New Zealand is well known for its beautiful scenery, ease of living and allowance for adventure, but it’s quickly gaining notoriety for offering top-notch selection of the finer things in life. Even the smallest towns on both the North and South Island boast a handful of cafes and restaurants serving artfully crafted cuisine and equally delicious New Zealand wines. Since the country thrives on tourism, you can bet Kiwi’s are capitalizing on your desire to be wined and dined. They’ve made it easy by creating the New Zealand Wine Trail, a fairly simple layout of wineries throughout various grape-growing regions on both islands. The problem is there are so many choices, it leaves the average tourist wondering where to begin. If you’re not specifically seeking out a certain well-reputed winery, chances are anywhere you plan to visit a vineyard is nearby. It makes it easy to spend a day sipping on some of New Zealand’s most flavorful wines without planning your entire visit around it. Of course, true winos could do nothing but drive the length of both the North and South Island detailing the often subtle but sometimes drastic variances in taste and purity of wine grown across the country.
On the North Island, the New Zealand wine trail leads from the far reaches of Northland surrounding the quaint towns of Keri Keri and Paihi to the south east regions of Hawkes Bay and the art deco towns of Napier and Hastings.
Waiheke Island is the north’s most reputed region for wine. Just a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland, it offers around 20 spectacular wineries along with a host of art galleries, cafes and fine dining restaurants. A ferry ride from Queens Wharf will cost you $35.00 nzd per adult and $17.80 per child. Once you’re on the island itself the wineries are a little too far to walk but you can rent a bike, a scooter or a car. Or, if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of transportation, several wine tours and buses operate on the island. Fullers ferry offers ferry ticket and tour combinations starting at just $49.00 nzd for a one and half hour tour, unlimited hop on and hop off bus service for the day and the price of your ferry ticket – it’s not a bad deal at all. If you want to simply explore on your own you can add $9.00 nzd to the price of your ferry ticket for unlimited bus service once on the island.
Follow your nose farther south to Hawke’s Bay and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful weather (244 days of sunshine a year) and fabulous wine and food. Around 35 wineries operate in the Hawke’s Bay region as well as countless orchards and farms meaning you’ll only get the freshest produce (a wide range of organic selection excluded). You’ll find everything from larger, storied estates to small family-run vineyards. Each winery pours a distinctive flavor and many dish up some of the best food in New Zealand. My personal favorite is the Black Barn Vineyards and Bistro. The doors are open for free tastings 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm while the bistro, which has been in the running for best cuisine in the New Zealand, is only open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and Friday’s only for dinner. This small, modern vineyard doesn’t widely distribute its fabulous, subtle wine so make sure to pick up a few bottles while you’re there. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find the Mission Estate Winery off Church Road near Napier. This large, beautiful winery with it’s stunning pillared front and gardens stretching out toward the vines is the oldest winery in New Zealand as it has been operating since 1851. A beautiful restaurant, quaint tasting room, large garden filled with fountains make this a must see. It’s open most days with a historic tours running at 10:30am and 2pm daily.
Before setting out in Hawke’s Bay make sure to pick up a wine map offered by Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers, Inc. It has everything you need to spend the day swirling and sipping.
Even if you’re only in the region to taste the wine, do yourself a favor and spend some time milling around downtown Napier. It’s the art deco capital of the world boasting a collection of more inner-city art deco buildings than anywhere on the globe. In fact, thousands of people fill the streets of Napier each February to celebrate the Art Deco Weekend Summer Festival. Those who take pride in the city’s great history have banded together to form the Art Deco Trust Alliance – a group working to preserve the architecture and uniqueness of Napier.
Why so many art deco buildings you ask? In 1931, the city was devastated by a massive earthquake . As the town struggled to get back on its feet, the city and its residents made a conscious effort focus their rebuilding efforts around the beautiful architecture of the time. Today, old cars and tour operators dressed in period attire mean driving into the inner-city is like stepping back in time.
Along the water front is no different. There you’ll find the most beautiful, well-cared for gardens in what’s known as the Marine Parade. As you follow the parade closer to downtown the waterfront becomes a bustling hub of tourism as buses and tours drop off near the i-site visitors center. Across the street, snap a photo with the old cars parked on the sidewalk and stop in at Starbucks for your free wireless internet (you know you’ve been looking for it!).
Your next stop to enjoy New Zealand’s wine country is easily reached by ferry or plane. The Marlborough Region lies at the northern most point of the South Island and boasts some fierce and flavorful Sauvignon Blanc. Bleheim is most likely the best city to base your wine expeditions from. There are several tour companies (bike, car, bus) that lead you to a host of tastings, or if you would rather sip at your own pace, just make sure to pick up at Marlborough Wine Trail Map at the nearest i-site. Around 40 cellar doors, some small and others well-renouned, offer free tastings most days of the week.
With all the wine New Zealand has to offer, we could tasting and writing for weeks, so the bottom line here is..with so many options to chose from, adding a few swirl, sniff and sips to your New Zealand adventure is a must.