I was a lucky bugger and I won a trip – an all-expenses-paid trip – to New Zealand. 25 words or less on who I would take to NZ and why, and a couple of months later Ben and I were winging our way to Wellington. This is a retrospective of our 7 night, 8 day adventure along the New Zealand Classic Wine Trail. Kia Ora, New Zealand!!
We arrived in Wellington where it was a little windy and wet and the locals kept apologising for the weather. Settled in at the Wellesley Hotel rather quickly, we then made our way to the Te Papa museum for a private tour. At both places we were expected and were greeted with, “Are you Sandy and Ben?” We decided that we could get used to this treatment, which we received at many of the places on the rest of the trip – others seemed to have forgotten that we were coming (oops). Either way, though, the Kiwis are lovely and gracious people and we were generally treated like the rock stars that we think we are.
Te Papa, by the way, is phenomenal – NZ’s history, culture and natural wonders encapsulated in one impressive structure. I was particularly struck by the Colossal Squid exhibit.
The next morning, we drove north-east for about 4 hours to the Hawke’s Bay region.
The sun was high in the sky as we pulled into Ash Ridge winery for lunch – the first of MANY wineries.
After lunch it was into Napier, a town on Hawke’s Bay that was destroyed in 1931 by and earthquake and completely rebuilt. It has one of the world’s finest collections of Art Deco buildings and architecture. We were taken on a walking tour of the town by the Art Deco Society.
Back at their HQ, the Art Deco Society showed us a film about the town – with footage from the ’30s and gifted us with some souvenirs. How lovely!
The next day we were driven out to Cape Kidnapper’s to see the gannets. Actually, when we arrived at the appointed time, we waited (and waited) and finally decided to call our contact. Her immediate response when we said we had arrived for the gannet tour was, “But the gannets are gone!” Then she realised that we were “Sandy and Ben – the prize winners” and roused her hubby out of bed to drive us out there anyway.
We were on private property most of the way – it’s a working farm and golf course owned by an American billionaire. The views are ridiculous. And there were a few gannets waiting for us at the cape – the late bloomers who had yet to depart for the winter.
After Cape Kidnapper’s (so-called because when Cook arrived, the Maoris mistook one of his crew, a Tahitian, for one of their own and kidnapped him. Cook and his crew got him back and sailed off around this cape and he named it at that time), we were due to collect bike for a 1/2-day ride, but instead we found Clearview winery.
We were greeted by a lovely lady who took us on a guided tour of their tasting menu and then deviated from it a few times. She and her partner had found a couple of unlabelled cases the day before – and ’00 cabernet and an ’02 cabernet-merlot – and she gave us a pour. Holy guacamole. She said she would price them while we had lunch – which we thoroughly enjoyed – and we bought a bottle of the ’02. Pricey, but we’ll save that for a special occasion.
We did end up grabbing the bikes for a couple of hours when we got back to Napier. We rode 8kms to the closest wineries – Mission Estate and Church Road – and bought a bottle from Church Road (a Riesling). It is easy to excuse yourself from buying when you’re on bikes. And it is a little harder than you might think to ride back into town after tasting at only two wineries – not that we were too tiddly, but after a few days of no exercise, lots of sitting and lots of wine, the body can protest a 40 minute bike ride (each way).
The next day we drove south, heading towards Greytown where we would have $100 to spend at Schoc chocolates.
At a place where the 75g bars are $11, this took less time than you might think, but we tasted our way through their menu too – and found some great selections. Dark chocolate rose – yum.
And on the way we saw some cool stuff, including 2 giant kiwis and a Viking (for Ben’s mum, who barracks for the Minnesota Vikings – and for Ben, who is descended from them).
We even met this little gal, at Loopline, one of the first wineries you will come to heading south on the 2, just before Greytown.
She rushed out to greet us at this beautiful place.
It has a simple tasting room, where you’ll meet the winemaker and his lovely dog, whose name we never caught. Still, we bought a bottle of their Riesling, because it was dry and delicious.
Into Martinborough, which is a lovely town reminiscent of small towns in the south-west of Australia, like Bridgetown, we were shown to a spectacular suite, which had an equally spectacular bathroom.
We just had a night there, and popped across the road to the local where we had great wine, and great food – and met the locals! Packing the next morning was a little tricky – we had a kilo of chocolate, 5 bottles of wine, we still had Marlborough to go, and we were getting on a ferry that afternoon.
We headed towards Wellington, and miscalculated the arrival time at the (not so) stunning ferry terminal, so got to spend 3 hours there. On the ferry we were treated to the executive lounge, and had a lovely late lunch and wine as we headed to Picton on the South Island. The views were rather gorgeous.
That night and the next we were at the Marlborough Vintner’s Hotel, where we woke up both mornings to stunning sunrises over the vineyards.
Our full day in Marlborough we were treated to a private winery tour, with our guide (other) Ben. He took us out to Cloudy Bay.
And then he took us to Cloudy Bay.
We got private tours and tastings at 6 wineries, and stopped for lunch at Wither Hills, where – again – we bought the Riesling. Seeing a trend??
The next day – my birthday – we returned via ferry to Wellington (back to the Wellesley), where we were greeted with champagne and a Devonshire Tea. Did someone mention it was my birthday? We decided to skip Zealandia, which was supposed to be our afternoon activity, but the weather was not great for an outdoor nature experience, and we really just wanted to go shopping. Wellington is a hip city, reminiscent in many ways of Seattle, although (sorry Seattle-ites) the Wellingtonians dress FAR better than the average Seattleite. The 40 and 50-somethings had the coolest style. Diggin’ the Kiwi vibe.
That night we decided on a cocktail (no more wine, please!!!) at Matterhorn and then dinner at Monsoon Poon. Both places gifted me with a complimentary cocktail (thanks!) and the salmon at Monsoon Poon was crazy good. We even got a massive booth, with some cool signatures lining the walls.
How’s that for a cross section of celebs? Sachin Tendulkar, Nora Jones, and Gordon Ramsay.
The next morning, we began the long journey home.
Thank you as always to my darling travel companion, Ben, with whom I row merrily.