Exploring Mapua and the Ruby Coast by Rental Car
Hidden Gems off the beaten track in the Tasman Region
'I need a break,' I told everyone. 'I'm going to Nelson for the weekend.' In fact, I didn't go to Nelson at all, except to pass through the airport, but spent all my time long the coast a little, centred on the village of Mapua. I had visions of doing an intrepid multi-day bike ride on the Tasman Great Taste Cycle Trail, but in the end, opted for a more restful itinerary.
Any adventure starts for me with the vehicle. Being on my own, and on a budget, I booked an ultra-cute Fiat Bambina from Europcar and at the best price through VroomVroomVroom. That was my first nice surprise of the trip, when I got to the rental counter at Nelson Airport, I'd been upgraded to a roomy Toyota Corolla. My next surprise was my accommodation. Matahua Cottages are three cottages sitting alongside the Waimea Inlet, just out of Mapua. They have the perfect blend of retro styling and modern convenience in the most restful setting. Again, I'd opted for the most budget option, but hostess Elspeth had upgraded me to the 'Miro' cottage with water front views.
I was still up for a bike-ride, but decided to do just one main day of cycling. For this I enlisted the help of Wheelie Fantastic Cycle Hire and Tours, based at Mapua Wharf. Pretty much, if you have a plan, Nicky from Wheelie Fantastic will make it happen. We settled on a one-way, multi day hire. She drove me around 30 kilometres up the trail to just past Motueka. She set me up with a great bike, a water bottle, a bunch of maps and recommendations for stops, and left me to it.
The Nelson-Tasman region is one of New Zealand's sunniest, and on this day at least, I wasn't disappointed. In bright sunshine, I followed the scenic coast to my first 'Great Taste' stop. The Riverside Café is part of the Riverside Community, New Zealand's oldest intentional community, formed in 1941. I sat in their beautiful garden with a fragrant chai latte and freshly baked cinnamon brioche, and felt a bit smug about my (flat) ride so far. That smugness disappeared completely as I set off for the rest of the ride, over serious Tasman hills. The reward was amazing views back to the coast, and the peaks of Kahurangi National Park. My other reward came back down on the flat, when I reached the village of Tasman. Here I settled in at the Jester House café for a roast lamb sandwich and a sampling of Nelson's famous craft brewing products, in this case, Mussel Inn's Golden Goose Lager. Just a half-pint mind, I still had eight kilometres to home.
Another huge draw-card of the Nelson-Tasman region is its vibrant arts scene. Anywhere you travel, you'll be passing signs enticing you into galleries, studios and workshops. The problem is deciding which ones to visit! One good way, is to choose a small geographical area, and concentrate your browsing efforts there. With this is mind, the creative people of Upper Moutere, a cute-as-a-button township between Richmond and Mapua, have joined forces to form the collective 'Moutere Artisans'. Start in the village at the Old Post Office, where you will find original textile designs, small-batch preserves and a contemporary art space. Make sure you call in to the Moutere Inn while you are there, it's New Zealand's oldest pub, built in 1850. This is country where your rental car really is essential, you wouldn't be able to access these gems any other way. Keep driving to Neudorf Road, to Michael MacMillan Sculptor and Country Homeware. Michael is known for his large scale sculptures which are unlikely to be able to fit into the rental car. (Many of them are shipped off-shore.) What you can easily access, however, is their beautiful range of homewares upcycled from disused French-oak wine barrels.
I spent Friday night down at the Mapua Wharf. The famous Mapua Smokehouse made its name with premium seafood hand-smoked in small batches. They also do a mean fish and chips dinner, and have a convivial arrangement with the neighbouring Rimu Wine Bar, which meant I could take my fish and chips into the bar. I accompanied my dinner with a glass of Rimu Grove Pinot Noir, and got to listen to live music.
For my last day, I wanted to get a bit more mileage out of my bike. Here was where my upgraded Corolla car hire was invaluable. I could take the front wheel off my bike and easily fit it into the back of the car. I headed back down to the wharf and took the ferry to Rabbit Island to tootle along the flat and shady forestry tracks. Back at the wharf, I finished the weekend with a lunch of steamed green-lip mussels, chorizo and Hop Federation lager, from the Jellyfish Café. It was time to reluctantly relinquish my bike back to Nicky at Wheelie Fantastic Cycle Hire, and think about heading back to Auckland.