Moreish mussels in science town


Main street: Havelock is well worth spending a day to visit.

The Havelock YHA accommodation was once a school attended by two world-famous scientists, writes ROY SINCLAIR in Escape.

Havelock is a 40-kilometre sprint along SH6 from Blenheim, and a mere 30km from my Renwick starting point.

I make it leisurely in two hours on my pedal-powered two wheeler. My digs, the Rutherford YHA, is elevated at the town’s southern approach. The day is one of drizzle, but the clouds swirling around hills at the head of Pelorus Sound are appealing.

Named after British military hero Sir Henry Havelock, the small Marlborough town is a popular staging post for cyclists pedalling between Nelson and Picton. I am greeted by 84-year-old Scottish-born wheelman William Hind waiting in the rain outside the YHA. He had heard that another cyclist was arriving. Claiming that it as his 94th New Zealand visit, he tells me he hasn’t worn a rain jacket since leaving Scotland some years ago to live in Canada.

The name of the YHA backpackers suggests worthy historic connections. The 1883 building had been a school. High- achieving New Zealanders Ernest Rutherford and William Pickering are former pupils.

Ernest Rutherford was born at Brightwater near Nelson. He became a pupil at the school when his family moved to Havelock in 1883. He then attended Nelson College and Canterbury College in Christchurch (later the University of Canterbury). Despite gaining three degrees, he failed as many times when applying for teaching appointments.

He took a scholarship to Cambridge in 1895 and subsequently became the father of nuclear physics. Lord Rutherford’s work (while studying at Manchester University in 1917) led to the splitting of the atom.

Following the death of his mother, William Pickering, aged six, moved to Havelock from Wellington in 1916 to be brought up by his grandparents.

He subsequently studied at Canterbury College and the California Institute of Technology, later becoming known in America as the Kiwi Rocket Scientist.

An early achievement for Sir William was participating in the space race following the successful Russian Sputnik project in 1957. Pickering is credited with the success of US Explorer 1 launched from Cape Canaveral on January 31, 1958.

Pickering went on to become a key member of Nasa during the pioneer space missions.

At the Mussel Pot cafe, Tracy Cacciamani tells me about the seafood delicacy synonymous with Havelock.

“Most people here are involved with mussels one way or another,” she says.

“They are healthy with no cholesterol and good for bones and joints. And the seafood, being farmed in the nearby Marlborough Sounds, is sustainable.”

The previous evening I had enjoyed a mussel selection – grilled, steamed, barbecued and smoked along with several toppings. There are many ways to prepare mussels.

“The only thing we haven’t managed is mussel icecream – a gelato,” laughs Tracy.

She then astounds me with the following statement: “The pink [apricot coloured] mussels, are the ladies and the white ones, the men. The pink ones are softer.”

I look on as she prepares to make her popular mussel chowder. She won’t reveal the recipe.

“If I did that I would have to kill you,” she quips.

My next call is a fascinating Eyes on Nature fish museum set up in the attractive former post office.

It is the painstaking work of taxidermist Ross Brownson. In dim, eerie, light I walk though realistic dioramas of sea creatures, including suspended sharks, divers and even fishing boats.

Another room has a stunning display of freshwater fish, paradise shell ducks, and other New Zealand birds and reptiles. The habitat is convincingly realistic.

The models are fibreglass, often cast from the original species. I am told the accurate painting is the crucial skill. Brownson is also in demand recreating models of creatures fishers have elected to release.

– © Fairfax NZ News

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