First published on 29 May 2012. Updated on 7 Jun 2012.
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Stylish reds, sexy chardonnays and orchards full of fruit
Locals love to tell visitors about the fantastic Hawke’s Bay weather, claiming it is “the best in New Zealand,” but there is much more to Hawke’s Bay than its Mediterranean climate. Boasting 170 vineyards, more than 70 wineries, traditional farmers’ markets and fabulous fresh produce, Hawke’s Bay is widely recognised as one of New Zealand’s leading wine and food regions. It’s also the oldest: Mission Estate Winery has been here since 1851.
Now just as famous for its annual outdoor winery concert as its wine, Mission Estate brings international artists to play to a huge crowd in their natural amphitheatre every February. Vino, vineyards, tunes: sigh. Visitors can enjoy al fresco dining, sample from many an award-winning winery restaurant or follow the food and wine trails to experience the best of the cellar doors and farm gates – self-drive or take a tour with one of the local guides by car, bus or bicycle.
And no visit to Hawke’s Bay is complete without a tour of the Art Deco City of Napier. Outdoor lovers can go further afield and enjoy over 180km of Hawke’s Bay Trails that link the cities of Napier, Hastings and Havelock North. Home to three of New Zealand’s 19 official Great Rides, Hawke’s Bay has one of the country’s top-ranking mountain bike parks if you want to work off all that booze and food.
Other outdoor activities include excellent trout fishing and more than 35 nature walks including a stunning three- to five-day walk of Lake Waikaremoana in Te Urewera National Park. Scenic highlights include Te Mata Peak and the dramatic Cape Kidnappers, home to the world’s largest mainland gannet colony, and one of the top 50 golf courses in the world. Throw beautiful white sand beaches into the mix and you may never want to leave!
An idyllic escape, just one hour from Wellington
The Wairarapa is a region of big skies and characterful small towns. The place Maori called “Land of Glistening Waters” opens up before you as you arrive over the Rimutaka Hill from Wellington, a valley fringed by mountains to the west and rugged coast to the east. Here you can sample premium wines from the regions’ vineyards and try everything from country cooking to haute cuisine in the many cafés and restaurants. It’s delicious and scenic country, this is.
The town of Martinborough is internationally renowned for its pinot noir and features more than 30 vineyards – many with cellar doors you won’t want to drive past. Further up the valley in the wine-growing areas of Gladstone, Opaki and Masterton, around 16 wineries offer the same relaxed appeal. Several Wairarapa food producers offer tours and tastings. Greytown is a Victorian country village with metropolitan style only one hour from Wellington.
Don’t forget your credit card because Greytown’s eclectic mix of independent boutiques, art galleries, antique stores and cafés make it one of New Zealand’s premier shopping destinations. Make time to visit the chocolate studio, Schoc Chocolate, sample fresh patisseries from The French Baker or hire tandem bikes to explore the nearby countryside.
Popular with Wellingtonians, only one hour away, it’s a sophisticated village with free Wi-Fi hotspots along its Main Street. Scenic highlights include Cape Palliser, with a large colony of native fur seals easily viewed from the roadside, and the nearby Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve with its unique geological rock formations. The Cape Palliser lighthouse, with its red and white stripes, is another must-see. Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, located 20 minutes north of Masterton, is conserving some of New Zealand’s most rare and endangered wildlife.
Last year, a bird named Manukura made international headlines being the first white Kiwi to hatch in captivity and now can be viewed daily. Another unique attraction is the Vintage Aviator Ltd Collection, with one of the largest collections of original and flying WWI aircraft in the world.
Sauvignon blanc, breweries, and spectacular cruises
Marlborough sauvignon blanc has put New Zealand on the world wine map. More than 90 percent of NZ sauv blanc comes from the region, and rightfully so – it goes down a treat. But Marlborough also produces superb aromatics, elegant chardonnays, fine methode traditionelle and rich pinot noir.
There are no less than 140 wineries, more than 40 of them with cellar doors, where you are invited to taste award-winning wines and in some instances, meet the wine makers. Many have platters, cafés and full-service restaurants. Marlborough is also home to award-winning breweries such as No 8 Wired, Renaissance and Moa – because one cannot live on wine alone.
The 30th Marlborough Wine & Food Festival will be held in February 2013. For something scenic, the Marlborough Sounds is an extraordinarily beautiful region of sounds and islands with 1,500km of coastline. Cruise the Sounds on a scheduled tour or hire your own private yacht. The Queen Charlotte Track stretches from historic Ship Cove to Anakiwa and runs almost the entire length of the Queen Charlotte Sound.
The 71 kilometres of spectacular walking track passes through historic sites, secluded bays, skyline ridges and coastal bush. For Aussies used to trekking among venomspitting snakes, relax: New Zealand features virtually no poisonous animals to interrupt your walk. Most sections of the track can be accessed by water transfer allowing travellers to choose from a number of day walks.
Local operators provide half- and full-day options through to multi-day packages with walking, mountain biking and sea-kayaking combinations. Plus they’ll transfer luggage between campsites, hostels, homestays, hotels and resorts.
You don’t have to be a flying fan to visit the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. The fascinating stories of aviation heroes of World War One are brought to life in dioramas by Sir Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films and Weta Workshop.
Head back to our Insider's Guide to Wellington.
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