Tasman Great Taste Trail January-February 2019
It felt so nice to get away for another adventure, this time combining a cycling trip with exploration of a part of the the country we have not visited for some year.
The plane trip on a smallish Mt Cook Airlines plane to Nelson was uneventful and we set off from Nelson airport with our bomb of a rental car, a gutless grey Barina – not the cheapest but the second cheapest of the options available finding a cafe on the outskirts of Nelson for a late lunch. It was hot but not muggy like Auckland.
It was ‘rush hour’ with minor traffic queues as we passed though suburban Nelson before hitting the road to St Arnaud.
We intended taking the main route, State Highway 63, but turned off the main route taking a road which ended up being more interesting and probably more direct, through forest, rising quite markedly as we ventured into the hills of the St Arnaud range. St Arnaud is a small town, mainly of holiday homes but also people servicing the tourists, on Lake Rotoiti.
We encountered light rain, the first precipitation we have experienced for some weeks, as Auckland, and indeed the rest of NZ has been in the grip of a ‘heat wave’ with temperatures of 30 degrees. Meanwhile the temperature in Toronto reached -17 today!
But by the time we arrived it was too damp and misty to explore and we had a pizza dinner at the one place with any semblance of sophistication for we Aucklanders – Lake Rotoiti Lodge before getting quite wet walking back to the ‘log cabin’ motel.
Saturday was a lovely sunny day, slightly nippy in the shade a times, and we explored various tracks on foot around the beautiful typical South Island glacial lake, surrounded by wooded hillsides dropping steeply into the lake, as well as driving up Mt Robert for spectacular views around the mountain ranges. The clear demarcation between the trees and the bare scree and higher rocky slopes was impressive. There was plenty of water craft activity to observe around the shores of the lake – not many swimmers though, and tourists of many nationalities to watch. As we walked along a track from the Mt Robert carpark, Greg who has been having lots of trouble with pain in his left hip, discovered that walking with sticks was hugely beneficial, (as was drugging himself up on pain relief) and his walking range greatly increased. And I appreciated the support of a stick too! We will never scoff at Nordic walking sticks again!
Dinner at Rotoiti Lodge was OK but the quality suffered from the establishment not having much competition we think.
Day Three – Sunday
We began today’s drive by having another recce of the lake before heading off towards Takaka. The traffic initially was sparse except for camper vans and an enormous number of high powered motorbikes taking advantage of the largely straight fast roads at the beginning following the Buller River before climbing up to the Hope Saddle where there were spectacular 360 views of the surrounding hill country.
We stopped at the junction of a road back to Nelson for coffee, ginger crunch and cheese scones, a very strategic stopping point for the motorcyclists also, and headed along Motueka Valley road past orchards, growing hops, peaches etc, much of the land needing irrigation, into Motueka, a not particularly prepossessing place but the large real fruit ice cream on offer was welcome. On the outskirts of the town we picked up Mark a 51 year old British chap from Oxfordshire, interested in counselling and alternative life style and on a quest to find a wife with whom to have children which he could bring up in idyllic NZ. A typical talkative and opinionated Pom! We navigated the Takaka Hill and discovered it deserved its mean reputation for windiness, length and steepness, and the road works slowed the trip down. We will need to be mindful of this when we retort ace our steps on the way to starting our cycling trip early on Tuesday morning.
The motel on the main road was basic and we walked the entire length of the town dominated by hippy types shops and outlet for the many artisans who are doing their thing in the surrounding areas. Dinner at the Brigand (sp?) was Auckland standard superb – steak for me and lamb for him followed by shared cheescake/lemon tart.
Day Four Monday and Nelson Anniversary Day
We headed out in the car, destination Collingwood and beyond as far as the land end of Farewell Spit. National Radio warned of showers in Golden Bay which meant that the wooded hillsides were shrouded in clouds, and some light rain fell as we followed the coast, though most of the time we couldn’t actually see the water, passing towns which were mere dots on the map. Collingwood itself and the area around reminded us a lot of Northland with scrubby farmland which gave way to swampy costal land as we headed to the end of the sealed road – Puponga. Lunch at the Court House Cafe on Collingwood was welcome and there was nothing more to see so we headed back to Takaka.
This afternoon, we took the road along the coast in the other direction, which was quite different from this morning’s vista, taking Abel Tasman Drive through farmland and then winding past, and at time through and under huge limestone cliffs before discovering huge expanses of sandy but very tidal beaches which sweep around the coast as far as the eye can see and likely giving Golden Bay its name. Plenty of white caps today. Dotted around the cost were typical NZ beach settlements, Pohara, Liga Bay, Tata Beach, a mixture of nice beach houses, camping ground and baches, probably where the rich and famous from Nelson spend their summer. We turned around at the end of the road, Wainui. There was not much today which was particularly photogenic.
Tuesday 5th February Takaka to Wakefield
We allowed heaps of time to get to Nelson airport to return the rental car and meet the McKessars and Trail (now Kiwi) Journeys before heading into the depot to meet the Pearsons and our bikes. Initially the rail trail took us through suburban Nelson and then out close to the coast before going inland. Lunch was at a nice country cafe.
The day was extremely hot, slightly uphill all the way with an evil head wind which was effortless for the four on electric bikes but demanding for us.
