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You know those car ads with the beautiful people driving along an empty road in a 'I want one' car, a backdrop of stunning sea views, enticing sweeping bends, seemingly endless straights, framed by majestic towering mountains, the blazing sunlight glinting off the waves, caressing rolling green fields or peeping through dappled leaves.......that only exists in advertising la la land or some obscure part of the Italian countryside way back in 1957 right?
Wrong. You can experience it all for real in the Top of New Zealand's South Island now, starting with the drive from Nelson to Golden Bay for example. I've taken this road trip many times in all seasons in both RentAClassics 1999 Saab convertible and 1972 MG BGT, and never tire of the sights or the roads that wind their way there.
Touring near Abel Tasman National Park
Leaving Nelson / Richmond on State Highway 60 you can immediately get distracted by the nearby vineyards but press on (!) and take the scenic route off via Mapua and Ruby Bay. There the road for a stretch goes right alongside the sea before climbing the cliffs and swooping back through orchards and fields. The Jester House along here is a charming place to stop and eat outdoors. Re-joining the main highway it gets all coastal again passing over the Moutere Inlet, (look out for the stone messages at low tide), before entering Motueka, where Toad Hall and Up The Garden Path provide fine pitstop fare.
Reaching Riwaka you face a tricky dilemma. You could follow the crowd and turn right for the gorgeous Kaiteriteri and water taxis to the heart of the Abel Tasman. Parking at Stephens Bay and walking in over the cliffs you feel like you've stumbled upon a location from a James Bond movie. Indeed the UK Guardian newspaper named this as one of the top 5 beaches in the world. We can even tell you where to park for just 7 minutes walk to the popular Split Apple Rock beach, with no kayaks necessary!
Takaka Hill - The Road Less Travelled
I'd urge you to turn left however and head for Takaka, fully embracing their "It's just a hill, get over it!" slogan. There's the intriguing Ngarua Caves on the 'Lord of the Rings' marble mountain location, and several signed walks at the top to break the journey. It's a great winding drive, the RentAClassic MG relishing the bends and emitting glorious burbles and blips on the way down, the Saab convertible effortlessly turbocharging up and wondering what all the fuss is about. You'll want to ensure you have its powered top down before you start the descent though, as you'll want to take in as much as you can of the truly panoramic vista of Upper Takaka valley way below backed by mountains - just make sure your passenger is describing the finer detail for you! Once in the valley the road opens up, dipping, diving and stretching out through gently rolling fields and farmland before bringing you into Takaka itself. It was voted No 3 in the Top 10 NZ roads - check out this video to get a taster. Whilst the MG did the climb in summer heat barely breaking into a sweat, I found a dip in Takaka river a great cooling reviver and far more healthy than any coffee break - just don't stay in too long - it's rather bracing....
Golden Bay - Drive, Stay, Play
Golden Bay is a wonderful place - unspoilt, uncommercialised, unstressed and under estimated as a destination. My favourate places? The Village Theatre cinema with its bean bags and sofas, and the WholeMeal or the Brigand Cafe, all in Takaka, or the Labyrinth Rocks Park just outside. Sans Souci accommodation and restaurant in Pohara, and watching for manta rays from the deck of the Jacques Cousteau Pirate Expresso Ship moored nearby. Or driving further along the winding mediterranean like cliff road, to walk to Wainui Falls or into the top of the Abel Tasman park. Or simply watching the sun go down into stunning sunsets from the myriad uncrowded beaches. Heading to Collingwood makes for a very rewarding drive too, (especially if Rosie Glow chocolates is open!), but you've got to go the extra mile to make it to the very special Wharariki Beach. Twenty minutes walk from the car park brings you to a magical sandscape of dunes, caves, seals and wild, windswept sea.
And then you've got the drive back all over again to look forward to. And yes, even in high summer the traffic is pretty light, especially in Golden Bay and hugely so compared to Europe holiday destinations. On several occasions I haven't met any traffic on my side for an hour or more. So all the elements of the car ad are there - with RentAClassic supplying you with the cool, characterful and classy car to do it in. The only thing we can't really promise I guess is the beautiful people part.....but then again, it's not just the outside that counts now is it.....?