A Tempting Treat
Tasman's Great Taste Trail
Our Trail Story
It's the past few years most of my bike trips to Nelson were to map (or survive) the advanced mountain bike trails high in the hills behind town. So when I heard a new section of the Tasman’s Great Taste Trail just opened I stripped off my amour shell and popped on a bike bell to check out this gentle loop. I needed to gather data so I could map the ride and add it to the Great Rides smart phone app I had already developed.
The adventure started a few days earlier with an epic series of back country rides around the top of the south, before arriving in Nelson in the dead of night. The warm rays of morning light awoke me from the deepest of sleeps. I bolted out of bed after realising I may have missed the scheduled trail shuttle from the Nelson iSITE - the start of the Great Taste Trail. I arrived just in the nick of time, with the last bike being loaded before departure to Kaiteriteri.
My body was tired, and my heavy eyes drifted skyward towards another Great Ride: The Coppermine Trail before drifting off. My sleepy state was broken by shrieks of joyful play as holidaying children swarmed the Kaiteriteri beachfront. After unloading my bike and bidding farewell to our driver, I took a few moments to take in the surroundings. The golden sand of this sheltered cove was dotted by sunbathers, with the more active enjoying offshore activities in the shimmering waters. Parents of younger ones played together in the shallows having family time like generations before them.
I could have stayed here longer to enjoy the atmosphere; but after starting up the GPS units on my handlebars I took my first pedal strokes. Refreshing morning air breezed by and quickly cleared away any lurking tiredness. Data for the Great Rides app was being soaked up by the technology and I was content. I rode inland under the native forest canopy and skirted along the edge of the popular local mountain bike park.
This is a delightful trail that gently weaves in and around the folds of the landscape with the occasional glimpse through fern fronds over Tasman Bay and the horticultural plains all back dropped by the Richmond Ranges. Abandoning the cool shade of the forest I hug the coastline before passing through orchards to reach the settlement of Riwaka. I was welcomed into town by a child’s trolley used as trailside stall offering seasonal fruit. I have just taken the first sweet bite from Tasman’s Great Taste Trail. Tastes great too!
Riwaka is the trail junction, where the Kaiteriteri branch of the track joins the main loop. This little village has a couple of excellent cafés and the boutique craft brewery named Hop Federation. Using hops mostly grown near the trail an award winning brewery has been crafted. Hop in for a brew. I didn’t, I was on a mission and from here I decided to ride the trail clockwise following the coastline towards Nelson before heading inland.
After crossing the Motueka River the trail runs parallel with a sand spit, the sheltered lagoon behind the spit a protected reserve for shorebirds. Spot them easily from your saddle. I did. The next thing I know the trail makes a sharp turn inland and I’m riding past the outskirts of Motueka, on up to an elevated viewpoint before returning me to the bay. The GPSs keep gathering the data I need, and I continue to enjoy the richness of this trail.
On reaching the settlement of Tasman I take a break and park up at the Jester House Café. This is an award winning, quirky, and family friendly eatery with lovingly cared grounds. On the fringe is a stream where eels can be hand-fed, nearby is a creative playground full of giant wooden creatures, and to add to the place’s mystique is a massive fairytale house sized boot to stay in overnight! I would have stayed but to create the Great Rides app for others to follow I must keep moving.
After filling my engine, I kit up and headed down to the Mapua River on the edge of the Waimea Inlet. This is the location of a grand restoration. What was once considered NZ’s most contaminated site is now a grassed reserve decontaminated of pesticide residues located right beside the vibrant Mapua wharf. I enter the wharf complex and am surprised by the range of galleries, restaurants, bars and cafés. With some time to pass before taking the next ferry service to Rabbit Island, I devour an ice cream and enjoy the ambience before boarding.
It’s a casual affair, the other side of the inlet, with the flat bottom boat skimming the shallows right into shore. With ease I push my bike from ferry to sandy beach. This large barrier island and recreational reserve is an easy ride under fragrant pine forest on sandy wide path. This place is a retreat for locals to have a picnic, take a stroll, or mountain bike around the forestry tracks. I cross the road bridge and leave the island to meander along the boardwalks near the urban fringe of greater Nelson.
