After our whirlwind first day in Wellington and the choppy sailing across the Cook Straight to the South Island, we made it safe and sound to Nelson for the 2WalkandCycle Conference. Nelson is a picturesque seaside town, with a quaint city centre, surrounded by rolling hills and nestled in the Tasman Bay, making it a favourite for many New Zealanders on holiday. For us, it was home for three nights and the setting for the most networking we've ever done in a 48-hour period.
Upon our arrival, it was straight to business, checking in at the conference and a quick meeting with a couple of the organizers. Then it was off to getting ready for the awards dinner, a time when the people that have been working so hard to better the conditions for walking and cycling in New Zealand were awarded for their efforts by their peers. It was a truly wonderful experience witnesses all these great communities coming together to celebrate each other's work. Although we were relatively new on the scene, we were afforded the chance to meet with many of these people - one of who was Celia Wade-Brown, mayor of the City of Wellington and a champion for walking and cycling in her city. It was a surreal experience to sit down and chat with such a strong, female figure in local government, and share a genuine conversation about the work we do and how Wellington can benefit from our message of multi-mobility. We both left dinner excited for the possibilities for the future.
Thursday it was showtime, with our key note presentation scheduled just before lunch. Despite some nerves, it went off without a hitch, with some intelligent and thoughtful questions from the audience on how we thought the delegates could bring our message home to their respective cities. As we made our way to lunch, what followed would be an endless stream of people thanking us for our talk and wishing to speak with us further about what we do and our message. We met so many new people over the course of the conference, with many connections built for follow up in the future. The simple act of sitting in the lobby became an invitation for a conversation, and before we knew it, the conference was nearly done.
But worry not, the Bruntletts did get a little cycling time in Nelson. One of the conference coordinators, Glen Koorey, invited Chris and I to ride the newest separated cycling infrastructure on St. Vincent road to offer our opinion on it's efficacy. This also meant meeting up with some local reporters and local councillor to further discuss what good infrastructure is and why it's so important for building ridership, and even getting quoted in the local paper as "cyclist experts". Chris and I really enjoy experiencing other cities on two wheels, and in Nelson, it seems like they're on their way to providing safer spaces for their cyclists. My only complaint is the lack of access to the water, something we've realized we take for granted in Vancouver, and what would be a major draw for people travelling into the region.
After two and a half days we left Nelson feeling honoured to have been included in this meeting of communities throughout New Zealand set on one main goal - to improve and promote better walking and cycling programs for the entire country. We felt like our story resonated with so many of the people we spoke to, and understood the true value of our message. What seems so every day for us at home in Vancouver is still a work in progress for many communities in the country, and hearing how Vancouver was able to inspire lifestyles like our own helped empower them. We are excited to see what will come to be in the months and years to come, and maybe we provided a little extra push to get them there.