Abel Tasman National Park
After our TranzAlpine train journey, we picked up a rental car in Greymouth and drove up the Northwest coast of the South Island towards Nelson and the famous Abel Tasman National Park.
This ride was probably the least scenic of our New Zealand trip. The weather was overcast and rainy and the towns small without many services. We stopped at Westport on the coast late in the afternoon and the restaurants were already closed, so we wound up stopping at a grocery store for some snacks before we drove on towards Nelson.
We wound up staying at an AirBnB outside of Nelson, in a town called Mapua. Our room was a converted garage behind our hostess’ home and was really comfortable, and a great location for the park. We were close to the town and its sweet little wharf, with several great restaurants, shops and a spot to rent bikes. We heard later that this town and beach are famous for their nudist colony, but it must have been too cold for that when we visited.
Abel Tasman National Park
One of our goals for our trip to New Zealand was to kayak at Abel Tasman. Neither of us are big kayakers but we were able to find a great tour from Wilsons. Wilsons has been leading tours in the park since 1977, and the co-founders can trace their ancestry back to the first British settlement there in 1841.
Our tour combined a slow, guided sea kayak tour in the morning with an afternoon hike inside the park. Paddling in the calm waters of the bay was so peaceful, and we saw plenty of birds and beautiful rocks. It was just enough to give us a taste of kayaking without too much effort.
After lunch, a ferry dropped us off a few miles away so we could hike back inland on a lush, tropical trail. The weather was so much warmer than Christchurch and we felt like we were on a tropical island, miles away from civilization. After a long, warm hike it was nice to come back to a dock and pick up a ferry to take us back to the start.
Great Taste Trail
Our second day we decided to rent bicycles from the Mapua wharf and ride on the Great Taste Trail. This is another incredible New Zealand bike trail that covers 174km from Nelson to Wakefield. We decided to try out electric bikes so we could cover more territory. It was our first time riding e-bikes so it took a while to get used to them, but pretty soon we were gleefully speeding along the trail over the water, enjoying all the scenery.
Our first adventure on the trail was the tiny Mapua Ferry that takes you to Rabbit Island. We didn’t see any rabbits but the island itself is beautiful, with a lovely beach and lots of local birds. The trail goes back and forth between hard gravel, pavement, and wooden bridges.
We had a bit of a scare on our bikes riding over one of the many low bridges over the water on the trail when Mark’s pedal crank fell off. Luckily he wasn’t going too fast! We were able to find the bolt that had fallen off, still on the bridge, and he managed to reattach the pedal crank and tighten it by hand. We went a little slower until we got to our lunch stop, where the bike store mechanic met us and fixed it so we could go on our way.
We stopped at the Riverside Cafe for lunch, sampled some local fresh cheese at a little shop nearby, then headed back to Mapua on our e-bikes back to town. We were able to see so much in just one day. While we love our regular bikes, we would not hesitate to recommend e-bikes to anyone looking for a great vacation experience.
Picton and the Interislander Ferry
After Abel Tasman, it was time to leave the South Island via the Interislander Ferry. On our way to Picton, we drove through the beautiful Marlborough wine region. This is the largest wine-producing area in all of New Zealand and home to world-famous Chardonnay. Since we only drink reds, Marlborough was not on our list, but if you love white wines you might want to spend a day or two in the area.
After we dropped off our rental car we spent a few hours wandering around Picton while we waited for our ferry. We found a nice cafe for breakfast and enjoyed a pleasant walk around the town and the harbor.
If you have the time to travel between the islands this way, we’d highly recommend it. We upgraded to the lounge and enjoyed a hot lunch, drinks and snacks, and of course, free Wi-Fi, and enjoyed the three hour sea journey. We had a beautiful clear day for our spring crossing, but the strait is one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world. The views from the deck were spectacular, wind and all, so make sure you have your camera ready.
The Nelson-Tasman region of New Zealand has so much to offer, especially if you love the outdoors. We would love to go back and spend multiple nights on the Abel Tasman track, or explore the entire Great Taste Trail. We had originally planned to stay in the city of Nelson, but Mapua turned out to be a great base, actually closer to the national park. The Mapua Wharf was a nice surprise, with a couple of really great restaurants.
Nelson has a lot more choice in accommodation, shopping, restaurants and nightlife but we didn’t make it there this trip. If you want to visit the area but are limited on time, Nelson is a quick flight from Christchurch or Wellington.