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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 11 (February 1, 1936)

Nelson — The Athens of the Antipodes — New Zealand's Serene Haven

page 15

The Athens of the Antipodes
New Zealand's Serene Haven

(Railway Publicity photos.)

I was talking to an acquaintance in Auckland on my Wellington telephone at ten minutes past seven, and at six o'clock the following morning I was walking with my friend of the camera in the quaintly formal, precisely exquisite Queen's Gardens in Nelson, watching the swans.

A legend, once established, has a long life. The idea of the “isolation” of Nelson is firmly implanted in the minds of folk all over New Zealand.

Panoramic view of Nelson, from the grounds of the Cawthron Institute.

Panoramic view of Nelson, from the grounds of the Cawthron Institute.

I discussed it with a travelling companion as we passed through the French Pass by the pale light of the moon. It was a breath taking scene of beauty— this narrow defile between two sheets of silver sea; here and there lights of a dim rose colour twinkled from the shore, and dotted about either entrance were the green and white lanterns of waiting boats. He had crossed to Wellington hundreds of times and could recall only four unpleasant journeys. The truth is that the story of the storm tossed Straits is a myth. For some strange reason, too, when the Anchor boats are brought into conversation, no one mentions the fact that the “Matangi” is a “Normandy” compared with English Channel ferry steamers, but someone recalls the fact that the “Ngaio” put out to sea when larger vessels were taking shelter in Wellington harbour. I should have thought this might well be taken as a tribute to the ease and safety of the crossing as well as the undisputed daring of the ship captains.

I saw both the “Arahura” and the “Matangi” off many times at the beginning of the school terms, and saw no signs of terror on the decks crowded with boys and girls bound for the Nelson colleges. There seemed to be little either, if the faces are to be believed, of the notion that scholars go “unwillingly to school.”

The arrival at Nelson in the early morning is a disembarking into dreamland. The busy little port is quiet, the din of the huge Anchor Company's foundry is stilled, and the smoke is rising straight in the calm, cool air from countless pleasant houses. We are speedily and comfortably installed at the Commercial Hotel and set out for a ramble before breakfast. One gets the impression that all the early morning gardeners of the Dominion have emigrated to Nelson. Hoses are playing, here and there the morning hush is broken by the whirr of a lawn mower, and over every trim hedge there are masses of flowers. But, best,
Viewed through the surrounding trees, the white pile of Nelson Cathedral makes an imposing spectacle.

Viewed through the surrounding trees, the white pile of Nelson Cathedral makes an imposing spectacle.

above all, is the pervading green loveliness of tall trees. Huge elms, towering gums, and shapely lime trees are in streets and gardens alike. The joy of these becomes apparent as the day wears on and the phrase “Sunny Nelson” takes on its real meaning.

The shining whiteness of the marble of the Cathedral takes a further beauty from its surroundings of lofty trees, gay shrubs, and meandering green walks. When this superb edifice is completed, this hill will be the aesthetic prize of the Southern Hemisphere, a New Zealand Acropolis.

The city of Nelson is built in a hollow and its little central plain is ringed by sheltering hills of varying height. On the gentle slopes of these nestle hundreds of paradisal homes. I thought, as we returned to breakfast, page 16
Farming and fruitgrowing are the principal industries of the Waimea Plain, pictured above.

Farming and fruitgrowing are the principal industries of the Waimea Plain, pictured above.

of what a wise head of the State would feel that he should do, if he had made this two hour stroll about this serene and friendly prospect; he would make retirement to Nelson the exclusive reward for distinguished service.

There are seventeen hotels in Nelson, showing that its early company of pioneers, in the midst of the notable care for culture and learning, had the Homeland ideas of comfort. The largest is the Commercial Hotel which needs a line to itself. It is a modern hostelry with an air of its own, an air which belongs to Nelson, and is compact of efficiency and unhurried enjoyment of the pleasant things of life, one of them, in this case, being good food. We show a picture of the sun balcony where one can lazily watch the busy shopping streets and realise, that after all, there are thousands of Nelson people who must work. This somehow, seems a little wrong; but this city has many surprises. It has industries of considerable dimensions, but, I suppose, its principal utilitarian function is to deal with the extraordinary and varied production of its hinterland.

We made many pilgrimages to outlying places, and show in our illustrations one or two examples of the apple and fruit orchards which have made the district famous. A year or so ago, over a million cases of applies were exported from Nelson, two-thirds of the total amount from the whole Dominion.

The wide Waimea Plain, as will be seen from our views, is reminiscent of France in its orderly fields, its neat hedgerows, its tree-lined roads, its plantations surrounding tidy homesteads, and its abundant fertility. Farther north are the tobacco and hop garden lands, and the Riwaka Valley, which is the richest growing area in the world.

It is characteristic of the people of this sunlit province that there is no haphazard handling of these treasures of climate and terrain. Every resource, both commercial and scientific, is utilised to further the practical progress and the general perfecting of the produce of these multitudinous Gardens of Eden. The Cawthron Institute is known all over the globe, and its generous founder has left an institution which makes noble contribution to the world's knowledge of orchard pests, soil contents, and, indeed, all the problems of fruit growing in all its branches. The Agricultural Department has a large Orchard Division incessantly at work, and every individual
The entrance to the Boys’ College, Nelson.

The entrance to the Boys’ College, Nelson.

farmer is cared for with assiduous attention. Then on the business side there is the co-operation of Buxton and Company Ltd. This colossal concern is typical of Nelson. It has been in existence since the dawn of the settlement, and was acquired by the present owning family from its founder half a century ago or thereabouts. It touches every activity in the wide province, and its wise and generous leadership is high in the esteem of dwellers in every nook and corner, from Collingwood to Murchison. It has a great “needle to an anchor” departmental store which would be a credit to any European or American metropolis.

However, the business side of Nelson is not, in the view of this writer, the genuine revelation of its personality, although, possibly, it has succeeded in making commerce a matter of friendly, sensible serenely fair negotiation.

Nelson's first export was its series of great men. Its present air of historic age is due as much to the splendid figures who adorned its early days, as to the intensive growth that its sunlit skies give to tree and flower, to lawn and creeper. I saw the first number of the “Nelson Examiner,” published in March, ninety-three years ago. Among its editors was Alfred Domett, and the leader on that yellowing page was a masterpice of prose.

For many years, it remained the most influential and important newspaper of the whole country. Saunders, Stafford, Fox, Dillon Bell, Dr. Monroe, Weld, and the Richmond, Fell and Atkinson families were makers of history and potent leaders, contemporaneously with the Wake-fields, Rollestons, Tancreds, and Cargills of the larger centres. They

(Continued on page 49 .)