While family and friends back ‘home' spent the Christmas/New Year period engaged in traditional cold weather activities, Nelson's earliest European settlers found the colonial holiday period to be rather different.
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Samuel Stephens, a keen diarist wrote about the contents of the Stephens' larder on New Year's Day, 1843: "The great part of two pigs, part in salt and part fresh, a leg and loin of nice mutton, 3 red birds (a bird rather less than a pigeon), 2 pigeons, 2 kakas, 1 duck, new potatoes, green peas, turnips, spinach, plum puddings....I only wish all our friends of both families were here to partake of this bountiful fare."
Of their holidays at what was to become Stephen's Bay:
"The spot where we are leading a complete gypsy life is certainly a very delightful one....I moved a tent to a small cove on the coast toward Astrolabe Road. The great pest here is the sandfly....this tormenting little insect is quite black. They swarm about you in myriads biting very sharply every part of your person that is exposed. Maori often daub themselves with a red substance to prevent their bite," Stephens wrote on 1 January 1843.
And more seaside observations from Stephens:
Not a wave rippled the calm of Blind Bay.....numerous porpoises were gambolling very near the shore, and Hector who was with us, amused the party very much by his voluntary but ineffective attacks upon the unwieldy beasts - barking indignantly. Samuel Stephens, 1852
The first Nelson Anniversary celebration was held on February 1, 1843 and the Nelson Examiner urged Nelsonians to participate: " Women, children and all, turn out - especially you young ones, and set to the cake and bread and butter, and tea, and laugh and dance as if it were your one such holiday in the whole year."
John Barnicoat wrote about the anniversary celebrations in his journal, saying the weather was fine and Nelson assumed a happy holiday aspect. He noted that the most interesting and animated event was the Maori canoe race. " One canoe had eight rowers (including a woman or two) and the other nine. The whole had thrown off all European dress as not being free enough and presented the bare, brawny unencumbered shoulders. They contested the prize to the utmost and seemed to enjoy the fun."
Now a mecca for holiday makers and tourists, not so long ago, the Abel Tasman National Park was regarded as a backwater:
In 1957, the Nelson Evening Mail described the Abel Tasman area as "a stretch of little known coastline.....only a few miles from modern highways and speeding traffic, it is difficult of access except from sea and remains in much the same state as in pre-historic eras." The Mail also waxed eloquent about the area: "On a summer's day the diaphanous blue veil of the sky hovers over gleaming golden sands and mirrored lagoons which drowse peacefully in the sparkling brilliance of sun."
The information in this article is from diaries, letters and newspaper cuttings available at the Nelson Provincial Museum's Isel Park Research Archives.