Māpua: The go-to holiday destination for a quick fix of the Tasman
Biking, beers and beautiful scenery, Sarah-Kate Lynch is forced to stop and smell the marmalade on this relaxed trip to Māpua.
Sometimes you pick your holiday and sometimes your holiday picks you. And when the two are at odds, it’s better to go with the flow even if there really isn’t one.
I learned this myself on a recent weekend away in Māpua, my go-to holiday destination for a quick fix of Tasman. It was supposed to be a sun-kissed early summer escape. I’d packed my togs and the Ginger (my husband). I’d fake tanned. I’d waxed. I’d had my first pedicure of the year even though the year was nearly over.
But we got off to an inauspicious start. “This weather is very disturbing,” the taxi driver told us as we headed away from the swanky new Nelson Airport to pick up our 1975 convertible Alfa Romeo Spider from RentAClassic in nearby Stoke. “Very, very disturbing.”
If by “disturbing” he meant “wet”, he was somewhat underplaying it.
I picked raspberries in Nelson as a sixth former, I rode a horse and cart around the Dovedale hills a few years later, I’ve walked and kayaked and abandoned my hateful kayak and walked again in the Abel Tasman National Park, an upperSouth Island gem if ever there was one. And every time, there has been sun involved. This area typically has more sunshine hours than anywhere else in New Zealand. But these were not some of them.
As we put up the roof on the Alfa and headed towards the Apple Pickers’ Cottages, I wondered aloud if our waka tour to Split Apple Rock at Kaiteriteri the following morning would go ahead.
“Listen to the sound of this engine!” the Ginger enthused, as if I could hear it over the thundering downpour.
I first met the Apple Pickers’ Cottages in 2003. I can’t remember how. But I can remember driving up to the three retro cottages perched at the edge of the Waimea Inlet – the biggest of its kind in the South Island – and thinking I’d found paradise.
Owner Elspeth Collier’s parents emigrated from Scotland to this pretty peninsula in the 1960s, when it was all a working orchard, and the cottages – Miro, where we stay, Karaka and Rātā – were built in the 50s from timber milled on the property to house the seasonal workers.
Birds love the peninsula. Godwits even stop a while in the summer to feed as the tide goes out, the tides being something that fazed international visitors when they stayed, pre-Covid. “Where has the river gone?” was not an uncommon question. This glorious slice of the inlet is a tranquil mix of fruit trees, free-roaming chickens, vege gardens and regenerating native bush, which Elspeth remains committed to conserving.
It is my idea of holiday perfection. The Ginger and I have stayed here countless times and once brought the whole Lynch clan for Christmas, spreading out over all three cottages. Turn one way out of Apple Valley Rd and you can explore all Nelson has to offer. Turn the other way and you have Māpua five minutes away and Motueka, Kaiteriteri and the Abel Tasman National Park all at your fingertips.
And always, that sunshine.
Next morning, the rain continued. The waka trip was off. But we decided to forge ahead with our e-bike ride along the Tasman’s Great Taste Trail. And when I say “we”, the Ginger’s preference was actually to (a) sit in the Alfa even if it wasn’t going anywhere, and (b) do nothing.
But if travel writers do nothing, their stories are very short. “I ate Nelson Proper Crisps and read my book,” is what every one of them would say.
And so we threw on some layers and headed for Māpua Wharf to pick up our bikes from Christie at Kiwi Journeys, who also runs the ferry over to Rabbit Island, where cyclists can head for the breweries of Richmond. I had decided that we would go the other way, to Motueka.
“The environment just pulls you in here,” says a cyclist who overtook me (not on an e-bike, embarrassingly enough), when I caught up with him at a rest spot. “It says, ‘Let everything else go and just come out and see me.’”
It is a gorgeous ride – almost entirely off the main road – and when you hit the coast at Ruby Bay it’s a jaw dropper. Then you ride through idyllic, lush farmland and orchards and after that there’s quite a long stint where it starts to rain and you wonder if sitting in an Alfa, even if it isn’t going anywhere, might not have been such a bad plan.
A flight of local Townshend ales at the humming Toad Hall in Motueka certainly perked us up, as did finding brewer Martin Townshend out the back in the brewery. What “started out as a hobby just got out of control, not because I’m an alcoholic but because I’m quite good at it”, he says.
His award-winning brews prove that to be true, but what Martin – an expat Brit – really fizzes about is here, where he lives.
“We are so, so spoiled. The weather is spectacular [Ed: ahem], it’s the gateway to the Abel Tasman, and it’s a beer mecca. Or if you’re into wine, mountain biking, tramping… New Zealand’s just beautiful, full stop. I’ve got a great life, living in a great place. I’ve got to thank my lucky stars.”
While I nattered to Martin, the Ginger did a very clever thing. Not for us the two-hour return trip by bike. He conjured up Chrissie from Destination Tasman (and her bike trailer) to return us to our rightful positions.
After all that (even though there hadn’t been much of it) I was thirsty, so we stopped in for a white wine flight at Rimu Wine Bar on the delightful recently developed Māpua Wharf. Owners Patrick and Barbara Stowe say visitors and locals alike love the wine bar’s Cheers-like vibe. Certainly worked for me!
Next was a one-stop shop at the corner of McShane Rd and Appleby Highway. Here you’ll find The Junction, which has artisan cheese, pâté and wine; food market Connings, which has amazing locally grown produce; and the Grape Escape Café, which I’d heard did a very good cheese scone and I’m happy to say that, upon experimentation, I wholeheartedly concur.
After a small of amount of allowing people to admire our sporty classic, we flicked on the windscreen wipers and headed home to Miro, where we lit the fire and I ate Nelson Proper Crisps and read my book. Funnily enough, the book, Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer, is all about him not doing the thing he’s supposed to. In his case, it’s writing a study of DH Lawrence, about whom I care not a jot, which is just as well because he’s hardly in it.
I finished it in bed late the next morning, eating boiled eggs fresh from Elspeth’s chickens and lashings of her toasted sourdough with homemade marmalade (two different types). Sitting tucked up in Miro, listening to the birds, watching the rain fall on the estuary through the flax, a little something inside me whispered, “You know, this is what a holiday can be like.” I’d finished all the crisps but to the Ginger’s delight I continued to do nothing.
“We’re finding that happens a lot now,” says Elspeth. “People come here just to be here. Even if that wasn’t what they were intending.”
Soon it was time to head back to the airport, for which the rain stopped long enough to take the lid down on the classic convertible. One way or another, it had been the most wonderful weekend.
Yes, there is tramping, kayaking, biking, swimming, waka trips – the list goes on. But there is also sitting on a verandah (rain or shine), glass of wine in hand, watching chickens go about their business in an idyllic orchard.
So, my advice these summer holidays, whether you’re home or away, after one heck of a year, is to take a breath. Embrace your inner loller. Relax. And enjoy.
What to do
- Rent a classic car
- Visit Māpua Wharf
- Cycle the Great Taste Trail
- Take a waka tour to Split Apple Rock
- Swim at Kaiteriteri
- Walk the Abel Tasman
- Kayak the Waimea Inlet
- None of the above
Where to eat
- Rimu Wine Bar
- Jellyfish Restaurant & Bar
- Toad Hall
Where to forage
- The Junction
- Grape Escape Café
- The Smokehouse at Māpua Wharf
Where to stay
- Apple Pickers' Cottage
Photography by Jamie Wright & Elspeth Collier.