Every single day I wake up and thank my lucky stars I get to call New Zealand home.
These days where COVID19 ravages the world, we remain somewhat blissfully distanced from it down under, behind closed borders. One of the many perks of snuffing out community transmission months and months ago is that we can travel freely around New Zealand, mask-free.
Recently I spent a week up in the incredible Nelson Tasman, exploring this unique corner of Aotearoa through the lens of sustainability. Many of the people who work in tourism here are committed to being carbon neutral with a low impact on the environment.
When you’re surrounded by such an impressive landscape, backing on to the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi national parks, you can’t help but want to protect this place.
With our borders closed for the foreseeable future, the international tourism industry has taken a massive hit. However, for locals, it’s never been a better time to get out and explore our backyard. Now New Zealand is relatively carefree and crowd-free. Nowhere beckons my heart quite like the top of the South Island. Here is a place I never tire of returning to. Who can’t help but love my friend Kyle Bare Kiwi’s home after all?
Perhaps what spoke to me the most was Nelson Tasman’s tourism industry’s commitment to giving back to the environment and local communities. During my recent trip here, I experienced a range of low impact and sustainable activities, exceptional local produce, and carbon-zero initiatives. This is tourism done right.
Here are some snippets, stories, and shots from a week exploring the top of the South Island around the Nelson Tasman. Enjoy!
Abel Tasman National Park
New Zealand’s endless coastlines mean you can often find yourself with a beach as perfect as this all for yourself. Trust me; there’s no shortage of delightful beaches in the Nelson Tasman region. The gem, of course, is the incredible Abel Tasman National Park.
Low tide in Marahau, the gateway to the Abel Tasman (and a perfect base), is one of my favorite times of the day. Especially when it coincides with sunset, and I can go for long walks on the vast beach, which I often have all to myself. A few hours earlier, I would have been swimming. But now the water is gone, leaving only sand and shells behind.
Nelson Tasman has one of the biggest tidal ranges in New Zealand. In some way, this can make you feel like you’re in two different places. Our first in Marahau, we boarded onto the Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi by the jetty, and when we returned, we were towed in by a tractor. It’s an experience I’ve only had in the Abel Tasman.
You can explore the Abel Tasman National Park in many ways, from walking, boating, and kayaking. I have found that doing a combination of three to be the best experience. Often I catch the water taxi in and walk back out or vice-versa. The teams there run everything like a perfectly well-oiled machine!
When you arrive at the Nelson Airport after a flight, and it’s 28 degrees, you head straight for the water. It’s irresistible. One of the best ways to check out this free-spirited corner of the South Island is by kayak, which allows you to pop into all the little coves, caves, and secret beaches.
And we couldn’t resist paddling to the iconic Split Apple Rock in Kaiteriteri with a freedom kayak hire by Marahau Sea Kayaks.
Who created this perfectly split rock? Gods? Giants? Angry mermaids? Who knows, but it’s still pretty rad to see up close and personal! One day I’ll nail the tidal times right and get there when I can walk out to it!
While I’ve been inside the Abel Tasman many times, hiking and kayaking, I had never ventured further towards the top of the national park. Time for a change!
This time around, I got to stay up at the iconic Awaroa Lodge, deep in the heart of the Abel Tasman. Accessible by boat only (or your own two feet), it’s a charming and delightful spot to while away the time, taking in the native birds, iconic views, and pristine beaches. Nestled against lovely wetlands (a rarity these days), you can fall asleep listening to birdsong in comfort.
You might have heard of Awaroa Beach before. In 2016 thousands of kiwis chipped in to crowdfund millions to buy Awaroa Beach here for New Zealand. The “People’s Beach” is now no longer in private ownership. Now it is managed by DOC for all of us to enjoy – how cool is that?
Traveling with my partner, Giulio opens my eyes to things I would have missed on my solo travel days, especially around food. It blows my mind how many things you can forage and eat here in New Zealand, things I never noticed on all my walks and tramps.
We walked part of the iconic Abel Tasman track together under a hot summer sun. While I always looked for lovely photos and birds, Giulio looked for plants; we make the perfect pair!
The following day, we returned to the national park, this time on a boat trip with Abel Tasman Eco Tours, seeing the land and sea from an ecological perspective, and it blew me away! Sure, New Zealand is beautiful. We all know that. But what makes it unique is its biodiversity, something you have to look closely to see.
Listen for the birds, peer down into the creeks for freshwater fish, and of course, ask questions. Many people have worked hard to make this part of New Zealand so unique, from the DOC workers to volunteers to the tourism operators who ensure that this place stays remarkable and preserved long after we are gone. Thank you.
Rabbit Island and Mapua
Rabbit Island outside Nelson was one of the biggest surprises for me on my adventure around the Nelson Tasman.
Just outside of Nelson, Rabbit Island is a barrier island along the estuary. It’s home to a reserve with heaps of forest, beaches, and picnic spots. It felt like a real, local getaway, but I had it all to myself when I was there!
It was so lovely and peaceful, nestled across from Mapua village with little shops and fantastic coffee. Grab yourself some brekkie and takeaway locally roasted beans while you’re here. I squirreled myself away at the cute Rabbit Island Huts, with just sheep for company.
It was cozy and cute and the spot for me to unwind. I fell asleep listening to the rain on the roof, utterly relaxed and at peace.
The Nelson Tasman region’s beating heart is Nelson itself – blinding flash of the obvious, I know.
Swapping our electric car for e-bikes from Nelson Cycle Hire, we cruised around Nelson and the surrounds, checking out breweries, foodie spots, and of course, coffee. It was my first time on an e-bike, and I loved it! I think the trauma of past mountain biking trips around Wanaka has finally eased!
My favorite stop was, of course, an eco-sanctuary.
The Brook Waimārama Sanctuary is the South Island’s largest predator-free ecosanctuary, home to some of our incredible native birds and plants. Connecting people with nature and supporting the community is a fabulous place to walk around and get a taste of what New Zealand could once again become one day!
Perhaps the biggest surprise from my trip around Nelson was discovering Upper Moutere, which quite possibly is New Zealand’s most charming village. I cannot believe I hadn’t been here before!
Now I’m sure some of you guys are eye-rolling me SO HARD right now (travel bloggers “discovering” new places ranks high on my pet peeves list), but here I am.
Set amongst the rolling Moutere Hills, Upper and Lower Moutere are small rural communities that pack a punch. Picturesque views, fresh air, local artists, delightful crafts and delicious artisanal food, New Zealand’s oldest pub, and boutique wineries. I can’t believe how magical this little corner of Nelson is!
I spent a full day with the marvelous Judy of Neudorf Vinywards, who introduced me to so many incredible local producers and creatives who’ve banded together under the Moutere Artisans name to inspire this beautiful community.
It was powerful to see how these creatives, united by location and love of the land, have formed an incredible collective that’s open to visitors like me.
From vineyards to designers to incredible food producers, the Upper Moutere was a place I didn’t want to leave to catch my flight home. Like, I didn’t want to leave. I might have changed my flight so I could stay longer.
This is precisely the kind of place I love to get away to for a long weekend. I’m already planning my return.
Have you explored more of your backyard since COVID19? Have you been to some of these spots in the Nelson Tasman? Spill!
Lunch at Forsters outside on the lawn was the perfect introduction to Upper Moutere.
Neudorf Mushrooms supplies some of New Zealand’s top chefs from their mushroom forest.
Terra Nova Alpacas produces some of the softest wool and is home to many alpacas!
The gardens around Katie Gold Studios, a ceramicist of national renown, are beautiful! She shares her studio with Owen Bartlett, another incredible local artist.