A Road Trip to Remember
The strong summer sun has finally given way to the best season of the year where sunny days have found their rhythm, it’s warm and windless and rarely wet. Shrewd holiday makers have eyed up the option-packed Nelson Tasman and will already have their bags in the car, ready for an epic road trip.
Explorers go for the bush tracks, coastal views and adrenaline highs. Foodies go to seek out gourmet joys made by local artisans, brewers and vintners, and everyone, everyone, goes for the weather. Despite the region’s extensive reach across Tasman Bay, you can still discover a surprising number of the highlights in a day or two. So the real question is not whether you’ll have a great time, it’s – how long have you got to have a great time? Here are some ideas for a four to seven day road trip, but no one’s counting if you want to stay for more.
Nelson, Mapua and Moutere
If you wake up in Nelson on a Saturday, you can start the day’s adventure early because the iconic Nelson market opens at 8 a.m. The city streets are relatively quiet at this time, but slip down one of the alley ways into Montgomery Square and you’ll find dozens of friendly stallholders waiting to greet you. Fresh produce, artists and craftspeople, food stalls and devout disciples queuing for their usual. If you want to go where the locals go, this is the place. Like magic, the market rises out of the darkness for a few brief hours to transform a carpark into a community gathering place. To capture the essence of Nelson Tasman’s gourmet food scene, taste-test your way down the aisles, make connections with the stallholders and use the market as your jumping off point.
Souvenirs and gourmet snacks collected, leave the hustle and bustle of one centre of the city, for another. Views at the top of the Centre of New Zealand require about 20 minutes of steady commitment as you wind your way to the summit but panoramic views of Nelson Tasman reward you at the top. From here you can I-spy where you want to go next. Many choose the Suter Art Gallery, since 1899 this Nelson icon has sat on the edges of the picturesque Queens Gardens with its serpentine lake curling past the rose gardens, Victorian inspired specimen trees and the walls of the Huang Shi Chinese Garden. Other places of interest nearby include the pest-proofed Brook Waimarama Sanctuary where kakariki (parrots), tīeke (saddlebacks) and ngirungiru (tomtits) live to tweet the tale. Adventure seekers might fly high on the Cable Bay Adventure Park Skywire, a flying fox that seats four. In Stoke, the Nelson Classic Car Museum is home to a world class collection of 150 vintage and iconic cars from 100 years of motoring.
It’s a short drive or bike ride from the city to Tahunanui Beach past the marina and port sheltered by the naturally formed 13-kilometre Boulder Bank. ‘Tahuna’ is a long, sandy beach that comes with a few options. Walk it, at the very least, but if you’re feeling energetic, stand up paddleboard or kayak with Moana Paddle Nelson and take in that satisfying from-sea-to-land viewpoint as you skirt around Fifeshire Rock and Haulashore Island. A little further will get you to the historic Boulder Bank Lighthouse, the focal point of a many Haven memorie.
For a completely different seaside experience, head to Mapua Wharf, 20 minutes drive from Nelson and on the coastal highway to Motueka. The modern pier is home to boutique shops, galleries, restaurants, bars and cafés. Take in the Rabbit Island views from the wharf as you eat ice cream in a cone as quickly as it takes to stop it melting down your hand.
Head inland from Mapua to the Moutere Highway. A happy band of Moutere artisans have studios, wine cellars, and gourmet food shops dotted around the area. You’ll find their stores and stories here www.moutereartisans.co.nz. A great way to spend an autumn afternoon driving Tasman’s country roads.
Where to stay: In Nelson, check out the Beachcomber Hotel where you combine comfort with convenience, just a short stroll to Tahuna Beach to watch the sun set behind the mountains. For others, the laid back vibe of Tahuna Beach Holiday Park will be just the spot for a kiwi holiday experience. For something completely different, Rabbit Island Huts are luxurious, cosy and just a pinecone’s throw from Moturoa/Rabbit Island.
Abel Tasman National Park
You can’t visit the region and not go into the park (it’s not actually a rule, just don’t tell anyone if you don’t). Where you’ve got coastline and coastal tracks, you’ve got options. Walk, kayak, sail, swim or waka. Yes, waka. Waka Abel Tasman offers a unique cultural experience. A chance to learn waka etiquette and embrace the team experience as you paddle together in one of their single or double hulled outriggers to a national park landmark.
One of the longest running operators in the park is Wilsons Abel Tasman who offers stress-free cruise, kayak and walking combinations as well as a water taxi service. They’ll take you past the famous Split Apple Rock (our first ‘apple’, the orchard industry came later). Both Marahau Sea Kayaks and Abel Tasman Kayaks offer multiple options to get into the national park’s blue-green waters. Staying close to the coastline is the best way to explore all the unique spots. Keep an eye out for blue penguins and the local fur seals; they’ll do the same for you.
