Across from windy Welly and up from the wetlands of the Coast, lies the sunny metropolis of Nelson – complete with its own micro-climate. Here, the locals claim that the sun always shines (if it rains, it is only at night) and it never falls below 15 degrees. While this may not be strictly true, there is no denying that the area does boast incredible weather, outstanding training rides and a growing number of fantastic cafés – each, in its own way, encapsulating Nelson's unique sense of creativity and free spirit: a place where what you do doesn't matter as long as you have a good time doing it!
The obvious choice for good coffee in Nelson city itself is the Morrison Street Café (which, to be confusing, is actually on Hardy Street). They are the 2006 winner of the regional best café award and past winner of the Nelson 'best barista', not to mention a host of awards for top hospitality. However, while is there are no arguments that Morrison Street really does serve great coffee (Atomic), my real favourites in Nelson are two quirky little cafés nestled down Church Street - a hidden little lane which runs off Hardy Street. Down here you will find the busy deli and café 'Zest' which was winner of the best café regional award in 2005. Zest has fantastic coffee (using CPR beans from Blenheim) and offers an impressive range of food and deli treats. Zest is open Monday to Friday, 7.30am till 4.30pm and on Saturday 8am to 4pm.
If Zest is too busy for you then the perfect place to chill out is just across the road at 'Stingray'. Tough call, but I would have to say that Stingray is my Nelson favourite. It has a small almost hidden street entrance, which opens out into a fantastic space sporting a great and changing array of art, Mediterranean inspired décor, a unique, mosaic rich garden bar and this is not to mention fantastic coffee (Vivace), food and personalised service that will make you laugh every time! One of the great things about Stingray is that it is eco-friendly – using solar lighting and heating, local organic produce and they support full recycling! Stingray is open 7 days "early till late".
To go on a really decent coffee ride in Nelson you will need to ride the 50kms out to Motueka – which has more of a free-spirit hippie feel to it than Nelson. Here you will find the infamous 'Hot Mama's'. Hot Mama's is run by a bunch of laid back, eccentric cruisers with offbeat kiwiana/pacifica décor and a relaxed atmosphere - you can't help but switch to cruise mode once you have been hanging out here for more than 10 minutes! Hot Mama's uses Havana beans and while they might not be serious about much, they are definitely serious about making sure their coffee is consistently good…Hot Mama's are open 7 days from 8.30am. It would be rude not to call in and check it out if you are out that way!
For the REALLY serious coffee rider, 50km over the hill from Motueka (warning: by 'hill' I mean the infamous Takaka Hill – now that's a true berg!) in heart-stoppingly beautiful Golden Bay you will find the little carefree town of Takaka and the 'Wholemeal Café'. This busy café is a along the same hippie, cruisy mode as Hot Mama's (which goes with the territory you are in!) and serves a huge arrange of food. The food is mentioned first because you will need it if you have ridden over the hill! The coffee is pretty darn good too, well made and they use Burton-Hollis beans. The Wholemeal Café is open 7 days from 7.30am till 9.30pm.
Not too far from Takaka, 17kms on the way to Collingwood, you will come across 'The Mussel Inn Bush Café' which is literally in the middle of nowhere (the area is called Onekaka). The Mussel Inn has the atmosphere that so many cafes attempt to create but few achieve – it is a very special place. Its style is 'Kiwi woolshed' meets Aussie farmhouse' with unique chunky wooden furnishings, a huge garden bar complete with tree swing, and beer that is all brewed on site (as well as ginger beer, cider, lemonade and some wines). Cell phones are banned (this is made quite clear by the few that are nailed to the wall) and perhaps as a result the native birds hang around a bit longer in the surrounding native bush: the general consensus is that this place is a sanctuary, boasting a café! The food is simple, home made and mainly organic, and the icing on the cake is that the coffee is outstanding – they use Totally Roasted beans which is a brilliant organic roastery located just down the road in Pohara. The Mussel Inn is open 11am till late, 7 days a week and there is regularly live music – along the folky, dance on the tables style (which is encouraged) and many famous NZ and international bands have been known to call in here for a jam session. There have been many occasions when I have felt the need to take the trip over the hill solely to get my Mussel Inn fix!
There are many more cafés in the Nelson/Golden Bay region – each unique and striving to create their own niche in this beautiful, carefree part of NZ. It really is a coffee riders dream, and because the best cafés are spread around the area you actually get a decent ride in too – the coffee tastes even better when you have earned it!