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Rabbit Island, Mapua and the Ruby Coast

Rabbit Island, Mapua and the Ruby Coast

The coastline west of Nelson is home to some interesting places, including one of the area’s most loved beaches, a cool seaside eating spot and some weird tame eels which you can feed. It’s not the most picturesque piece of coastline near Nelson (that title would go to Abel Tasman National Park or the Marlborough Sounds) but it’s a nice enough place to visit, especially if you’re living in Nelson (or are spending lots of time there). I grouped these three places together because I didn’t think any of them warranted their own post and they’re all close to each other – you could easily see them in a half-day trip from Nelson or on the way to Abel Tasman National Park.

Rabbit Island

One of the best beaches close to Nelson (the other being Tahunanui Beach), Rabbit Island is a popular spot in summer. It’s a massive stretch of beach with lots of places to park and lots of grassy areas behind the main strip. It seems like a good place to go swimming and there are BBQ areas you can use.

Rabbit Island Beach, Nelson, New Zealand

This is a great option is you want to spend a day at the beach with the family, but if you want a more scenic option, I’d suggest travelling a bit further and going to Kaiteriteri or Abel Tasman National Park.

Rabbit Island, Nelson, New Zealand


From Rabbit Island you can either drive to Mapua or catch a ferry (depending on when you visit). Mapua is a little seaside town with a cool pier area where you’ll find a few restaurants and bars. It’s a fun place to eat and drink on a summer day and it gets pretty busy on the weekends.

Mapua Cafe, Nelson, New ZealandMapua Ferry, Nelson, New Zealand

There isn’t too much to see nearby – this seems like a place for eating, shopping and hanging out rather than sightseeing (although the ferry ride would be nice).

Shopping in Mapua, Nelson, New Zealand

The Ruby Coast

I’d seen the sign pointing to the Ruby Coast a few times when driving between Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park. The sign said “Scenic Drive”, so I was excited to see some coastal views and beaches. It was a bit disappointing though. There aren’t many views to speak of and the beaches are of the rough, stony variety. We stopped off at a few of the beaches, but I wouldn’t recommend any of them, especially when you’re so close to some of the best beaches in New Zealand.

READ MORE: Check out the best things to do in Nelson, including beaches, hikes and day trips 

Ruby Coast beach, Nelson, New ZealandRuby Bay, Nelson, New Zealand

There was one interesting stop on our drive through the Ruby Coast. Jester House Café, or more accurately the stream in front of it, is home to tame eels which you can feed. You can get some little wooden sticks and “eel food” from the café and then you just kind of lower it in to the water where hungry eels should be waiting. It’s pretty weird but the kids will love it. We weren’t planning to feed them but got talking to a family and they let us have a try.

Feeding tame eels at the Ruby Coast, Nelson, New ZealandA tame eel on the Ruby Coast, New Zealand

And that’s pretty much it. Again, these aren’t the “best” places to see around Nelson but the three of them combined could make for a good afternoon out for locals or tourists who aren’t in a hurry. Or, if you’re a tourist in a hurry and you’re heading to Abel Tasman, you could stop off at Mapua for a bite to eat.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our South Island Travel Guide!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.