Most of the national park’s coastal track is easy to walk, hence its popularity, though a stand out feature is the glimpses through the trees of the golden bays below, or the pleasure you feel when you follow a track down to them. Day walks are easy to arrange but there are DOC huts all the way along the track if you’ve got more time to explore. You’ll need to book your beds but you can get your overnight bags dropped off so you can enjoy a hassle free day along the track.
Where to stay: At Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve. If you’re not too bored with looking at the sea by the end of the day (as if), plump for one of their ocean view apartments where you can squeeze out every last scenic moment of your Abel Tasman excursion. A short walk will have you at Waterfront Restaurant to dine and savour a cocktail oceanside. In Marahau quench your hunger with food from Hooked on Marahau, and a stay at the award-winning Abel Tasman Lodge will delight.
If you are heading over Takaka Hill, stop at the top to enjoy a dazzling view of the region, and to visit nearby Ngarua Caves with its limestone stalagmites, stalactites, and moa skeleton on display. Continuing on your road trip, you’ll discover there’s a lot to enjoy in Golden Bay, not least a coastline that lives up to its name. It’s the main township of Takaka that greets you first, with its galleries, gift shops, boho cafes while good karma comes with every purchase at StoneArrow, makers of ethically handcrafted jewellery. From Takaka, it’s just a short drive to Pohara and an oasis of calm, Aroha Health Spa. Yes, you do deserve it. Continue on to the coastal road to discover photogenic Wainui Falls, a permanent poser, rain or shine.
Head west from Takaka to the crystal clear waters of the world famous Te Waikoropupū Springs which requires only a short bush walk to be admired. The nearby Pupu Hydro Walkway retraces an old gold-mining water race as it winds its way around the hillside. A unique walk for any region, it passes through a young beech and rimu forest.
If you like to relax with the occasional tipple, there are two spirit distilleries in Golden Bay to enjoy taste testing. Try wasabi, saffron and chocolate gins at Dancing Sands Distillery while Kiwi Spirit Distillery has handcrafted a range of different spirits including whiskey, vodka,
gin and their famous TeKiwi made from Agave tequilana.
Farewell Spit at the furthest point of Golden Bay is a popular holiday home for migratory bird species including gannets and waders, and a permanent base for New Zealand fur seals. Exploring the delicate ecosystem to the tip of the spit involves a trip with Farewell Spit Eco Tours in their specially consented 4WD vehicles. An experienced operator with plenty of local knowledge, they’ve been offering tours to travellers for over 35 years. Not far from the spit lies a very rare experience at the top of the south, a west coast beach. It’s Wharariki, sometimes wild and windswept, but always beautiful.
On your return journey, refuel at the famous Mussel Inn in Onekaka. Self-described as a ‘Kiwi tramping hut meets Aussie farmhouse’ the legend of their steamed mussels precedes them while their craft brewery is as popular as it is prolific, producing beers, ales, ciders and homemade soft drinks.
Where to stay: Consider The Rocks Chalet in Takaka, sustainability-focused Ratanui Lodge in the seaside village of Pohara, or Golden Bay Hideaway in Wainui with five different options, from modern tiny homes to a lovingly restored 1960’s house truck.
St Arnaud Nelson Lakes National Park
It’s a 60 minute drive through the rolling countryside from Nelson to St Arnaud. The elevated altitude might require an extra layer though if
it’s a hot day, a jump off the jetty will necessitate the exact opposite. St Arnaud is home to the Classic Boat Museum, a collection of inspiring
antique power and sail boats. Other equally low key options include heading off on one of the many short walks in the area that provide vantage points of Lake Rotoiti and mountain beech forests.
If you’re after a bit more adventure, then there are several tramping options worth considering. You’ll need to set aside a good part of the day to visit Whiskey Falls. It’s a relatively flat four hour walk bordering the lake, where the aforementioned whiskey tastes, not surprisingly,
more like waterfall.
If you’d rather head for the hills, Mt Robert is a very popular alpine walk boasting breathtaking views. You can stay overnight in the DOC hut, bookings required. The appropriately named, Pinchgut Track suggests a moderate level of fitness to get near the top, and a healthy respect for the weather forecast is a must. If you’d rather abseil, Canyoning Aotearoa offers three options, varying in duration and experience but all involving jumping, sliding and abseiling through native bush and waterfalls.
Where to stay: The centrally located, Alpine Lodge offers beds for every budget with apartments, rooms, and backpacker accommodation available, as well as an onsite bar and restaurant for convenience.
If you wish to pack in each day, it’s a dead cert that you’ll return home with plenty of tales to tell your friends, a boot full of handcrafted Nelson Tasman foods, and many miles of memories to share again with your navigators and co-drivers.
For many, many more ways to experience Nelson Tasman, check out www.nelsontasman.nz/100ways and get inspired for a holiday your way!