Conveniently located between Nelson—the largest city in New Zealand's upper South Island—and Golden Bay are the Ruby Coast and the towns of Motueka and Mapua.
Motueka has a population of around 8,000, making it the second largest town in the area (after Nelson-Richmond). In the summer, when domestic and international visitors pass through on the way to the beaches, forests, and mountains nearby, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a much bigger place than it really is. Meanwhile, Mapua, south of Motueka, is a small town of around 2,000 inhabitants; the scenic Ruby Coast sits between Mapua and Motueka.
While these places can be visited on day trips from Nelson, they are also worthwhile destinations in their own right, and convenient bases for exploring the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi national parks. Here's how to plan your trip to Motueka, Mapua, and the Ruby Coast.
What to See and Do
From exploring a shipwreck in Motueka to checking out artists' studios on the Ruby Coast, here are some of the best things to do when visiting the area.
- Swim in the saltwater baths: Although Motueka doesn't have the best swimming beaches in the area (the coast is rather stony and estuarine around here), it does have outdoor saltwater pools. Not only are they a great way to cool off in the summer, they are also a piece of local history, having been constructed in 1926.
- Shop at the Sunday market: Many of the vendors who sell their wares at the popular Nelson Market travel to Moteuka for the Sunday market there. You'll find local artisan food produce (including simple fruit and veggies), local crafts, and other souvenirs. This isn't just a tourist market as locals also flock here when the weather's good.
- Check out the Janie Sneddon shipwreck: Not far from the Motueka Foreshore is the wreck of the Janie Sneddon, a favorite with photographers—especially at sunset. Used as a military ship and a fishing boat, the Janie Sneddon was moored in the 1950s at Motueka Wharf, where it sank and was left to disintegrate into its current rusted state.
- Go skydiving: When the weather is good, you're likely to see colorful sails floating around the mountains behind Motueka. Try it for yourself and you'll enjoy views of the whole of Tasman Bay, plus Golden Bay, Farewell Spit, the mountains of the Kahurangi National Park and beyond, and even the North Island when conditions are clear.
- Plunge into the Riwaka Resurgence: A 20-minute drive from Motueka is the incredible Riwaka Resurgence, a spring that emerges from the bottom of the Takaka Hill and turns into the Riwaka River. Right on the edge of the Kahurangi National Park, a short walking track through the forest leads to the impossibly clear pool. The place is sacred to local Maori, but unlike at Te Waikoropupu Springs over the hill in Takaka, you are allowed to touch the water. While it is tempting to jump off the rocks into the blue-green pool on a hot day, be warned that the water is extremely cold, so you won't be able to stay in for long.
- Go mountain biking on Rabbit Island: Rabbit Island is on the Great Taste Trail, an organized series of biking trails that connect various places in the Nelson-Tasman area. To get there, take the passenger ferry from Mapua; it leaves regularly from the beach below Mapua Wharf, and takes just a few minutes. Mountain bikes can be rented from Mapua. If adventure sports aren't your thing, instead check out the beaches of Rabbit Island/Moturoa, which are best accessed from the highway turnoff just past Appleby.
- Chill out at Mapua Wharf: Mapua Wharf is a nice place for a stroll, offering pretty views across the inlet to Rabbit Island. Boutiques and restaurants specialize in locally-made crafts and food and drink, including wine from the vineyards between Nelson and Motueka.
- Follow the Ruby Coast Arts Trail: Pick up a Ruby Coast Arts Trail map and follow a self-guided tour to artists' and artisans' studios along the Ruby Coast. Painters, potters, jewelers, furniture makers, printers, and glassblowers open their studios (often in their homes) to visitors throughout the year.
- Enjoy the beaches of Ruby Bay and the Kina Peninsula: While you won't find actual rubies around here, Ruby Bay and the Ruby Coast are so-called because of the red jasper rocks that give the beach a red-pink tinge. The stretch of coast leading up to the Kina Peninsula and Kina Cliffs is popular with locals in the summer, and offers campsite accommodation if you want to stay overnight.
Where to Stay
Motueka, Mapua, and the Ruby Coast can easily be visited on day trips from Nelson, which has the widest range of accommodation in the area. Otherwise, a variety of accommodation is available in Motueka, including low-budget backpacker hostels, campgrounds, and motels. In and around Mapua and the Ruby Coast, family-run boutique accommodations are your best bet as these offer personal touches such as home-cooked breakfast, vineyard tours, and more.
Where to Eat
As in many smaller New Zealand towns that see lots of visitors, there is no shortage of places to eat and drink in Motueka, Mapua, and the Ruby Coast. Whether you're looking for Thai or fish and chips, you'll be able to find what you're looking for. The following places are especially noteworthy, however.
- Toad Hall, Motueka: Toad Hall is a one-stop-shop for all your food and drink needs: It has a sit-down restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating; a grocery store specializing in local produce; an ice cream parlor with a cake/bakery section; and an adjoining brewery, the Townshend Brewery and Tap Room. Whether you're just passing through Motueka and want to grab a quick scoop of ice cream to keep the kids happy, or you're looking for a hearty lunch (with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options), you shouldn't go past Toad Hall.
- The Smoking Barrel, Motueka: While The Smoking Barrel serves a range of food, it's best known for its incredible donut selection. A perfect addition to a picnic lunch in the Abel Tasman National Park, just up the road.
- Mapua Wharf: Stylish Mapua Wharf offers many food options, from seafood to Mexican, and even opens a wine bar in the evenings. Some of the eateries directly overlook the water, while others are set back a bit but are ideally located for an after-dinner stroll along the waterfront.
How to Get There
Motueka is 25 miles northwest of Nelson, and Mapua is 15 miles. To get to either place from Nelson, first drive west along State Highway 6 until you reach Richmond; then turn off onto SH 60. Mapua is a short detour off SH 60—just follow the signs. Like in many places in small-town and semi-rural New Zealand, the best way of getting there is to have your own car (or a rental).
If you don't have a car, a limited number of coach services travel between Nelson and Motueka en route to Golden Bay. However, these are not very frequent, quite costly, and don't enable you to fully explore Motueka since there are no local bus services here. Self-driving is by far the best option.