Cycling is kept to a minimum and feasting to a maximum on the first — and only — day of the Tour de Nelson, writes Tristram Clayton.

Competition is king. The passenger sitting next to me on Jetstar's inaugural Auckland-to-Nelson flight has paid just $28 for her trip — she is a student and only going for the night — but at that price, why not?

The family of five behind me paid less than $200 for their tickets and they are rapt. It is their first time flying into Nelson and they wear their free, orange, Jetstar T-shirts with a misty-eyed fervour most corporate PR teams can only dream of inspiring.

The Maori blessing as the flight leaves, the re-leathered seats, the visit from the company's CEO and the water canons and kapa haka as we arrive are nice touches — keep the prices at these levels and I'll be back.

But no matter how little it costs to get somewhere, you've got to want to go there. We are in town for one frantic day of riding and consumption.


I am no expert on the benefits to provincial economies of new airline routes but, clearly, more well-priced flights means more visitors, higher hotel-occupancy rates and more food, wine, coffee, presents, cars and bikes being consumed, bought or hired.

If your job is to promote a region, you're going to be mighty happy when a few extra planeloads of guests touch down at your airport each day.

And when it comes to the first planeload of guests (which includes a cadre of hungry and thirsty journalists), you're going to make absolutely certain they enjoy their stay — even if it is for just one day.

The thing is, in Nelson, this is easy.

I've loved Nelson since I spent a summer there after university. This was a time of ferocious independence and startling freedom. Our lives revolved around practising our hacky-sack skills at the river, organising beach picnics and going to as many gigs and music festivals as we could afford. We got our coffee from Zippy's, burgers from The Burger Bar and beer from the original Mac's Brewery.

So, 20 years later you can imagine how happy I am to be back. Only this time, things are slightly different.

Instead of sharing a dingy basement flat with four others, my accommodation is a luxurious, two-bedroom, two-storey apartment at the Hotel Grand Mercure. The hotel is a short drive from the airport in a new-ish waterfront suburb called Monaco — a great name ("I just spent the night in Monaco ... "), but one which locals inexplicably pronounce "mon-AH-co".

Our afternoon's itinerary involves cycling and feasting our way along a short section of the "Great Taste Trail". A little bit of exercise to justify excessive eating and drinking is pretty much my idea of heaven.

Our volunteer guide, Elizabeth Bean, is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the city and region.

The entire Taste Trail — a 165km loop between Nelson and Kaiteriteri — takes visitors to several dozen eateries, wineries, breweries and scenic hot spots. But with only a couple of hours of daylight (and pressure to keep cycling to a minimum, and tasting to a maximum), Elizabeth chooses an 11km section between Tasman and Mapua.

In four hours we meander through some of New Zealand's most picturesque land and seascapes and sample the offerings at three country cafes. We finish with a late lunch of scallops and risotto at The Apple Shed on Mapua Wharf, then wander over to Golden Bear Brewing for a couple of pale ales.

Things were only beginning to hot up. After an hour or so chilling back in "mon-Ah-co", we put the next phase of Elizabeth's masterplan into action.

First up, The Free House in central Nelson.

The pub — operating in a converted wooden church — works on the principle that "more is more". Since it opened in 2009, it's served more than 600 different beers from 60 independent Kiwi breweries — a formula that's working a treat.

The pub is overflowing with the happy chatter of drinkers who know they're in on something special.

Just around the corner is Elizabeth's recommendation for dinner — the Urban Oyster Bar. This too is full and buzzing — on a Tuesday. The food, wine, beer and service are top-shelf.

Our final destination is the Rattle n Hum bar for a soothing Glayva and ice.

This should really be the end of a pretty exceptional one-day jaunt to Nelson but arriving at the airport the next morning we discover low cloud has suspended flights.

Volunteer-extraordinaire Elizabeth Bean strides into the departure lounge: "Don't worry guys, there's an award-winning restaurant called The Cellar Door just 10 minutes away. It's a beautiful spot, right in the middle of the Waimea Estates vineyard. Let's go sample it ... "

Getting there: Jetstar flies four times daily from Auckland to Nelson.