With many jewels in the crown adorning New Zealand’s Tasman region in South Island, the Ruby Coast is increasing its claim on the fame and fable of its lustrous namesake.
Hailed as the gateway to the Tasman, this scenic loop’s star continues to rise as more attention is focused on luring people off the highway from Nelson to Kaiteriteri. While the region boasts a rich parade of artists and artisans, the Ruby Coast is home to a core group, including painters, potters, sculptors and printmakers. Among them is Darryl Frost who, along with Adi Tait and Graeme Stradling, designed the first of three ‘gateway’ sculptures planned along this route.
Crafted from a high tensile stainless steel belt, donated by NZ Pine Industries, the nine-metre Aporo Gateway was craned into place at the northern end of Tasman on the Moutere Inlet last year. The glistening artwork showcases an array of shore birds that visit the area each year. It is the first of three sculptures envisioned by the Ruby Coast Initiative Trust and local artists in a quest to draw more people to this unique corner of the world.
It’s easy to see how artists are inspired by the land and seascapes within this scenic route. The road from Mapua to Kina unveils surprises at every corner – from the intriguing invitation of tame eels on the signage pointing out Jester House Cafe – to a camper’s welcome at the beachfront McKee Memorial Reserve.
Perhaps the most picturesque, however, is the historic wharf at Mapua. Sitting at the mouth of the Waimea Estuary, it was once a busy coastal freight wharf during the region’s orchard heyday. Today, the wharf houses an eclectic range of restaurants, cafes, boutique shops and attractions. While relatively new development has seen in injection of galleries, cafes, bars and a brewery; the original buildings remain an integral element. The Jellyfish Cafe and Bar and Apple Shed Cafe, for example, were converted from an old apple shed years ago. Both claim pride of place on the wharf – views stretching out for diners into the estuary.
Mapua means abundance and its pristine waters have attracted settlers from early Maori through to tobacco growers, orchardists and grape growers. Mapua sits on a popular cycleway these days – as part of New Zealand’s national project. There’s much here for pedal pushers to explore – with self-guided day rides seeing throngs of recreational cyclists exploring Tasman’s Great Taste Trail.
Hardy folk can bike from Nelson to Kaiteriteri, from Mapua to Moutere – as little or as much as you care. Or, you can simply drive into the Ruby Coast, drop by Mapua to enjoy fish and chips on the wharf and plan a short jaunt. Hiring a bike and gear at Mapua, you can hop aboard the Mapua Ferry and chug across to Rabbit Island for some easy peddling through its pine forest. This island is a working forest – trees covering some 90 hectares of this island.
With everything from straw hats, ceramics, home wares and French collections to be discovered at Mapua, it’s also nice to catch a little of the history here. The Mapua Boat Club operates the photo and maritime museum – a step back in time that records the history and events that have shaped the growth of this tranquil spot. Still developing, there’s more on the horizon, with an amphitheatre to be included in the Mapua Waterfront Park and – given funding – another striking sculpture.
However you explore this gem, one thing is constant – the allure and beauty surrounding this slice of Tasman’s coastline, instils desire to return and taste this sweet treat again.