we all had space to spread out a bit. It felt cozy to have the craft/drawing table, comfortable sitting area, and large dining table all in the same open space as the lovely, well-equipped kitchen. This helped us keep each other company quite comfortably. The home even included a nice hot tub for our use outside near the entrance.

There were loads of books at the house to enjoy, a few of which sparked our interest. Aysia especially appreciated the collection of children’s books, including lots of Beatrix Potter which we read together. Our favorite was a sweet story called The Tale of Two Bad Mice.

Nelson Saturday Market

We explored the Nelson Saturday Market the day after we arrived, and also many subsequent times. There were quite a few food stalls, and we especially liked the Mexican food and the waffle stall, which even sold delicious berry smoothies.


We found an abundance of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables at the market, in really amazing quality. For example, I’ve never had better cherries, and the plums and strawberries were also quite exceptional.

Which reminds me, we tried the kiwano fruit for the first time during our stay in Nelson. The flavor is mild and refreshing, kind of like a cross between a cucumber and a lemon, with a nice jelly-type texture. It is a beautiful yellow and lime green inside with a spiky orange-yellowish outside.


There were many beautiful handcrafted items for sale and lots of delicious treats. I really liked the natural black licorice. By the way, the Pam’s brand (or RJ’s brand), soft-eating, natural licorice is also really good, which we found in the grocery stores. It comes in flavors of raspberry and original black.


There was also a booth selling organic herbal tea by Heke Homemade Herbals, from which I purchased the spicy red chai blend and the soothe blend, which were both really nice.

We all spent quite a while gazing at a booth with a variety of adorable needle-felted fairy creations.


One day I picked up a new necklace at the market, made from black volcanic rock, with a beautiful Maori design carved into it, symbolizing strength and unity, water, and harmony with the forces of nature. I love it!


This is also where Emily tried busking (street performing) for the very first time, where in twenty minutes she earned $5, in addition to our family contribution.


We also learned about Pic’s Peanut Butter at the booth they had set up. The factory is conveniently located in Nelson, so we signed ourselves up for a tour. It’s certainly the best peanut butter we’ve ever tasted, and it can be found in grocery stores all over New Zealand!


Evolve Festival

We attended the Evolve festival on Jan. 24th, which we found out about from a friend that very afternoon. Since it was the final day, we hurried out the door to participate.


Upon our arrival, we found a really amazing kite festival at the adjacent property, which completely stole our attention, so we went there first. My favorite kites were the big whale kite, which was a mommy whale with her baby. I also liked the turtle kite that was like the baby turtle on Finding Nemo. His movements in the wind looked very similar to the watery flow of his natural habitat. Pretty sweet, dude!


At the Evolve festival, there were many workshops and sessions on the schedule. Emily attended a presentation on sharing your creativity and promoting your work; Marie went to a workshop where she learned to walk on stilts; Brandon went to a meditative sound healing session, and I went with Aysia to a harp healing session.


Afterward we ate at an Indian food stall, checked out some booths, and listened to a kirtan. On our way out, we chatted with the harp player, Annemieke, from the healing session. We found out she teaches harp lessons and, since we all wanted to learn more about that instrument, we decided to have her teach our family!


Family Harp Lessons

Since renting a piano in Nelson turned out to be more difficult and expensive than we were anticipating, it worked out really well to fall into the opportunity for harp lessons instead. Our time with Annemieke was such a gift for all of us. We did homemade flashcard competitions, finger exercises, variations on Pachelbel’s Canon, and our own compositions complete with titles and artwork to accompany them. We also learned many other beautiful pieces of music.

Annemieke has such a connecting approach, and a peaceful, calming nature. Brandon recently wrote a blog post on Music Teacher’s Helper about our experience with her and the difference she’s making.


Beyond music, we also met-up at the beach with Annemieke and her two daughters, who are around the same ages as Emily and Marie. The girls each made their own unique sand and seashell creations while the adults chatted.

We frequently enjoyed visiting together after our lessons, along with her children, as they showed us their baby kittens, rats, and bunnies, even letting the girls hold them. One day, Marie went to a playdate with her daughter, Lisa, where they enjoyed being together for an entire seven hours!


Time Out Together

Nelson also makes for a fun place to enjoy a special date out with a loved one. Brandon and I certainly took advantage of the opportunity on a few occasions. One time we went to Nicolas Cantina for dinner and shared the tamarind pork burrito and an order of nachos along with a jug of sangria. We ordered the most delicious churros and chocolate for dessert, the flavors and textures were amazing. Afterward, we enjoyed a visit to Tahunanui Beach, taking a walk on the wide expanse of sand along the water at sunset. Ahhh…


Another time we went to a restaurant called Urban Oyster Bar and Eatery. Out of pure curiosity, I ordered the fresh oysters, never having tried them before. They were freshly shucked and served with shallot vinegar and lemon. Wow…more, please! I had two different types, one from Picton (close by Nelson) which had quite a strong flavor, and another type from Te Matuku Bay located on Waiheke Island. The Te Matuku Bay oysters were stunningly beautiful and tasted even better, with a mild creamy flavor and lusciously plump texture.


I made sure to go back for more, the day before we flew out of the country. That time there were Bluff oysters on the menu, which I also tried, and the chef even threw in an extra one just for me! The Bluff oysters are considered such a delicacy that an entire festival has been created in their honor. The accompanying wine I ordered was also really nice, the Starborough Sauvignon Blanc, from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Good thing I enjoyed it too, because man, the prices here for wine per glass are about the same as an entire bottle in Europe.

