Downtown cycling in Nelson is mostly flat. Except for the one big hill looming high above the city where the Botanic Gardens and some very leafy suburbs enjoy a peaceful outlook. The city is modest in size and generous in character, filled with pretty pastry shops, chic coffee roasters and wonderful weekend markets where the farmers bring fresh produce into town. Nelson is the kind of place where Manuka honey and boysenberry cider rate highly with the locals.
Dedicated bike paths connect the suburbs of Nelson to the coastal scenery with a seaside cycling route heading past Tahuna Beach and winding all the way through to Rabbit Island and beyond. The tidal flows around Nelson are dramatic as the ocean retreats for miles and leaves behind muddy flats full of cockles and crabs. Little fishing boats are left high and dry at low tide, like abandoned Lego pieces in a sandbox.
As cycling routes go the journey from Nelson to Mapua is as easy as they get thanks to a handful of suspension bridges and recently upgraded trails. There's only one road section and even that's on a quiet stretch through apple orchards.
The bridge onto Rabbit Island passes over the Waimea Inlet with views of snow-capped peaks in the distance and local fishermen chasing whitebait below. The island itself is flat and full of sand with pine forests thriving inland and massive sand dunes along the 13 kilometre stretch of beach. Bird watchers come to spot tidal waders like the Royal Spoonbill which forage in the retreating tides. In summer the beach is ideal for taking a swim to cool off.
Rabbit Island is part of the Tasman Great Tastes Trail, a route that extends all the way from Nelson to the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park. A dedicated ferry service caters to cyclists coming through Rabbit Island, crossing at the northern tip to drop the bikes and riders on the shores of Mapua. This is a small fishing village with more than its fair share of fish ‘n chips shops.
The local Smokehouse Café does the classic deep fry style but also has a strong trade in slow smoked fish. Special treats like White warehou have a little more oil in the flesh and soak up the smokey flavours, and they’re sold in picnic-sized portions that are perfect for packing in the pannier.
Mapua marks the 25 kilometre mark from Nelson, making this a good day trip with the option to follow the coast home again or ride inland through the apple trees of Richmond.
Beyond here the route gets more adventurous, relying more heavily on roads and getting a little steeper in sections. Getting out of Mapua and into the Tasman means pushing up the mountain for a few kilometres before rejoining the coast at sea level. This hill climb is not insignificant but serves as a warm up for the Moutere Valley ahead.
City of Nelson
Nelson is a small city but well spread out, so getting on two wheels can save you time when exploring the city. Tripping down to Founders Park, the Botanical Garden, the famous Saturday market or out to Tahuna Beach is much easier on the bike and lets you soak up more of the sunshine.
Nelson to Mapua
The easiest and most travelled section of the Tasman Great Taste Trail, only 25km and very flat. Renting a pedal from Nelson is easy and costs around $40 for the day. The ferry ride from Rabbit Island to Mapua Port is another $16.
Fine wines and gorgeous villages make Moutere a beautiful place to tackle a few hills. Some road riding is required to complete the Tasman Loop, a 175km route out of Nelson. Or you can arrange a 4 day self-guided package that rides into the artistic community of Moutere and back again via the coast.
The newly opened Heaphy Track was designed for hikers originally but is now open to mountain bikes. Just under 80km of the Kahurangi National Park throws up serious challenges for experienced riders, plus a taste of remote wilderness and South Island ecosystems.
Farewell Spit is a great way to spend the day to see historical sites, seals and migratory birds. The highlight has got to be the short walk to the Gannett colony. Curious birds fly across the dunes to check up on visitors so everyone gets a very close look indeed.