Nelson - it sure is one of New Zealand’s sunniest cities, the northernmost South Island city, and a tremendous destination for art and good food. And, to find that art and enjoy a place to lounge and picnic with some of that good food, head along Bridge Street to the Suter Art Gallery, Te Aratoi o Whakatū, a spectacular spot, with Queens Gardens alongside.
A Gallery for memory
There’s a memory for the Suter. Its heritage sits with a vision of the Suter family, whose generosity first brought to life their dream for an art gallery for Nelson.
The Suter was founded as a memorial to Andrew Burn Suter, Bishop of Nelson from 1866 to 1891. His widow Amelia promised his art collection to the city for an art gallery, if established in his name. A Wellington architect, Frederick de Jersey Clere, was commissioned to design it. It opened in 1899, when there were only two other art galleries in New Zealand.
And, since then, it has been an important part of this artistic region’s artistic life.
So it was one of the first permanent structures built solely for art in New Zealand. No surprise then, it’s registered as a historic place with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
And there’s a delicious cafe in the gallery, to sit and reflect on that memory - to enjoy some Nelson food offerings, and to watch the beauty across the lake of Queens Gardens.
And a Garden to commemorate
The Suter is for the memory of a bishop and his family. And Queens Gardens commemorates a queen.
The Gardens here were formally opened to celebrate the 50th jubilee of Queen Victoria’s coronation. They have extensive Māori and colonial history, a true example of a Victorian ornamental public garden.
They were designed around the residual part of the Maitai River called the Eel Pond, a food gathering place for Māori. And the first European settlers in Nelson used the land as an abattoir, or meat market, until the 1880s.
Then the area was dedicated the “Queens Gardens” and a design competition held. Architect AFT Somerville won, and the Gardens were formally opened. Later, the Memorial Gates and the Boer War Memorial were added.
There are paths through groves of tall trees. Formal plantings edge the serpentine Eel Pond. There are sculptures including the Cupid Fountain, the Water Wheel, the Boer War Memorial, and impressive Memorial Gates at the entrances.
So the Gardens have been special place for generations of Nelson people - social and public gatherings, relaxation and enjoyment. And they’re a perfect spot to picnic. Visit one of the city’s regular farmers markets, and bring your haul here to rest, relax and enjoy a sunny Nelson food picnic.