Elisabeth Easther cycles the Great Taste Trail from Nelson to Kaiteriteri and declares it a ripper of a ride.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Nelson were the clusters of locals on the sides of the road, waving flags at the visitors. How terribly friendly, I thought, until it dawned on me that they were waving for Charles and Camilla.
No matter, I offered up my best royal wave as I headed for The Gentle Cycling Company to take possession of a bike, a helmet and some very detailed maps.
Rose Griffin, the mastermind behind Gentle Cycling has been a ceramicist and a teacher in her time but, when news of the region's impending cycle trails reached her, she sensed an opportunity and packed away her pots. Now she's dedicated to helping cyclists pedal the region's Great Taste Trail. First stop: Dick Tout's Lighthouse Brewery in Stoke. Lighthouse is one of the smallest breweries in New Zealand, but owner Dick makes up for that with his large personality. This former mechanic is now devoted to beer. Patting his generous puku, he explained his attitude to quality control: "lots of quality, but little control". He is quite the raconteur.
After a couple of tiny tasters, I was off again, with a Cycle Trail Ale in my pannier for later. Hanging a right in Richmond, I rolled along country lanes to Waimea Estate. Following the blue marker pegs with orange arrows, I was directed over bridges and boardwalks, alongside fields thick with scented clouds of spring flowers.
A scant 20 minutes later I was at Waimea Estate, having lunch among the vines. Whitebait fritters matched with a gruner veltliner, (the tasting notes referred to a splosh of seawater, how could I resist?) Back in the saddle, my next stop was Wangapeka Cheese, housed in the Grape Escape complex, a lush spot that is home to arts, crafts, a cafe and the aforementioned cheese emporium.
Staffing the store was cheesemaker Sylvia, originally a shepherdess from Italy. Her passion for the produce was utterly endearing. She suggested a berry kefir to start with.
This refreshingly unsweet probiotic milk drink was just the ticket, as was the morsel of Matariki cheese, part goat, part cow. I was surely being spoiled for supermarket produce.
Fifteen minutes of mostly off-road riding later, I reached Seifried Estate, a hotbed of happiness. The swings and slides squeaked joyfully as the adults sipped in the shade. At the cellar door, Gabi shared the history of the region's oldest vineyard, which has been producing since 1973. Their biggest seller, Sweet Agnes, is a riesling, named for the founder's wife. My first sip elicited a sigh of pleasure.
The last Mapua ferry would depart at 5pm, so I had to put the pedal to the metal. This leg led to Rabbit Island, so I hooned through farms, along forestry tracks, past leggy stilts and wheeling seabirds and, before I knew it, I'd arrived at the landing.
The tide at Mapua, New Zealand's largest enclosed estuary, runs at around 6-8 knots. The water is so healthy tthat seals and whales venture all the way up to the wharf. As our boat chugged across to Mapua, this groovy little hollow teemed with life on a temperate Saturday evening. I dined at the Apple Shed: the food was astonishing, ditto the view. Nelson scallops with asparagus, rocket salad, Wangapeka cheese, ham and mandarins. I don't usually take food pictures, but for this dish I made an exception.
Next came a tasting platter featuring Chef's greatest hits with the highlight a pohutukawa-smoked Ora king salmon — a glass dome was removed with a flourish, releasing a puff of magical smoke. And the tasty smudge on the side? Squid ink.
Sated and weary, I slept like a log at 41 South, where owners, John and Lynn, Canterbury earthquake refugees, have created a sanctuary that includes two beautifully appointed holiday apartments.
The next morning, waving farewell to my new friends, I trundled towards Ruby Bay before slogging up Pine Hill Rd.
Catching my breath at the top, I was smitten with the old apple workers' cottages along the ridge. After you have coasted down the other side towards Tasman, a stop at Jester House Cafe is mandatory. Aside from the fairy tale grounds and artworks, you can pat the tame eels in their stream.
Hungry again, I pressed on towards Riverside, the country's longest-running intentional community. Established by pacifists during World War II, the gardens are delightful while the vending machines, that serve A2 unpasteurised milk are the best idea ever. The cafe featured things like wild goat curry and mushroom bourguignon and I suggest you match whatever you eat with a glass of their spectacular milk. If only I had time for a nap.
But I had to be off again. Flying through fields that resonated with clucking, mooing and bleating, it was mostly flat through to Lower Moutere — a sweet little town that's home to two potters' studios, a little tin garage selling seedlings and knitted goods, Time Warp Costume Hire and Tractor World. For a tiny place, there's a lot going on.
You'll want your camera handy on the outskirts of Motueka, as the towering driftwood sculptures and the wondrous wreck of the Janie Seddon demand immortalisation. I even saw a man riding a bike while leading a miniature pony.
My last day came too soon. Goodbye Motueka Top Ten Holiday Park, hello Riwaka, hello Ginger Dynamite Cafe. Their spectacular coffee set me up for the final leg of my cycling odyssey.
Flying round the back of orchards, I startled families of quails and bunnies with powder-puff tails before reaching the sands of tidal Tapu Bay, with the best yet to come. Suddenly I was deep inside the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park: 14km of fun, with the pleasantly undulating Easy Rider trail leading me to the golden sands of Kaiteriteri — a ripper of a ride.
NEED TO KNOW
Gentle Cycling Company: Everything you could possibly need for the trail, bikes, maps, helmets, Sherpa services and as much good advice as you can handle.
Wangapeka Cheese Shop: Hope.
Mapua 41 South: Mapua.
The Apple Shed: Mapua Wharf.
Riverside Community Cafe: Lower Moutere.
Motueka Top Ten:, Motueka.
Elisabeth was a guest of The Gentle Cycling Company.