A gourmet's way to ride

HAPPY TRAIL: Riders cross the CB Kidson Bridge over the Waimea River on the Tasman Great Taste Trail.
HAPPY TRAIL: Riders cross the CB Kidson Bridge over the Waimea River on the Tasman Great Taste Trail.

Where can you eat blackberries off the bush, have a glass of local pinot gris, enjoy magnificent views over the Waimea estuary from your bike and be home in time for dinner? The Tasman Great Taste Trail, of course.

The Mapua leg opened recently and my family quickly explored this latest offering. Miss 12-year-old had reservations about the excursion and had to be bribed with the promise of treats and fantastic scenery along the way, as well as assurances that there would be no big hills, no bad weather and no scary trucks.

The trail officially starts at the Nelson Visitor i-Site but you can join anywhere on the route. It has regular and distinctive blue signs so it's hard to get lost. It's a little bit like heading for the next DOC orange marker when tramping , or being in England and looking for the next signpost on a long-distance walk.

When tramping, I hope for a hut or, at the very least, a sign saying the hut is nearby, and in England I was often looking for the next friendly pub. On the Tasman Great Taste Trail, the scenery is so pleasant and the cycling so easy that I am content to enjoy the moment and not worry about what is coming up.

Once we reached the Railway Reserve, behind Victory School, the cars were left behind. We found perfectly ripe wild blackberries and continued cycling with stained hands and mouths.

We carried along the shared walking/cycling path to Richmond and headed north towards Mapua, riding over boardwalks around the Waimea Inlet. I ignored the rather industrial sawmill and recycling plant and instead looked out over the estuary, home to a range of internationally significant bird species, including the godwit.

I was hugely impressed by the range of people cycling with all ages and abilities represented. One family group we saw included dad and a young boy on an articulated tandem, mum with a child in a trailer, two young children cycling independently, and finally grandma steering granddad, who was pedalling hard on a recumbent trailer.

We know it was granddad because he called out as he passed, "And granddad follows at the rear!"

We mucked around at Rabbit Island and remembered times that we had spent here training for the Otago Central Rail Trail - a memorable bike trip.

We also talked about the section of the Tasman Great Taste Trail section from Richmond to Brightwater, which we had cycled before Christmas. This particularly beautiful section includes vineyards, artists and cafes, and the new suspension bridge to cross the Waimea River.

At Brightwater our team needed sustenance. I was tempted by the Sprig and Fern, but it was too early and hadn't opened. My husband wanted a coffee but the Headquarters Cafe and Bar was overflowing with more than 30 bikes parked outside. We settled for icecreams at the dairy.

I reckon we have cycled one-fifth of the trail and hope to tackle the rest as it develops. The Mapua to Kaiteriteri, and the Brightwater to Wakefield legs open later this year.

That just leaves the Wakefield to Tapawera, and Tapawera to Motueka legs, which will be completed by 2017.

All up, the trail will be a 175-kilometre loop containing the best the top of the south has to offer in views, food, wine, beer, sea and mountain scenery. I predict that our local ride is going to be as good as, if not better than, the Otago Central Rail Trail.

I may be biased but we have the following advantages: it is a loop, so transport logistics are simple in that you start and end in the same place; it is shorter and can be done in a weekend, or you can dawdle and take four days; it is warmer - no scraping frost and ice off your bike seats in the morning; we have wonderful eating and drinking places; and finally, the scenery is terrific.

Even if I am biased, I am not alone. The trail is listed as one of New Zealand's best rides in by Paul, Simon and Jonathan Kennet's guide book, Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails who say you can experience the "best wine, food, art and fashion on offer in Nelson and Tasman as you gently pedal from one tempting attraction to the next".

Jonathan said, "The thing I love about the trail is that it is so easy I can ride it with my non-cycling friends and know they'll have a great time". I think this is the key, and is demonstrated by our Miss 12-year-old's grudging admission that she enjoyed herself.

Using her requirements for no big hills, no trucks, good food, pleasant weather and superb scenery, the Tasman Great Taste Trail scores extremely highly on the sections we've been on. And it's only going to get better as more is completed.