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Rain’s a pain when pedalling

Preparing for rain, Jo Ferris cycled Nelson’s Great Taste Trail, loaded up with a bit more gear on board than she would have preferred . . .

Planning a cycle trip a year out tends to go one of two ways. Booking airfares and accommodation can mean lower prices — especially airfares. Booking weather, however, is an entirely different matter. Pick a week — any week — beginning of autumn? Sunny Nelson? Reasonably safe, one assumes. Not this year, unfortunately. Last year's trip on the West Coast had one day of torrential rain. This year, forecasts suggested three.

Packing becomes a bit of a dilemma. Contemplating five days on a bike — carrying everything in panniers — packing light isn't easy. There are only so many sneakers, socks and wet weather gear that fit in two panniers.

It's all part of the experience of course. Biking in the rain isn't exactly pleasurable — an e-bike just helps quicken the ordeal. It's a huge dampener on photo ops as well. Surprisingly — strictly a personal opinion, mind you — Nelson's trail wasn't exactly overrun with a constant stream of exquisite scenery.

I blame the rain. Places that promised to be spectacular were either shrouded in low cloud, or disappointed by deluge, Mapua being a case in point. Don't get me wrong — this trail is brilliant. It's an easy ride for starters. Compared with the daredevil thrill of South Island's Roxborough Gorge or the challenging hill climbs of Alps to Ocean; Nelson's Great Taste Trail is a doddle. The clue lies in its title — ‘taste'. This is a trail to stop, relax over lattes and cheese scones; sip wine anywhere a vineyard beckons a detour and feast on fine food along the way.

A night in Nelson is always wise for the gang, to catch up after a year in their various corners of the country. With part of Trafalgar Street closed to cars these days, this precinct is restaurant alley — any choice of continental cuisine to whet the appetite.

Official day one began the next morning — at Kiwi Journeys — in the heart of Nelson, prepped and raring as soon as the trail was mapped out, with hints on directions and suggestions of the best watering holes. The rain started immediately. To be fair, the trail out of town isn't exactly stimulating — though the old rail reserve is quaint. Once on the estuary circuit, the route becomes a true cycle track — meandering past billboard history of the area's wildlife and pioneers. Day one ends with a short ferry jaunt from Rabbit Island to Mapua Wharf. Mapua is gorgeous — when the skies are blue, the water green and the sun shining. Sadly, even the hilarious prospect of a stay at a recognised nudist park — didn't inspire any postcard photographs. Fantastic food made up for it — various choices to dine at restaurants, bars or savour finger-licking fish and chips on the waterfront — albeit it in torrential rain.

Ditto for day two — Ruby Bay towards Tasman is part road trip, part nature cycle and one big hill climb — mostly for that fantastic photo looking down to Motueka. Sadly, not that day. Coastal beauty was nowhere in sight; and the ride down into Motueka did result in some missing signage, which meant a wrong turn and cycling the main road into the town centre. The up side, however, was probably the best fish chowder on record, at the hidden Bloom cafe. A real find.

Day three presents two choices — once the obligatory morning latte and cheese scone are devoured in Riwaka at the famous Mrs Smith's Cafe. Either follow the official option of biking up and back to exquisite Kaiteriteri or, go directly to the next port of call, following the road alongside Motueka River to the vineyard cafe at Dunbar Estates and lunch. Pre-booked by Kiwi Journeys, it's highly recommended. Wine tasting comes with a platter of delicacies and option to buy goodies from Dunbar's store (note: this is no drink and ride. With the trail's ensuing stage not yet completed, Kiwi Journeys transports its groups to the next evening's destination at Tapawera).

Literally a one-horse town — with a pub and Four Square store — it also has a place in New Zealand's history. In 1955, a group of women made world headlines, holding a week-long ‘sit-in', valiantly trying to stop the Government closing the Nelson-Glenhope railway. It did of course — such lack of foresight given the current thrust to revitalise rail transport.

More history awaits the next day. Tapawera to Wakefield involves an inland trail passing a kaleidoscope of sights from hops to free-range chickens — through forest glades and countryside to the darkness of the famed Spooners Tunnel. At 1352 metres long and the Southern Hemisphere's oldest disused tunnel, it's pitch black and eerie; lights a pre-requisite and keeping a straight line essential. The day ends at another historic town and hotel – at Wakefield. Picturesque, quaint and with that sentimental small-town ambience, Wakefield is a fabulous place to spend the penultimate night.

Day five winds back to the bustle of Nelson — best back via the old rail reserve, not the alternative suggestion of a coastal route — by definition, incorrect. Avoid it like the plague. It ends up along the main road to the port.

Another night or two in Nelson is personal preference. With plenty to see and local trails to explore, it's worth considering. Nelson is the birthplace of Lord Rutherford, home to Pic's Peanuts, numerous craft-beer breweries and myriad artisans. Given great company, fine food and fond memories of yet another successful cycle trip — thoughts have already turned to next year.

Is one year without rain too much to ask for?

For more information, visit Kiwi Journeys.

Biking through puddles: Puddles without flooding around Nelson's Waimea Estuary.
Ferry: The quaint Mapua ferry transports bikers to and from Rabbit Island and Mapua Wharf.
Bikes outside winery: Dunbar Estates – one of the trail's key lunch-stops.
Southern Hemisphere's longest disused rail tunnel. Spooners is 1352 metres long – pitch black and eerie.
Flat Rock Cafe at Kotahu – a must stop for coffee.
Wakefield's historic Anglican church, looking towards Nelson.
Mrs Smith greets bikers at her famous Mrs Smith's Cafe at Riwaka.
Bikers donning wet-weather gear: Togging up in the wet weather gear as rain starts.