The mouth-watering distractions on the Tasman Great Taste Trail are counterbalanced by a picturesque pedal along the coast, writes Fiona Terry

It was like being in Willy Wonka's, as far as our children were concerned — a real-life working factory with tall pipes oozing gooey liquid and glass jars buzzing around on a conveyor belt. All an unexpected bonus on a family bicycle ride.

We were on a tour of the Pic's Peanut Butter factory, conveniently on Tasman's Great Taste Trail. It was fascinating watching through the glass screens as peanuts churned off the roasting machine to be sucked into the crusher then bottled as the famous gourmet spread.

We'd taken a punt booking the trip since neither Jasmine, 11, nor Charlie, 9, even vaguely liked peanut butter — or so they thought.

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After our guide, Monica, had worked her magic getting them to grind specially roasted nuts and churning out their own version of the nut butter, both announced they were fans.

Our day-long adventure on a portion of the 174km-long Great Taste Trail began at quaint Mapua, where Rose from the The Gentle Cycling Company had delivered us.

Having kitted us out with maps, helmets and bikes, she offered words of assurance that she'd be only a call away should we need assistance or bicycle maintenance en route.

Many of her clients choose winery or brewery tours, but we'd opted for a wilderness and estuary experience featuring some tantalising taste opportunities along the way.

Cycle trip from Mapua to Richmond on the Great Taste Trail. Photo / Tim Cuff
Cycle trip from Mapua to Richmond on the Great Taste Trail. Photo / Tim Cuff

We spent some time exploring the boutique-style shops and browsing the menus of Mapua's cafes and restaurants. The selection was mouth-watering, from fish and chips to gourmet meals. Tim was keen to check out Golden Bear Brewery with its craft-brewed beer but, for the children, renowned Hamish's Cafe next door had bigger appeal for its real fruit icecream and sorbets.

We watched as our ferry defied the strong current of the incoming tide to deliver its boarding ramp to the shore. It carried us across the mouth of the inlet to the forested section of the trail on uninhabited Rabbit Island, a gem of wilderness with a 7km golden sand beach.

Once there, we pedalled on the level track beside pine forest and it didn't take long before we were treated to tempting glimpses of the ocean through the branches.

When we reached the tree-lined waterfront the sand became a blank canvas for keen artist Jasmine, and some exposed roots a perfect climbing frame and den.

With only one other family on the beach, we could have played happily for hours, but there were many more kilometres to cover before we'd arrive back at Rose's base in Stoke.

We left the island and skirted the Waimea Inlet, where, in the salt marshes a pair of grey herons watched serenely. This area is known as Pearl Creek. In recent years it has undergone restoration planting and predator control. White herons, too, are seen here occasionally, as are Australian bitterns, fernbirds and banded rails.

The route was flat, easygoing and continued to skirt the estuary, featuring a suspension bridge and appealing boardwalks to negotiate.

Occasionally, we stopped for keen photographers Jasmine and Charlie to turn their lenses to the array of birdlife on the mudflats. The inlet, with its rich feeding ground at low tide, is home to more than 60 species. In one frame the shot included spoonbills, pied stilts, herons, ducks, gulls and oystercatchers, all seemingly oblivious to each other.

Further around the bay, we passed orchards with temptingly rosy apples, then, in contrast to the natural environment in which we'd been immersed, the Nelson Pine Industries factory. It seemed out of place on such a beautiful stretch of coast but the signboard emphasised its importance to the Nelson-Marlborough region, one of the country's major forestry areas, where 16 per cent of productive land is planted in pine.

The factory manufactures MDF board and we were relieved to learn the plume from the chimney was saturated air produced as the fibre's moisture content is reduced.

As we neared the outskirts of Richmond there were more signs of light industry, including Pic's Peanut Butter factory. Neighbouring Pomeroy's Coffee factory cafe turns some of Pic's wares into sweet chocolate treats.

Jasmine grinds peanuts after the tour of Pic's Peanut Butter factory. Photo / Tim Cuff
Jasmine grinds peanuts after the tour of Pic's Peanut Butter factory. Photo / Tim Cuff

Once complete, Tasman's Great Taste Trail will incorporate 174km of offroad cycle paths. Already, nearly 100km of track has been constructed to create three interconnecting branches running from Wakefield in the south, Kaiteriteri in the northeast and Nelson to the north. The three meet in Richmond, where, as we ended the Coastal Route, we rode south to join the Railway Route, heading for Waimea Estates vineyard.

The The Cellar Door Restaurant & Cafe is run by husband and wife team Neil and Katrina Ward. Both chefs, they pride themselves on sourcing local and free-range produce.

The tomatoes roasted for the risotto are grown nearby at Hope, the lettuce comes from Landsdowne growers just a few kilometres away, the cheese is handmade at Wangapeka Family Dairy in Wakefield, and the free-range eggs are from a local farm. Each dish is accompanied by a recommendation of one of the estate's wines.

The children amused themselves hanging from the trapeze on the climbing equipment as we enjoyed a chance to catch our breaths among the vines.

Refreshed, we retraced our tracks, joining the Nelson section and pedalling to boutique McCashin's Brewery, 5km away. Established in 1980 by former All Black Terry McCashin, it quickly forged a reputation as a highly respected craft brewery.

Writer Fiona and children Jasmine and Charlie stop at Waimea Estates cafe near Richmond. Photo / Tim Cuff
Writer Fiona and children Jasmine and Charlie stop at Waimea Estates cafe near Richmond. Photo / Tim Cuff

The walls are covered in framed awards for its beers and ciders but we opted to check out its ginger beer and homemade pizzas, as we watched through the glass screens on to the factory.

We arrived at the Gentle Cycling Company's base enveloped in the sweet smell of apples emanating from the nearby Enza fruit factory. We'd covered just one-seventh of the entire circuit but the picturesque ride from Mapua to Stoke had been enough to get a real flavour of Tasman's Great Taste Trail.