Consistently enjoying the highest number of sunshine hours in the country, the rays beam down on a region producing an enormous variety of food and drink.
Fresh fish and seafood, organic produce, plump boysenberries, European bread and meats, quality dairy, nuts, olive oil, and wine, and that’s not forgetting beer, as Tasman is also the leading hop-growing region in New Zealand.
Tasman residents enjoy the highest home-ownership rate in the country and also the lowest crime rate, and its pleasures range from golden-sand beaches to river valleys and sharp, snowy peaks, both just a couple of hours apart.
Encompassing Murchison, St Arnaud, Brightwater, Richmond, Motueka, Kaiteriteri, Mārahau, and Māpua, it’s incredibly varied in terrain, people, and activities – which means there’s something for everyone.
At the northern end, you can’t go past the Abel Tasman Coast Track for scenic beauty. It’s New Zealand’s smallest but most popular national park, with wide, easy tracks, up-to-date huts, stunning views and beaches, and the unusual distinction of having baches and lodges within it, relics of days before it was made a park. Consequently, it has a different feel from other New Zealand wilderness parks – this is very much one where you can thoroughly enjoy yourself not only with the scenery, but also with wine, food, and add-on activities like seal-watching, fishing, stand-up paddle boarding, sailing, and guided kayaking and walking tours.
In summer, the track is extremely busy; treat the crowds as a fun party atmosphere.
Over the high season of Christmas and New Year, when you emerge from the tracks into historic settlements like Awaroa and Torrent Bay, there are hundreds of families enjoying themselves on the golden sands in family-owned or rented baches. For the more serious tramper, the Inland Track is much harder going. There’s mountain biking adjacent to the park at Kaiteriteri and from May to September, at Gibbs Hill. It’s a playground for everyone.
The Abel Tasman is well-served by tourism operators including kayak companies, and Project Janszoon, a bird and forest restoration programme, is attempting to bring back the birdlife, funding traps, bird introductions, and research. For the past several years the trust has been busily exterminating pests, controlling weeds and repopulating the park with birds; it is a sad fact that in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand there often isn’t a song to be heard.
Tasman was once a blanket of orchards: apples, pears, berries, hops, and kiwifruit, and while this is still true today, lifestyle tourism has sprung up around them. One of the best and newest additions to the region is the excellent Tasman Great Taste Trail, which is a gentle yet interesting purpose-built cycling route that carries you along the coast and into the hinterland and can be adjusted to suit an afternoon or a week of scenic, happy riding. Don’t miss the iconic Thomas Bros cherry orchard in Riwaka for the best cherries in the world: big, fat, shiny, and juicy and available in ice-cream form, too.
They’re handily located across from excellent brewery Hop Federation, where you can take a frosty rigger away in your panniers, and in a neighbouring shipping container, Ginger Dynamite offers great coffee, excellent, hearty, yet grease-free pies, and inventive pastry creations such as their Nutella buttercream-stuffed croissant topped with toasted walnut praline.
Motueka is an excellent place to base yourself for canyoning, skydiving, scenic flights, winery tours, horse trekking, and excursions into the impressive surrounding mountains, including the highest point in Kahurangi National Park, Mt Owen, and spectacular Mt Arthur, both home to the largest and deepest caves in New Zealand. On rainy days, try the bowling alley, climbing wall, or the Gecko Theatre, a quirky independent theatre with cushions, couches, hot fresh popcorn served in bowls and arthouse films as well as Hollywood releases. The Saltwater Baths, filled by the incoming tide, are another local favourite.
Up the Motueka River Valley, Riverside Community is New Zealand’s oldest intentional alternative lifestyle community, founded in 1941. It’s an interesting place to visit, with a café and workshops, a lake, gallery, native bush walks, gardens, a shop, sustainability demonstrations, and raw milk from their own herd of happy cows. If you’re keen for a lazy afternoon in the sun, take a picnic or fishing gear and find a spot to stop along the nearby Motueka River, a classic South Island river rushing over rounded stones, dotted with rickety bridges and large boulders for sunning yourself.
Drive on to Upper and Lower Moutere, Māpua and Ruby Bay, which are perfect gourmet destinations for lazing, driving winding country roads, checking out at vineyards and galleries, and eating: standouts are Neudorf Vineyards, Kahurangi Estate, and Mahana Estates. Upper and Lower Moutere more fine eating, drinking, galleries, and scenic views, as well as The Moutere Inn, New Zealand’s oldest pub still operating out of its original building, with meals, games, a fire, and a continuous range of craft beer.
Richmond has a large mall, serving the surrounding Waimea Plains, with plenty of cafes, big-box shopping stores and a busy downtown. The Lee Valley, heading south out of the town, is home to the Lee River, a popular summer swimming and BBQ spot – find a teen-free pool in the shallows and enjoy the cool rush of fresh, clear water pouring over your shoulders.
Heading further south, stop off in Wakefield, a pretty frontier town and home to Wakefield Bakery, consistently rated as making some of the best pies in New Zealand. Turn off to St Arnaud and enter Nelson Lakes National Park, before you hit Murchison, a river town. Riverside Holiday Park has surely one of the most gorgeous swimming spots a stone’s throw from a state highway. In town, there are enough shops to interest the curious visitor, including a great antique store, museum, galleries, and other artists. But the river is a big attraction here – go rafting, jump in a Buller jet boat, or head out for a local walk, and don’t miss the natural flames.