If ever there was a blueprint for the future of eco-tourism itineraries (without stripping out all the fun) this New Zealand road trip is it.
Words and Photography Ainsley Duyvestyn - Smith
Photography Ainsley Duyvestyn - Smith and Rachel Stewart
Video Pete May
near-silent, fully electric Nissan LEAF speeds through the lush, green valleys of the stunning Nelson Tasman region in New Zealand, and it dawns on me how much the humble road trip has changed.
OUR NEAR-SILENT, FULLY ELECTRIC NISSAN LEAF speeds through the lush, green valleys of the stunning Nelson Tasman region in New Zealand, and it dawns on me how much the humble road trip has changed.
As a Kiwi, road trips are almost part of our DNA. They’re ubiquitous with summer holidays in a small country like ours.
But with the rising cost of fuel and our ever expanding awareness of the effect that carbon emissions have on the environment, it’s become even more important to incorporate sustainable travel into itineraries. Travel is changing, and so should we.
A fully electric Nissan LEAF sits outside the Brook Waimārama Sanctuary.
The Nelson Tasman Region is still an enigma to both local and international visitors. It doesn’t get nearly the sort of airtime that the rest of New Zealand is afforded through mega marketing campaigns. So there was something serendipitous about the opportunity to take on a fully carbon neutral road trip – something that’s not been attempted before – in a region so untouched by the masses.
Our hosts had made sure that every supplier, each hotel, our meals, beers and even our modes of transport (thanks Nissan!) would be fully offset or completely carbon zero. A real road trip, without the guilt.
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The Brook Waimārama Sanctuary.
At the Brook Waimārama Sanctuary in the sleepy seaside city of Nelson we’re in a vast, tree-filled sanctuary dedicated to protecting local flora and fauna. Meandering through the delicate mossy streams of the predator-free forest, our guide points out a few of the forest’s secrets, like where to find fresh honeydew and hidden weta ‘motels’ (homes for a native insect endemic to this region). With such rich birdlife and dense greenery, it’s easy to feel as though we’ve stepped back in time to somewhere prehistoric.
A bridge crossing through the luscious Brook Waimārama Sanctuary.
Standing outside the unique Free House pub in a converted church.
Fresh local brews on tap at The Free House in Nelson.
From there, it’s time for a beer, and what better place to refuel than New Zealand’s first climate positive pub, The Free House. I think to myself, “Could this really also be my first ever guilt free hangover?”
We’re greeted by an elegant cocker spaniel at the door of the renovated church, before the owner and his son proudly pour us tasters of their favourite locally brewed craft beers. Humming with locals who are cozying up outside under recycled heaters next to the small onsite brewery, it seems that this is certainly the place to be.
Delicious delicacies inside Pic's Peanut Butter Factory.
Waking up next in my brightly coloured room in the clean, comfortable and carbon neutral Nelson YHA, my tummy rumbles in anticipation of the morning’s activity. We park up and charge our car at Nelson’s solar-powered Pic’s Peanut Butter factory. I’m mesmerised, not just because this is my ideal breakfast, but as I also watch the process of the humble nut transform into creamy deliciousness, while also learning about the factory’s waste reduction method that uses all parts of the peanuts, leftovers magically being made into tote bags and paper.
As a rare deluge of rain sets in for the afternoon, we opt to embrace the mud and try a speedy hybrid quad bike ride through the thriving native forest at Cable Bay Adventure Park. The carbon zero adventure park offers a range of activities for anyone brave enough to try them, including a 1.6 kilometre zip line over the property for sunnier days.
Quad bikes at Cable Bay Adventure Park.
You can get some seriously stunning views from the Abel Tasman Track.
Once we’ve explored the local op-shops it’s time to get back in our Nissan LEAF and drive along the coast towards one of New Zealand's most loved jewels, the Abel Tasman National Park. Despite this being one of our longest stretches of the drive, we've only needed to charge up the car once so far. Thankfully there's a very handy online map to help travellers like us find the nearest charging point.
Originally populated by early Māori, the native bush was almost lost when Europeans arrived and tried to farm the land. Fortunately, however, their efforts were thwarted by the soil climate, and the Abel Tasman was returned to its rightful state as a thriving bush in 1942. Now it attracts visitors from all over the world, keen to experience its beauty in a uniquely New Zealand way.
The Abel Tasman was returned to its rightful state as a thriving bush in 1942.
Eager for an early start in the park, we stop at Kaiterteri beach to check in to the picturesque Kimi Ora Eco Resort. With an electric vehicle charging station, jacuzzis, pools, vineyards and even private spa baths in their suites, it’s the perfect place to relax and recharge after a day of on and off-road driving. At night, we saunter from the jacuzzi straight to dinner at their onsite vegetarian restaurant named 'The Views', enjoying a delicious gourmet meal with local wines and as the name suggests, stunning views of the harbour below.
Views from the Kimi Ora Eco Resort.
As the sun rises over the water, we head to the beach for a morning cruise with Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures on their new catamaran. Gliding peacefully past private sandy beaches and protected islands filled with adorable seal pups playing in the shallows it’s easy to see why locals work so hard to protect the area. The experienced sailors and owners of the catamaran happily fill us in on the history of the area and the initiatives they’re a part of to keep the Abel Tasman pristine.
Ready to set sail with Abel Tasman Adventures from Kaiteriteri beach.
At lunchtime, we are dropped off at a small, untouched bay for the next part of our adventure. It's a sea kayak tour of the Abel Tasman with Mārahau Sea Kayaks and Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi. Floating through valleys filled with birdsong, stopping at secluded golden bays to hike and explore at our leisure. Every inlet we visit appears to offer a different landscape, some with crystal clear blue water, others with cool cola coloured bottom and wild overgrowth. Each is as tranquil and striking as the next.
Kayaking through the Abel Tasman with Mārahau Sea Kayaks.
It’s finally time to unwind as the locals do after a day of exploring Abel Tasman. We grab a table at Hooked On Mārahau, a relaxed seafront restaurant with a garden bar soaking in the day's activities.
For a change of scenery we check into the quaint, eco-friendly Abel Tasman Ocean View Chalets. Built into the hillside and surrounded by trees teeming with birdlife, the chalets provide all the benefits of nature without giving up any creature comforts. Morning comes and the sun pours into the quaint hillside cabins like honey over the edge of a spoon, making for some beautiful sunrise photos from my private balcony overlooking the water.
Our Nissan Leaf parked up to watch the sunrise at Mārahau.
Sunrise on the balcony at Abel Tasman Ocean View Chalets.
An easy cycle tour with The Gentle Cycling company.
The airport beckons, but not before making one last stop on the way to Nelson. In the small town of Riwaka we meet with The Gentle Cycling Company for an effortless two wheeled tour of the area. Gliding through bountiful berry farms, wineries and orchards, if I wasn’t so enamoured by the smell, the experience is almost dream-like for even an inexperienced rider like myself.
Sitting in the airport waiting for my flight back home (which has been carbon offset) I look back in wonder at the effort and passion that local tourism providers on this trip have shown towards a more sustainable future.
There’s an eagerness not just to change the way people travel, but also to change the world.