If you’re crafting plans for some fresh and sublime adventures this spring and summer, sun-splashed Tasman Bay, at the top of the South, is a spell-binding proposition. Tickle your toes in the golden sand, savour drool-worthy food, feast your eyes on the burgeoning arts trail, graze from the vineyards and famed craft beer scene or try your hand at some enthralling soft adventure. Cable Bay Adventure Park certainly ticks all the boxes for thrilling outdoorsy adventures. Champion multi-sporters Richard and Elina Ussher took over the 400-hectare site three years ago – and it’s 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 over 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.
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 4-wheel drive vehicles, passing through pristine native forest. The Skywire is set 300m above the base café, serving up delirious views of Cable and Delaware Bays, the western ranges and north towards D’Urville Island. Billed as the world’s longest flying fox experience, this 3.2km ride hoists you across the canopy, 150 metres above the forest’s wondrous mosaic of green.
The Skywire seats up to four “flyers” at a time, not dissimilar to a chairlift, with around 1000m of gravity assisted free-wheeling, reaching speeds of up to 100km, before the ride beats to a more sedate pace allowing you to drool over the scenery, while filling your Insta-feed. Then you do it all again – backwards. I adored it. There’s no other ride in New Zealand quite like it. 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.
There’s even a shuttle service to whisk you to the top of the trails. All of the trail networks are built by a small and passionate group of volunteers with a real focus on minimising the environmental impact on the areas they’re traversing through. Just 15 minutes from Nelson, Cable Bay Adventure Park is an escapist destination in its own right. https://www.cablebayadventurepark.com/
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 is the region’s trusted local cycle tour operator, specialising 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. They are the go-to for everything you need to enjoy these rides - including the region’s biggest range of quality bikes, including new e-Bikes, trail bikes, mountain bikes and family equipment. 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, bit 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 ten succulent sections through this scenic wonderland. Kiwi Journeys have stitched together some delightful self-guided tours, prising open the bounty and beauty of the region. Andrew and the crew should be your first port of call. https://kiwijourneys.co.nz/
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 from Hamish’s Ice Creams? The queues outside this parlour are the stuff of legend. You’ll salivate over the choice of over 20 flavours of ice cream, including real fruit concoctions using locally grown berries. Heaven.
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. This local family-owned yacht charter business has been delivering world-class sailing experiences since for well over 20 years. Their platter of skippered tours includes daily scheduled sailing tours, private personalised sailing tours, and multi day sailing holidays. Jane-Maree & Martin Holmes launched their illustrious business after working overseas on flotilla boats and super yachts. Sailing home through the Southern Ocean, they hatched the dream of starting up our own yacht charter business. Fast forward to today and they are still at the helm, 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.
The latest entrant to their fleet is the sparkling princess, Te Harinui. This luxury sailing catamaran has four master queen ensuite cabins, a large indoor dining area and outside cockpit dining areas. You’ll be spoilt for space on the foredeck for relaxing. She has a well-equipped galley and toys galore at your disposal, including stand-up paddle boards, fishing and snorkelling gear, dinghy and outboard.
Te Harinui can carry up to 38 guests for a day celebration and sleeps up to 8 guests for overnight and multiday trips. Explore the full array of cruising options, spanning Nelson, Abel Tasman and D’Urville Island – and sail away. It’s as dreamy as reality gets. https://www.sailingadventures.co.nz/
The region’s best local tourism providers have banded together to bring you their most popular activities in one spot, Extraordinary Experiences. There’s something for everyone, from exploring a day in the stunning Abel Tasman with Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles or on a sailing adventure from Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures. Stay the night at gorgeous Awaroa Lodge or chill out in Kaiteriteri. Try your hand at paddle boarding at Tahunanui, explore the cycle trails with Kiwi Journeys, go wild at Cable Bay Adventure Park, or go even higher on with Tasman Helicopters. All of these operators are 100% locally owned and operated and all bookings you make via Extraordinary Experiences is made with the operator directly. No commissions to third parties and no booking fees for you. https://extraordinaryexperiences.co.nz/
Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.