There are photos just begging to be taken along this part of the route. Time is not on my side. I forego photography, and in the warm glow of evening sunlight I reach the Richmond junction, careful to stay clear of commuters that whizz by on the urban cycleway. I have a choice to make here: ride the cycleway to Nelson or stay on the main loop south. I elect to stay overnight in Richmond, and turn south at daybreak.
Can there be a better start to the day than to exercise in the sun’s warm dawn beams? With the sun at my back casting me a long shadow companion we leave town and pass between rows of grape vines to Brightwater. Spotting a memorial I take a short detour from the trail to celebrate the birthplace of Sir Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics. I climb the circular pathway, pausing only to read snippets of his life journey arriving at a bronze statue of the scientist as a child. This is a grand memorial to one of this country’s greatest achievers. I mark it on the GPS so I can add it into the app and guide users here too. From Wakefield the current trail loop reverts to quiet country roads leading westward to Woodstock, Motueka River and to return to Riwaka.
A new trail section south is also open, bearing the longest highlight on the trail – the formidable 1,352 metre long Spooner Tunnel. Before reaching the entry portal, I gently climb out of Belgrove onto the former railway line. This line was constructed in the early settlement days and was intended to connect the district with the rest of the mainland via the main trunk 70km away at Inangahua Junction. The tunnel opened in 1897. It was a critical part of line to overcome the saddle.
I have experienced many tunnels throughout the country on the Great Rides journey. In most I have foregone a torch after seeing the literal light at the end of the tunnel giving enough perspective to allow a rough, if somewhat wobbly, balance. Not this one! The Spooner Tunnel is the longest disused tunnel in the country, and the longest in the southern hemisphere for cyclists and walkers. The portal is 300 metres above Tasman Bay and bores deep into the hillside with darkness enveloping you on all sides. I got the headlamp out.
The initial excitement of entering the portal soon passes; an eerier coldness penetrates my skin.
I leave my shadow companion behind, all alone I pedal for ten long minutes with only a torch as my guide. Half way through I stop and turn off my guiding light. Darkness.
The emptiness of the void is full of .... nothing. My time in darkness is just a spooky speck when compared to the teams of construction workers over a hundred years ago that wielded hand tools in the bowels of the earth. I think of them. Respect. Not far from here the railway terminated, never reaching the main trunk line. If the Mountains to Sea Trail has the Bridge to Nowhere, this trail’s former railway line is the Branch to Nowhere. The Nelson Tasman Cycle Trail Trust hopes to extend this loop trail in the next couple of years from the tunnel to Tapawera back to Riwaka. I hope they do. I’ll be here to add it to the app right away when it opens.
On my return back through the tunnel, I considered the Trust’s vision being the ‘Heart of Biking’. Their goal is to make Nelson one of the top cycling destinations in NZ and to form cycle routes in the region. The Trust has observed how the trails are being used by commuters between townships, locals out for a few hours, and tourists to combine a day or two riding with other outdoor activities.
Elizabeth Bean of the trust notes that the trail counters recorded over 200,000 trips last year and have increased year on year. And that’s not counting shadow friends! She is excited how the Nelson trails are a “menu of offerings for different age groups, abilities, and types of riding. Some are suitable for grandma and young children, others for locals on short weekend recreational rides between cafés, and more active rides for mountain bikers.” With its pleasant climate, suitable trail building soils, broad range of cycling opportunities in the most outstanding landscapes, their vision is being realised giving riders a buffet of treats on Tasman’s Great Taste Trail.
On my journey, I just didn’t just nibble the edges of the Great Taste Trail – I gobbled the whole thing down. And when the fantastic trust adds dessert to the menu by extending the trail from the spooky tunnel to Tapawera back to Riwaka - I’ll be back for seconds. Yum!