A Taste of Tasman's Great Taste Trail
Posted on Friday 26 May 2023
One of the most appealing things about the Nelson Tasman region is the diversity of the landscape. The mountains (snow-capped in winter), deep rivers, green valleys, golden beaches and lush forests. Cycling Tasman's Great Taste Trail is one of the best ways to feel like you are part of the scenery. One of 23 Great Rides of New Zealand, the Great Taste Trail is a 200 km of well-maintained trail that winds its way through an alluring mix of diverse landscapes and unique offerings.
You can start the trail from anywhere, but for visitors to the region, Nelson is usually where the journey begins. If you’re keen to ride the entire trail, allow four days to complete it. But loop trails like this one add extra flexibility when it comes to timeframes, preferences and start and end points. Local operators provide options for those of you seeking a single-day route, or even a trail taster of just a few hours. There is one more key ingredient to a winning formula like this one and that’s locally produced food and wine. You’ll want to leave some space in your bike’s pannier bags for stashing away edible mementos from the trip. You’ll find plenty of award winning wineries and gourmet food producers never far from the trail.
City skirts, classic cars & giant peanut butter jars
The region lost its railway many moons ago, but the Great Taste Trail has maximised the remnants of the rail corridor as much as possible and you’ll benefit from this if you leave from the Nelson CBD via the Railway Reserve and through Stoke. Short diversions off the reserve include the Classic Car Museum, Pic’s Peanut Butter World and early craft beer makers, McCashins Brewery. Bookings are essential for both brewery and peanut butter factory tours.
At Richmond the trail splits, and if you choose to head west you’ll follow the coastal pathway across purpose-built cycle bridges and boardwalks. Waimea Inlet is best traversed a few hours either side off high tide for the best views. There’s a suspension bridge to cross before you get to Moturoa/Rabbit Island, a place where you’ll see more pine trees than rabbits, and a beach that seems to stretch forever but that’s because it’s 8 kilometres long. Follow the island tracks around to the western side for a short ferry ride to Mapua Wharf, the perfect place to revitalize in the salty sea air and warm up with a rabbit island coffee from Alberta’s. This quaint seaside village also has fine dining restaurants, art galleries, cafes and boutique stores making it a popular destination for locals all year round.
From Māpua, the trail passes through Ruby Bay and up the hill a bit to pass some of the region’s apple orchards and vineyards. If you’re passing through on a Friday, the nearby Jester Café boasts a trifecta that seems hard to beat - tasty food, magical gardens and friendly eels. They’ve got a giant boot-shaped cottage available to stay in too if the magic and eels don’t sway you.
They’ve got a giant boot-shaped cottage too if the magic and eels don’t sway you. Just down the road is JointWorks Studio, set up by Tony and Jane Clark, the couple’s goal is to make handmade items that bring joy to people’s lives. Tony is a master woodworker and Jane an accomplished weaver. The trail eventually reaches the edges of Motueka township skirting around rather than through, though it’s a short detour if you want to get supplies or stopover. The cycle trail instead follows the picturesque coastline, past the beach shipwreck of the Janie Seddon, and the local bird life including the majestic kōtuku (white heron). When you reach Riwaka it’s a decision-making moment as many riders temporarily leave the Great Taste Trail to head to Kaiteriteri Beach. With its golden sands and safe sheltered bay, it is the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. Here you’ll also find the Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve with 70 kilometres of trails at the local mountain bike park, it’s also got waterfront dining, a campground, cabins and apartments, plus a local store and café. For decades, Kaiteriteri has been the destination that kiwi holiday memories are made of.
The section from Richmond to Kaiteriteri is 64 kilometres and grades 1-3. It’s Grade 1 for the 20 kilometres to Mapua via Rabbit Island
Back on the Great Taste Trail at Riwaka, your next destination is Tapawera. You’re about to embark on the longest section though you’ll follow the Motueka River for some of it, where you can take in the picturesque views of Kahurangi National Park and probably love the vibe of a tree-lined valley ride. Affectionately called the ‘back of beyond’ leg, you’re looking at a 63-kilometre ride on a grade 3 section. It’s backroad stuff, with a bit of elevation and rural gravel roading, shared by vehicles. You might also have to save up all those social media posts until later as cell-phone coverage is limited. From Riwaka to the Baton Valley you’ll be passing orchards, hop gardens, farmland and native bush on quiet backroads, running between the Motueka River and the eastern boundary of national park. On a warm day there are numerous picturesque spots along the Motueka River to go for a swim. Stop to take in the Baton River Swing bridge before crossing it; a recent addition and purpose built for cyclists. There’s the Baton Saddle to conquer after that, not too gnarly, then you’re on your way downhill (mostly) for the last 15 kilometres to Tapawera.
