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Nelson, New Zealand

Ah, the South Island. The better half. The hotter twin. The chocolate side of a black and white cookie. We planned to be in the South Island for two weeks out of the three in New Zealand. Our research (and friends) all suggested that the South Island should be our main focus. And Nelson was going to be our first stop.  

To get to Nelson, we are taking the ferry, then renting a car to drive 80 miles along the coastline. Now, on paper that sounds pretty average but it’s absolutely stunning. It’s not like taking the ferry from shitty downtown to Staten Island, okay? Even the ferry from Larkspur to SF is pretty dope on a nice day, but cruising down the Cook Strait can take your breath away. Everything you ever imagined about New Zealand comes to life on this ride. All the green hills, blue water, bright sky. Here’s the crazy part: this is only the beginning. You haven’t even arrived to the South Island yet.  

The rental car associate said there were two routes we could take to Nelson: one was faster, and one was more scenic. We were happy to go as slow as a Sunday afternoon that day. This was actually our first time renting a motor vehicle of any sort while traveling. And it’s a must in the South Island. Trust me. You want the opportunity to stop as you please to take photos, stretch your legs, or have a picnic by a glacier. That’s right. I said glacier. (Tip: when Google Maps tells you it’s going to take 2 hours, you double it. These roads are very curvy and you must account for the extra time you spend stopping along the way. Luckily, Avery is from Mill Valley so he’s used to curvy, narrow roads. I’m used to honking and cursing at bus drivers on 59th and Lex).

On our way, we needed to stop at Havelock - the mussel capital of New Zealand (cue in heavenly ‘ahhhh” sound). I’ve had my fair share of mollusks in the past, and Avery doesn’t even like them! (I know, I know. But he has such a nice personality). We ate 2 kilos of New Zealand’s famous green-lipped mussels that day and honestly, I could’ve had more. Stop by The Mussel Pot and if you can eat like us, order the steamed mussels with garlic and white wine AND the grilled mussels. It was my first time having grilled mussels and they were insanely delicious. It actually comes with four flavors; tomato and pesto, sweet chili, garlic and herb butter, and bacon and cheese. And yes, some of these sound bizarre but man, it works. Our favorite was the tomato and pesto - you can actually choose one flavor if you want, but it’s more fun to try them all. When in New Zealand…

Back in the car we go and we finally arrived in Nelson. We actually laughed when we turned the corner into Nelson because it looks just like Marin. With the water, the adorable houses on the hills, the small towns, it really reminded us of home. Not only that, but our Airbnb host lives in San Francisco and he had a poster of the Marin Headlands in the house. It felt like we were home and honestly, it was kind of nice to feel that. 

This is where we were staying for the next few days over New Years. This Airbnb was perfection. It felt like a treehouse with the most wonderful kitchen. I was excited to finally cook (and let’s be honest, so was Avery). There was even a small barbecue outside. It was actually therapeutic having romantic dinners at home with a bottle of wine, like back in the day. We missed it a lot. Not having our own place in 6 months has been challenging so we really needed this. 

The South Island is perfect to drive and explore. We visited the beach at Rabbit Island, just a short 30 minute drive away, passing by thick forests and tons of greenery. We explored the town on Saturday and there was even a market going on - tons of food, crafts, art, and clothing. Avery and I bought the most beautiful wooden bowl and some paintings from local artists. When traveling, we really wanted to purchase a few items that were special. In both of our houses growing up, our parents had pieces from all over the world that were not only meaningful to them but to us as kids. We wanted to be just like them. These pieces along with our Balinese book ends will be the perfect conversation starters for the rest of our lives. 

For New Years, Avery booked us a romantic dinner at the Boat Shed. He booked it 6 months ago and I’m so happy he did. (Men, take some notes here). The Boat Shed was right on the water and we had the best view right next to it. It was absolutely perfect. I was so happy. Aside from the view, it was going to be an 8 course meal, filled with so much seafood and a rib eye steak, and actually two desserts. I was so happy. 

This was the best New Years I’ve ever had. I dread most New Years, especially during the New York days. Everything was so expensive (and cold), but usually I preferred house parties- close friends, open bar, no lines for the bathroom. This was a perfect formula for a party. But there’s always so much hype when honestly, it’s just another night. I like New Years more for its reflective nature. I actually almost wish America’s New Years was like Chinese New Year or Rosh Hashanah - focused on family and food. I’d like that so much more. 

This year, it was just me and Avery. Every year, I just want to be home, drinking a glass of red with some popcorn watching a TV marathon or movie - just like any other night. Why do we all have to pretend like we need to do something spectacular as if it defines who we are and what we accomplished that year? It just doesn’t make sense to me. Avery usually likes to do something but this romantic dinner was my favorite kind of night. 

 

But seriously though, cabs don’t even run after 11:30PM in Nelson. So, even if I wanted to do something spectacular that defines who I am and what I accomplished that year, I’d had to end my fabulousness at 11PM. For this reason, I like Nelson. A LOT. I want to do New Years here all the time. We rang in the New Year with a glass of red and a sweet kiss alone in our perfect treehouse. I was so happy.

Catherine JoeiComment