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Exploring Mapua and the Ruby Coast from Nelson

Travel preparations

“I need a break,” I told everyone. “I’m going to Nelson / Whakatū for the weekend.”

Honestly, I didn’t go to Nelson at all, except to pass through the airport. Instead, I spent all my time on the coast of a little village called Māpua. I had visions of undertaking a multi-day bike ride on the Tasman Great Taste Cycle Trail, but in the end, opted for a more laid-back itinerary.

Stairs leading to Christ Church Cathedral and its tower in Nelson.
Stairs leading to Christ Church Cathedral and its tower in Nelson / Whakatū.

First, though, I needed a vehicle. Being on my own—and on a budget—I booked a little Fiat Bambina, but when I got to the rental counter at Nelson Airport, I’d been upgraded to a roomy Toyota Corolla. The next pleasant surprise of my trip came in the form of accommodation. Matahua Cottages are three cottages that sit alongside the Waimea Inlet, just out of Māpua. Again, I'd opted for the most budget-friendly option, but hostess Elspeth had upgraded me to the “Miro” cottage with waterfront views.

A Bike Ride to Remember

I was still up for a bike ride, but I decided to only do one day of cycling. For this, I enlisted the help of Wheelie Fantastic Cycle Hire and Tours based at Māpua Wharf. Essentially, if you have a plan, Nicky from Wheelie Fantastic will make it happen. 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 in bright sunshine, I followed the scenic coast to my first “Great Taste” stop. The Riverside Café is part of the Riverside Community, which was formed in 1941. I sat in their beautiful garden with a fragrant chai latte and freshly baked cinnamon brioche, and reflected with a smile on my journey so far. That smile quickly disappeared as I embarked on the rest of my bike ride, facing the formidable Tasman hills, but the reward was worth it: amazing views of the coast and the peaks of Kahurangi National Park.

Hidden Gems in Tasman

My next reward became apparent 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 beer—specifically, Mussel Inn’s Golden Goose Lager. It was only a half-pint, mind you; I still had eight kilometres to go on my bike ride.

Another huge drawcard of the Nelson-Tasman region is its vibrant arts scene. Anywhere you travel, you’ll pass signs beckoning you to venture into galleries, studios, and workshops. The challenge is deciding on which ones to visit! A solution for this, though, is to pay a visit to the creative people of Upper Moutere, a cute-as-a-button township situated between Richmond and Māpua. Here, they have joined forces to form the collective “Moutere Artisans”.

Start in the village at the Old Post Office, where you’ll 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 a region where having a rental car is essential. Without one, you wouldn’t be able to access these gems.

My next stop was Michael MacMillan Sculptor and Country Homeware. Michael is known for his large-scale sculptures, none of which—unfortunately—would fit into the rental car. What you can pick up as a souvenir, however, are their homewares upcycled from discarded French-oak wine barrels.

I spent Friday night down at the Māpua Wharf. The famous Māpua 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 enjoyed the live music.

Wrapping It Up

For my last day, I wanted to get a bit more mileage out of my bike. Here was where my upgraded rental car 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 coast along the flat and shady forested tracks. Back at the wharf, I finished the weekend with a lunch of steamed green-lip mussels, chorizo, and a Hop Federation lager from the Jellyfish Café.

Reluctantly, I relinquished my bike back to Nicky at Wheelie Fantastic Cycle Hire and bid the region farewell, reflecting on it with a smile once more as I made my way back to Auckland / Tāmaki Makaurau.