A Daytime Cycle In the Dark
Tapawera is a prime producer of blackcurrants, berries and hops, as well as dairy, beef and sheep. Surrounded by stunning scenery, trout-filled rivers and national parks, it’s a best kept secret, becoming less well kept. Read all about the local history at the Railway and War History Museums.
The trail from Tapawera passes through Kohātu where you can enjoy a coffee on the verandah at Flat Rock Café and take in the rural views of a place that was for a decade in the 1890s, a busy end of the line for the rail system. The spot where train passengers and freight were transferred to coaches for the onward journey to Murchison and the Buller.
One of the most unique experiences of the Great Taste Trail is in this section. It’s the 1.4 kilometre Spooner’s Tunnel, appealing for the uniqueness of the lengthy ride through it. It’s the longest decommissioned tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere and with the absence of a working rail system, any light you see at the end of the tunnel, will reassuringly be either the exit to it, or the head torches of cyclists coming towards you. Built in 1891 by pick and shovel, the tunnel’s formation began simultaneously from both ends. Calculations were pretty good, only slightly out of alignment when they finally met in the middle.
Spooner’s Tunnel is book ended by the fertile Waimea Plains and Wai-iti Valley with plenty of picturesque places to stop and admire the views. Look out for hop farms in the foreground, Mt Arthur in the distance, roadside stalls with home grown crops, and the old railway windmill at Belgrove, just one of two still in existence in the country.
It’s an easy ride from there to the historic village of Wakefield which was settled in 1843 by British immigrants. Wakefield has the oldest school in New Zealand and the second oldest church still standing, St John’s was built in 1864.
This section of the trail from Tapawera to Wakefield is a grade two category and covers 31 kilometres. It takes about 2-3 hours, not including detours. This is a popular single-day excursion, and is a downhill ride.
As you cycle the next 7 kms to Brightwater, you’ll pass Spring Grove. Unassuming by all accounts, but famous for being the birthplace of the World of Wearable Art (WOW) as the creator, Suzie Moncrieff, held her first show at the William Higgins Gallery in Spring Grove in 1987. There may be creative genius running through the village water supply as down the road at Brightwater you can check out the memorial of the world-famous atom-splitting local, Lord Ernest Rutherford.
You’re in the home straight as you head back towards town with the loop completed. What remains if you haven’t already been tempted is the eateries and cellar doors of local wineries. Fifty years of commercial vineyards has established the region’s reputation as the epicentre of fine wine makers and many visitors toast the end of their Nelson Tasman visit with a glass from a happy holiday discovery. tastenelsonwines.nz.
Bike Hire & Guide Tour Operators / Getting Around
E-bikes can make short work of the uphill sections, nevertheless, some parts of the trail requires a bit more concentration than others. All the local operators have great reputations, plenty of experience and sound advice, and provide both bike hire and guided tours. Kiwi Journeys also offers ‘single day sensations’ which combine cycling with some of the region’s highlights. From paddleboarding and kayaking, to winery tours and popular sections of the trail. The Gentle Cycling is committed to the tiaki promise, to care for the environment and the people - a commitment that extends to picking up rubbish on the trail and helping beginner cyclists fix punctures. If you’re keen to combine your cycle days with luxury nights, Wheelie Fantastic offers a premium cycle tour package where you can do just that. While Nelson Cycle Hire & Tours is based at the airport, so your cycle journey can start from the moment you arrive in Nelson.
The Great Taste Trail is very well maintained thanks to stewardship by the Nelson Tasman Cycle Trail Trust. The trustees had a very clear objectives from the beginning to encourage and support wheel adventures in an economically and environmentally sustainable way. Read more about the trails at heartofbiking.org.nz.