Kia ora: Mapua

By Elisabeth Easther

Elisabeth Easther discovers a region burgeoning with natural appeal

The restaurants on Mapua Wharf are top class. Photo / Supplied
The restaurants on Mapua Wharf are top class. Photo / Supplied

Origin of name: Mapua means "abundance" or "prolific".

Population: About 3500, including the Mahana Hills area.

Where is it: At the top of the South Island in the midst of Tasman Bay, in the western entrance to the Waimea Inlet. About 30 minutes' drive west of Nelson along SH60.

The town mascot: Hamish, a large bachelor kotuku (white heron), who spent his winters at the Mapua wharf 18 years running. He was last seen in winter 2010 and is now immortalised in a statue on top of one of the wharf piles.

Interesting fact: Archaeologists say tools and human bones found at Grossis Point indicate Maori were living in the area as early as 900AD.

Main industries: Historically, post-European arrival, the economy was reliant on farming and horticulture, but has since diversified into olives, wine and tourism.

Source of pride: The painters, sculptors, writers, potters, jewellery makers and artists who make the community fabulously vibrant.

Town competition: The annual Muddy Buddy adventure fun run - it's like Top Town but with costumes and mud.

Best reason to stop: To just stop, because you're probably rushing somewhere. So sit on the wharf for a while and watch the tide come in and out. Good for the soul.

Best place to take the kids: Fishing off the wharf. Or hire some bikes and take the Mapua Ferry across to Rabbit Island for an adventure through the pines on the new cycle trail - heartofbiking.org.nz

Best drink: There are great vineyards everywhere and it's also hop country. Try Golden Bear at the Mapua Wharf or follow the Beer Trail - craftbrewingcapital.co.nz.

Best food: The restaurants on the wharf are top class, and you can't go past a feed of smoked fish from the Smokehouse on the wharf.

Most famous locals: The late Sir Toss Woollaston, one of New Zealand's most important painters. Visit Woollaston Estates in the Mahana hills behind Mapua.

Best flat white: Because there are so many foodies living locally, there's no such thing as bad coffee.

Best bakery: The Naked Bun in the village. Try the lemon tarts.

Best local websites: mapuawharf.co.nz and rubycoastmouterehills.co.nz for accommodation and information.

Best museum: There's a great little photo museum on the wharf operated by the Mapua Boat Club. It focuses on the early shipping and orchard history of Mapua. Lots of pictures of blokes packing scows full of apple crates.

Best walk: Rabbit Island beach: 8km of sand sheltered by pines, and usually empty.

Best view: Looking down the mouth of the estuary out to Tasman Bay, you can see D'Urville Island.

Best-kept secret: The accommodation. No big hotels and motels, the accommodation is boutique, gourmet B&Bs, lodges and cottages dotted across rural settings with interesting hosts.

Best place to pull over: Take the scenic coast road along Ruby Bay and pull in where the road meets the beach.

Best facilities: Brand new "loo with a view" overlooking the Waimea Estuary at the Mapua wharf.

Best playground: Jester House Cafe has a goodie. The kids can feed tame eels, hide in the manuka maze, ride tigers, play forts or have a game of giant chess.

Here for a short time: Have lunch at the Mapua Wharf.

Best shops: The old Apple & Pear Board Coolstore complex at the Mapua Wharf is now home to artisan shops.

Best swim: Brave kids jump off the wharf while oldies do the "tide ride" and let the strong tide float them out to the Leisure Park or into Grossi Point Reserve.

Interesting item of wildlife: Naturists migrate for a short season to the Mapua Leisure Park, shedding their outer layers while pods of orca chasing stingray into the estuary in autumn are pretty interesting, too.

When a local has visitors from abroad: They take them for lunch at the estuary, for a spot of shopping, to the beach and on a tour of the artists' studios and vineyards.

Visitors say: They'd like to live here, every single time.

Locals say: Remember to look up from your smartphone and get a bit of mud between your toes.

Thanks to Heather Cole from Mapua Country Trading for spilling the beans on what makes Mapua great. Go to countrytrading.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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