After dinner, we took a stroll through Queens Gardens, a free and beautiful garden park in Nelson. Then we headed over to The Boathouse and ordered an indulgent chocolate mud cake to share, as we listened to the live music performance given by Beth Patterson, from Louisiana. She played the bouzouki and had an eclectic Cajun Celtic style, really energetic, intricate, and unique!

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Marie and I also enjoyed an enthusiastic and carefree date out together one day in the oh-so-walkable center of Nelson, with plenty of good food and cute shops to choose from. We started out with a hair appointment for Marie to get a very short cut at Aboki. She’s been wanting to chop off her long, beautiful hair for quite some time…not that I’m complaining… Then we did a bit of clothing and accessory shopping with a frozen yogurt break in the middle.

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Before heading home, we went to eat at Sprig and Fern because Marie thought the meat pies looked good as we passed by earlier. As luck would have it, pies are their specialty! Marie and I shared one because it was extremely filling, and yes, also very delicious. This was only the first of many savory pies we had in New Zealand.

In fact, it seems the whole country specializes in them. They could be found at most every gas station and grocery store, and in many designated shops as well. We often ate these as a quick, flavorful, and filling breakfast-on-the-run during road trips, or as an occasional lunch or dinner. We especially liked the butter chicken variety!

By the way, Brandon also decided to cut his very long hair while we were in Nelson. It became a bit much for him to manage, so he asked his Facebook friends to voice their opinions about the best look for him. He reeled in a whopping 106 responses! In the end he went to Cardells and decided to cut it a nice shoulder length and trim up the facial hair just a bit. Thank you to everyone who gave their input! I think he looks amazing, as always.


As you may know, we enjoy a family movie night from time to time, and we watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy together during the beginning of our stay in Nelson. It seemed like the obvious choice, given that we hadn’t seen them yet, and also because we were in New Zealand where a lot of the filming took place. I think Brandon’s photo below captures a bit of that magical atmosphere really well. By the way, Marie can now do an excellent Gollum impression, should you ever desire her to perform it for you. Come to think of it, Aysia’s isn’t bad either — definitely creepy, though!


One day our family attended a buskers festival since Emily and Marie are both interested in learning to do more of that themselves. By a landslide, our favorite performer was Ace-K, from Japan. He is an accomplished and world-renowned entertainer, juggler, acrobat and balloon artist.


I’d also like to mention here, we find it fascinating to experience the unique overall feeling we get from the people in each country we visit. For example, in New Zealand we were quite surprised by their non-materialistic and reserved nature. We certainly wouldn’t have predicted that. I especially liked their focus on quality, health-conscious food. In general, we sensed quite a down to earth feeling there, as well as a strong national pride. It seems some are disposed to enforce certain questionable policies quite adamantly as well, especially concerning credit card signatures and airline rules, and especially if you act at all cheeky about it — which Brandon has a special talent for — but that’s a story for another post.

Egg Whites, Please!

One thing to be sure to try if you ever find yourself in New Zealand? The pavlova! I actually tried making a homemade version one night, which tasted delicious, but I didn’t like the inner texture of it as much as the New Zealand grocery store variety, of which there is always a plentiful supply. 

However, the outer layer of the homemade variety had a nice, slightly crispy crunch, which I especially liked. Top it with some whipped cream, sweetened with a bit of powdered sugar and vanilla. Then layer on an assortment of your favorite berries and/or fresh chopped fruit.


Speaking of culinary delights, I had a lot of fun playing, creating, and experimenting with food during our stay in Nelson, mostly because I occasionally love to do that sort of thing, and I had a great kitchen to work in, but also because eating out in New Zealand is very pricey.

As far as desserts go, I found some inspiration in the form of a macaron cookbook I discovered at the house, and since I simply adore those delectable little treats, I tried my hand at making one of the chocolate varieties. I didn’t get the feet of the macarons to form very well, but the flavor was amazing!

I made them on Groundhog Day, as an accompaniment to our family movie that night. What a perfect time to watch one of my favorite shows starring Bill Murray, entitled none other than — Groundhog Day! I really like the message about finding true happiness in life through kindness, authenticity, and being fully present to the opportunities in each moment.


And that, dear readers, is only the beginning. Please stay tuned for our next round of New Zealand adventures, as we begin our exploration of this country’s exceptional natural beauty in company with many dear friends. Watch for — New Zealand North Island Encounters. Coming soon, to a website near you!


We’d enjoy hearing what you love about your current home-base! Please share in the comments.

Jennifer loves to breathe, read, write, travel, learn, sing, dance, eat, and practice mindfulness. She is currently residing in Ubud, Bali, and loves exploring new places with her family.


  1. Jen, it is so fun to go on this adventures with you (virtually, of course). Your writing style makes me feel like I could have been just walking alongside you. And what a wonderful place it would be to walk!

  2. Irene Curtis Says: July 8, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    I agree with “the Mom””. This is a delightful piece. Thanks. You do let us feel like we’re right there beside you.
    Brandon’s photos are so breathtakingly beautiful.
    He does look very handsome. I would loved to have seen a picture of Marie’s new hair cut. :-)
    BTW we buy the same JR’s licorice in Mt. Pleasant ( cabin). We like the black best. Look forward to your next post.

    • Thank you, Grandma! Yes, I wish I would have thought to take a photo of Marie’s new haircut, too. I just get so caught up in the moment that I tend to forget those kinds of things. Lucky you have such great licorice in your neck of the woods!

  3. Your post was delightful to read. I feel like you really had a lot of energy when writing it. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures!

  4. Thank you, Millie! It’s interesting how peaceful I felt during our time in New Zealand, which I think I also helped me feel more energetic. Pretty cool! Thank you for your observation and helping me see that connection. :)

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