It was after lunch as were riding through gardens and orchards and visiting a Rutherford Memorial at Brightwater that we first heard firstly the alarm sounding summoning the volunteer firemen, heard the sirens as the appliances headed off and sore white smoke in he hills in the distance. What transpired thereafter dominated our next 24 hours or so and the white smoke turned brown and the area the fire covered extended before our eyes fanned by the strong wind and the dry vegetation providing ample fuel. We had noted the water restrictions in Nelson region. It looked ominous as we headed towards Wakefield and closer to the seat of the fire which continued to grow. We were pleased to arrive at our accommodation, the Wakefield Hotel, a typical tired country pub, the decor having seen better days. The fire made the TV news and we felt almost famous! Pub dinner was basic as expected but we could hear the sound of helicopters and on our after dinner walk around the town we came across people in hi viz vests, and Civil Defence HQ which was set up in the Methodist church ready with food, earnest volunteers and a registration system for the arrival of evacuees from the affected area, some of whom had started to arrive. The dark grey billowing clouds and as it got dark, the red glow were spectacular and we began to smell smoke. There was never any suggestion that we would need to be evacuated but we did wonder how the plans for tomorrow’s riding through the closed roads would be affected.
Wednesday 6 February Waitangi Day Wakefield to Kaiteriteri Beach.
The night was horribly hot and for the first time since our night in Butwal in the Terai, Nepal, I had a cold shower to cool down, but we woke to rain and an obvious drop in temperature as we watched the TV news with Waitangi Day shenanigans at the Treaty grounds and the second item on the news, the Nelson fires. Several houses had been destroyed and a state of emergency declared. The air had become pungent with smoke but there was optimism that the precipitation and the change in wind direction would help control the fire.
We were transported in the van so we could cycle through the 1350 metre Spooners Tunnel. It was long, cold and slightly downhill but thoroughly delightful and we considered (not seriously riding back up so we could do it again. George the ex school teacher van driver picked us up at the other end and we enjoyed coffee and donuts at Wakefield cafe famous for its kiwi inspired home cooking.
Then because the road we were supposed to take was closed, we were taken a more circuitous route to Woodstock where we hit the road on our bikes for a leisurely ride past vege gardens and orchards following the Motueka River to Riwaka stopping on the way to eat a generous packed lunch. We drove in this same direction the other day but on the much busier main highway on the other side of the river. We were pleased with the Earl Grey tea as Mrs Smith’s establishment before tackling the last on the sometimes challenging bike path to Kaiterteri. My head got in the way at times meaning I got off my bike and walked the uphill and curvy bits. 50 kms today. We got a mileage discount because of the changed route 55 km instead of 70. Oh dear how sad never mind!.
This is a rapidly developing holiday town centred around the motor camp and we were accommodated at Torlesse Motel. We ate at the pub which we reached with some difficulty via the beach as the rumoured bridge across the estuary had been removed. The pub was presumably busy and noisy because it is Waitangi Day. Food was as you’d expect, pretty average but we are JAFAs after all. The walk ‘home’ was along the cliff path.
We had contemplated an expedition tomorrow but there were plenty of white caps from the strong winds so we deferred making a decision. The next day was somewhat improved but the others went walking while I nursed a migraine, grateful we had not organised an expensive trip in the Abel Tasman national park to Awaroa (of the Bach Violin Concertos fame). Enjoyed the restful day which included a throw together lunch and a spa. Dinner was at Kai which had not been recommended to us, but the food was excellent.
The bike path we are supposed to be taking tomorrow is closed because of the fire risk so we were offered a lift in the van picking up our luggage which the staunch among us declined, riding on the road instead.
Kaiteriteri to Mapua
The cycle path took us along the rather bleak and windswept coast a repository of lots of drift wood, via Riwaka, to the end of Motueka where we discovered Toad Hall and excellent cafe in a modified church and actually a beer/wine establishment. We’re becoming connoisseurs of the local eateries and are grateful that they are spaced satisfactorily to meet our mid morning and lunch cravings.
The bike path thereafter took us inland over farmland and orchards up and over a couple of hills on unsealed roads which would have afforded us spectacular views if the atmosphere had not been hazy from the smoke of the fires which are still making headline news and which are by no means under control. We could see as we looked around the sweeping coastline to Nelson that a new plume of smoke has appeared, apparently a small fire has broken out in Nelson city. And we have also heard that Wakefield where we spent our first night on the trail has been evacuated as the fire approaches. Wow!
Lunch was at Jesters, lovely ambience but average food and we arrived at Mapua, another seaside town mid afternoon. The accommodation was luxurious overlooking the estuary and Greg and I had earned the right to the best of the three options. Boy do we appreciate our cups a tea and showers. Dinner was at Te reincarnation of a famous restaurant on the wharf which we had visited many years ago on our mystery weekend but which was destroyed by a cyclone a year ago. Unexpectedly met beef carpaccio and the peach and plum crumble was it die for.
Mapua to Nelson City
We were supposed to traverse Rabbit Island but because this was closed because of the fire risk we were picked up by the omnipresent George and delivered on he the other side of the island, but we enjoyed getting on our bikes, stopping after about 4 km at a roadside container coffee stop, the ‘last stop for ages!’ Met a British Spain based retired couple who we passed scarily biking on the main road saddle bagging around NZ – very intrepid.
The coastal path took us into Nelson city where we lunched at the Riverside Cafe before exploring the river path and the cathedral before returning the bikes and being dropped off at the airport where we had bird baths in the ablutions and caught our plane home. Another cycle trail knocked off. The fires are still burning and Wakefield residents still not allowed back to their homes – NZ’s worst fire for years.