Eureka: a sister city Nelson can be proud of

Editor’s Note: The USA Eagles will play Italy in Nelson during the Rugby World Cup on September 27. Nelson’s sister city is Eureka, California, and we thought we’d have some experts on Eureka tell you a little bit about their place. Richard Stenger and Tony Smithers of very kindly agreed to do so.

Given the distance between our worlds, one might suspect vast differences. Southern Hemisphere vs. Northern Hemisphere. Small island nation vs. a continental-wide behemoth. Yet zoom in closer, around the sister cities of Nelson, New Zealand, and Eureka, California, for example, and one finds surprising similarities.

First, both boast nearby film locations of science fiction/fantasy movies that remain popular with traveling film enthusiasts. Heard of Lord of the Rings? Just kidding. As most of the residents of Nelson know, the areas around Mt. Owen, Mt. Olympus and Tasman Bay offered great cinematic landscapes in LOTR, serving as the Dimrill Dale hillside, the rough country south of Rivendell, and Chetwood Forest, respectively.

Likewise, the Return of the Jedi, the third part of the original Star Wars trilogy, used the redwood forests near Eureka for the Endor moon scenes. As LOTR fans stream through the rural spaces of New Zealand like armies of Orcs, we too still have Star Wars fans paying homage, finding locations where stormtroopers once battled Ewoks, Luke Skywalker and friends, along the Avenue of the Giants, Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park, and Redwood National Park.

Redwoods rule the forest.

Redwoods rule the forest.

Redwoods. They are our greatest superlative. Eureka, located on the coast of Northern California, is flanked by the two largest old growth redwood forests in the world, including the tallest known tree, Hyperion, more than 115 meters tall.

To put that in perspective, American-style, if you reached the top of the Statue of Liberty, you’d have to look up six more stories.

Go beyond Nelson, to the North Island, and one can sample these giants. The Whakarewarewa Forest near Rotorua, renowned for its cycling and walking trails, is often simply called “the Redwood Forest” because of its most impressive feature, a grove of tall redwoods planted a century or so ago. As we love these giant trees, we take delight in knowing that Kiwis sometimes do what we like to do, hug them.

Back to the sister cities. Our town, Eureka hugs the ocean coast along a protected bay, much as Nelson does. Both saw the first pioneers in the mid-1850s. Both today serve as hubs for ecotourism and adventure travel, are known today for their lively arts communities, and have protected many of their Victorian homes and storefronts. In fact, Eureka is known as the Victorian Seaport.

Eureka was born and raised in the timber industry, with some fishing on the side, and earned a well-deserved reputation for being a bit wild. The adventure writer Jack London came here in search of authentic tough guys on which to base his characters. People still talk about what happened in 1912 when London got into a fistfight with a local lumberman in the Oberon Saloon. Eyewitnesses said it was a draw.

Eureka's Carson Mansion

Eureka's Carson Mansion

Things are quiet nowadays, but Eureka retains many reminders of its bustling past. Magnificent houses built of enduring redwood line the orderly streets. One of them, the Carson Mansion, has been called the most photographed Victorian in America, and is truly a wooden fairytale castle.

The Old Town and Downtown district is one of Eureka’s greatest assets. These blocks of vintage commercial buildings have been lovingly restored, and now contain bookstores, restaurants, coffee houses, galleries, museums and a variety of boutiques. Eureka’s Old Town has retained its Victorian character and is a delightful place to shop, stroll and dine.

Many of Eureka’s frequent fairs and festivals take place on the streets of Old Town. Like Nelson, pedestrians and bikers find it a friendly place to navigate.

The Madaket ferry, built in 1910.

The Madaket ferry, built in 1910.

The Waterfront along Humboldt Bay is a great place to view the water. Still a working port, Eureka’s colorful fishing boats and pleasure craft motor or sail in and out of the Woodley Island Marina. Renowned as America’s Best Small Arts Town, Eureka proudly boasts of the Morris Graves Museum of Art, the anchor of Eureka’s growing Cultural Arts District.

The museum is housed in the beautifully-restored Carnegie Library building.

With its proximity to numerous attractions, Eureka offers the ideal hub from which to start Redwood Coast adventures. A broad range of accommodations from quaint B&Bs to large hotels are available, as are numerous great places to eat. If you visit California, and find too much traffic and urbanity, head north a few hours from San Francisco and you’ll find forested valleys, green pastureland and natural beaches, a land that just might resemble your home.

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