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I started off at Cable Bay Adventure Park, which certainly ticks all the boxes for thrilling outdoorsy adventures. Champion multi-sporters Richard and Elina Ussher took over the 400ha site three years ago — and it is continuing to charge ahead in leaps and bounds.
Their vision is driven by an abiding desire to be great custodians of the land. Their nursery is pumping out more than 50,000 native seedlings a year, powering the afforestation programme, complementing the remaining ancient native forest which enrobes much of the property, boasting some seriously impressive old-growth podocarp specimens, up to 1500 years old.
Totara was previously felled extensively on the site. I stopped to admire a magnificent carving of Tane Mahuta, carved out of a totara that was felled on the property 50 years ago.
One of the best ways to appreciate the verdant splendour at Cable Bay is to enjoy a fling with the park’s signature attraction, the Skywire. The tour starts with a 4km ride in one of their four-wheel-drive vehicles, passing through pristine native forest.
The Skywire is set 300m above the base cafe, serving up delirious views of Cable and Delaware Bays, the western ranges and north towards D’Urville Island.
The park also boasts its own dedicated paintball area, Argo amphibious vehicle rides, quad bikes tours and bike trails — which are constantly expanding. Remarkably, access to the park’s MTB trails is free, so you either bring your own bike for a blast, or hire a bike from their full fleet of suspension trail capable e-bikes, mountain bikes and kids bikes.
Eager to hit the pedals around the shoreline of Tasman Bay, I hooked up with Andrew Schwass and the team at Kiwi Journeys. This locally owned and operated family business specialises in self-guided and supported tours on Nelson’s Great Taste Trail and the West Coast Wilderness Trail. They have handily located bases strung across the region, at Nelson, Mapua Wharf and Kaiteriteri, with the region’s biggest range of quality bikes. Andrew kitted me out with an Avanti e-bike for my fabulous foray on the Great Taste Trail from Richmond to Mapua Wharf. The entire trail is a whopping 174km-long circuit, but it’s tastily arranged into manageable sections, including my romp which was an easy 20km ride. After fortifying myself with a delicious Tahuna Light Pilsner and pizza at Eddyline Brewery, I struck out on this splendidly designed trail, traversing the languid Waimea Estuary, which was bustling with wading and sea birds.
The wonderfully wobbly Waimea suspension bridge adds a frisson to the ride, before the scenery switches to the fertile orchards and pastoral land edging the shoreline. A sociable team of Clydesdale horses bounded up to the fence line for a passing pat before I zipped along to Rabbit Island, where the sprawling white sands stretch out like an ironing board, under the bright sunshine. The unspoilt 13km tidal beach is beloved for swimming and it’s a super popular picnic spot under the welcome shade of those mighty pines. Finally, we crossed over the western entrance of the Waimea Inlet to Mapua Wharf via the dutiful Mapua Ferry. I’m itching to go back to do more of the Great Taste Trail’s 10 succulent sections through this scenic wonderland.
The very name Mapua has been synonymous with naturists. As Andrew said, summer is beached whale season in Mapua, although you are only likely to strike an eyeful of unclothed flesh at the Mapua Leisure Park. Mapua Wharf is a holiday haven in its own right, a splendid sight to behold, with an alluring cluster of boutique stores and buzzing waterfront dining venues jostling for your affections.
Mapua means "abundance" or "prolific" — how fittingly perfect for this pleasure zone. Caffeine fiends? Make a beeline to Rabbit Island Coffee Co. Their coffees are carefully selected from direct-trade partners, and you can get close to the roasting process to sample an array of coffees and brew methods. I loved the Smokehouse, where they delicately smoke local products using traditional brick kilns and natural Manuka shavings. Their premium hand-smoked seafood, all 100% natural and preservative-free, is delicious.
Perched right on the water’s edge, overlooking the wharf jumpers, Jellyfish Restaurant is a perennial favourite — I adore their pan-fried prawns. And how could you say no to a scoop or two of real fruit goodness at Hamish’s Ice Creams?
If you want to take your blissed-out encounters with the wondrous embrace of Tasman Bay and Abel Tasman National Park to the next level later this year, Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures is just the ticket, with a platter of skippered tours includes daily scheduled sailing tours, private personalised sailing tours, and multi-day sailing holidays.
Jane-Maree and Martin Holmes launched their illustrious business 20 years ago, constantly raising the bar on their winning offering with their fleet of sailing catamarans. Jane-Maree remarked to me that the last summer season has been a bumper one, despite the ravages of Covid-19.
An outpouring of Kiwis flocked to book scheduled tours and private sailing holidays of the region’s heart-stealing waters. With worldly and experienced skippers, endowed with local knowledge, at the helm of their fleet, you could not wish for a more authentic, inspiring and illuminating holiday experience on the water. They will share the region’s secrets with you, leading you to the seductive nooks and crannies and secret gems that many people miss.