Havelock, New Zealand: Lips, Shoes, & Views

Leah Walker explores New Zealand

Havelock, NZ

When I got off the Interislander ferry in Picton, my first time in New Zealand’s South Island, I knew where I was headed. Oh, I wandered around Picton for a bit, but none of its cute cafés or coffee shops deterred me from getting to Havelock for lunch. What’s in Havelock, you ask? Well, Havelock happens to be the green-lipped mussel capital of the world!

Now, I’d never heard of green-lipped mussels, much less tried them prior to my New Zealand research, but I love mussels, so why wouldn’t I love these? I headed south on Highway 1 towards Blenheim, the town where I would be staying two nights. It wasn’t the most direct route to Havelock, but I wanted to stop at Makana Confections. What can I say? I brake for chocolate. In their Marlborough factory, I watched chocolate truffles being made by hand and probably sampled it all. I bought some goodies and was back on the road.

Across Highway 62 and through the rows and rows of grapes, I hit Highway 6, the road that would take me north to Havelock. The 15-mile stretch morphed from vineyards to a mountainous landscape filled with sheep and cattle grazing. Yellow gorse made it appear as if the mountains were on fire. A blanket of peridot-green grass covered the lower regions making it a dream for the livestock.

I drove slowly, even though the speed limit was 100 km. I didn’t want to miss anything. I’d been in New Zealand only three days, and each day I thought I would never see anything more beautiful. Driving through Marlborough, I was sure that this must be the most spectacular part of the country. Coming from drought-stricken Texas, the lush greenness through my eyes was exponentially multiplied. I was only a few miles from Havelock, and my stomach rumbled.

“WHAT the hell’s that?”

I slammed my brakes and pulled off into the ditch; I had to get a closer look. My stomach be damned! Draped on the barbed wire fence running along the highway were 50 yards of shoes. Flip-flops, running shoes, and hiking boots, were all strung with no rhyme or reason. I had to find out what that was all about, but first I had to take photos. I took a piece of weathered shoestring off one of the shoes and hung my flip-flops. However, there was no way I was leaving my fancy Gypsy Soules on that fence. I got the shots and headed into town. Perhaps I could find someone to tell me about the shoe fence.

I was greeted with a sign proclaiming Havelock the “Green-Lipped Mussel Capital of the World.” I was ready, as was my stomach, to try these famous mussels. I was told that the Slip Inn, located in the marina, was the place I needed to go. Because of my multiple stops and the time at the shoe fence, I arrived at an odd time; it wasn’t lunch and it wasn’t dinner. I had the whole place to myself. Noticing they had free Wi-Fi, I brought in my computer.

It was a little cool out, so I elected to sit inside rather than on the deck overlooking the sounds. Since I was in a region known for its sauvignon blanc, choosing a wine was a no-brainer. The meal was a tougher decision, as everything sounded delicious. I decided on cottage potatoes and the white wine, fresh garlic, and herb steamed mussels with a side of homemade bread. While I waited on my food, I checked my email, Facebook, and Twitter, but mostly I watched boats come and go and enjoyed my glass of wine.

My waitress, an English lady living in New Zealand on a work visa, brought my food. Upon hearing my accent, she asked where I was from. As usual, I told her Texas. A huge grin took over her face. She’d lived many years in Guymon, Okla. where her father worked, which isn’t too far from where I was raised. We chatted a bit and I asked her about the shoe fence. She didn’t know either. Hmmmm…

I’d eaten every last muscle and sopped up the juice with the bread. It certainly lived up to the hype. My second glass of wine and my bowl were empty, and it was time to explore the area. It didn’t take long to find something to pique my interest. Just outside of the Slip Inn was a sign advertising the Pelorus Mail Boat. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, you can deliver mail to homes scattered throughout the Marlborough Sounds. For $128 NZD, you ride along as they deliver the mail and see the sights of the sounds! Ha! I couldn’t wait to tell my mailman about this. He’s certainly missing the boat (pun intended).

From the marina, I spotted a road high above the sounds. I didn’t know how I’d get there, but I knew I’d find a way. I meandered through town until I found the narrow, steep road that would take me to the vantage point I desired. My grey, four-door Nissan struggled to climb the mountain as I struggled to keep my eyes on the road. It’s amazing what a change in elevation can do. Keeping my gawking in check, I found the Cullen Point lookout and pulled over. Grabbing my camera, I couldn’t wait to capture this beauty.

I gazed out over the varied landscape. Below me were the sounds, mussels farms, marina, and the town of Havelock. In the distance were mountains covered with grass, shrubs, and pine trees. In the further distance, mountains were covered in snow.

This must be the most beautiful part of New Zealand, I thought. I knew in the back of my mind, though, that Havelock was just the beginning of what the South Island offered.

PS. I still don’t know about the shoe fence. If you know, pray tell.

UPDATE: The folks at the Slip Inn gave me some insight on the shoe fence. Apparently one person hung their unwanted shoes on the fence some 15 years ago and it’s continued from there. Just so you know, there’s also a bra fence in the Central Otago area of the South Island. I’m going to have to check that out next time.

For more of Leah Walker's travels, visit Leah Travels: Life Is Short & The Road Is Long.