Go Gourmet in Marlborough

Wine country

Travel to the top of the South Island and you’ll discover the sun-drenched region of Marlborough.  These fertile plains are framed by mountains to the south and west, and headed by the Marlborough Sounds to the north. The area is renowned for yielding some of New Zealand’s best wines, particularly the signature Sauvignon Blanc, whose taste will linger on your tongue long after you’ve left.  Pair this with any of the local seafood delicacies and you may start to think you’ve died and gone to foodie heaven.

But there’s much more. The remarkable Queen Charlotte Sound, Kenepuru Sound and Pelorus Sound, provide opportunities for hiking, boating, fishing and camping.  While the towns of Havelock, Blenheim and Picton provide plentiful accommodation and some excellent restaurants, cafes and shopping.

This region has so much on offer that boredom isn’t a word that features in Marlborough’s vocabulary. You’ll be too busy sampling some of the best food, wine and scenery in New Zealand.

Showstopper Sauvignon Blanc

Captain James Cook claimed British sovereignty of the South Island in Queen Charlotte Sound on the 31st January 1770.  Two hundred and forty odd years later, and little has changed landscape wise in this region.  But it is an area that has particular merits, most notably soil quality and dryness of climate, which makes it well suited to grape growing.

New Zealand’s second oldest wine-making region has been producing wine since the 1970s but it wasn’t until the 1980s, when Marlborough started bottling standout Sauvignon Blanc, that people started taking notice. And these crisp, fruity little numbers have had the wine critics raving ever since. Experts say it’s the unique climate and landscape here that create growing conditions for Sauvignon grapes unequal to anywhere else in the world. The ensuing wine has an intense flavour and emits fruity aromas that have been likened to gooseberries, grapefruit and melon.

Travel around this region for a while though and you’ll discover many other award winning wines existing alongside their famous cousin. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer all make an appearance to varying extents here. Some of the top wineries to visit to sample Sauvignon Blanc and other award winning wines include: Marisco Vineyards, Hunters Wines, Brancott Estate, Cloudy Bay Vineyards, Saint Clair Estate Winery, Framingham Wines and Grove Mill.

With over 9,000 hectares of vineyards in Marlborough, you’re spoiled for choice on where to taste. The overwhelmed are best to start in Blenheim, and fan out from there. If you’re seriously intent on indulging in this wine paradise, then you’ll need to pace yourself.

Gastronomic Delights

The word on the street in Marlborough when it comes to food is ‘fresh’.   The sea and land are bountiful providers in this area, and restaurants and cafés can create menus with seasonal produce and year round seafood.

Start your gastronomic journey in Havelock with a trip to iconic local eatery The Mussel Pot.  A recent change of hand hasn’t stymied the praise this place receives for its green-lipped mussels. Enjoy them either: steamed, grilled, in batter or a chowder.  Must tries on the menu are also the Blue Cod, when it’s available, and Marlborough salmon.  Of course the flavours are so much better when complimented with one of the region’s fine wines.

For a range of bistros, taverns, informal and fine dining restaurants and cafes, then focus your stay on Blenheim. Here you can sample Thai, New Zealand fusion, Seafood, Pizzerias or pick up ingredients for a picnic at one of the artisan delicatessens.  With fresh fish on the doorstep the humble takeaway is always a tasty option and Blenheim has Codfathers Takeaways or Main Street Fish & Chips right in the centre of town.

Head south to Kaikoura to sample the local delicacy, crayfish.  The Store at Kekerengu, forty minutes out of Blenheim, will satisfy your craving with a whole or half a steamed lobster. Or if you prefer, they also have ‘West Coast’ whitebait fritters or local beef and lamb dishes.

For a more rustic affair, keep a look out for Nin’s Bin, just north of Kaikoura. Looks can be deceiving, this small but much beloved roadside trailer is well known for its delicious crayfish cooked in garlic butter or steamed fresh.  They can also cook you up some mussels in a zesty white wine sauce.

Take a Walk and a Ride on the Wild Side

If you can manage to tear yourself away from the food and wine, then the Marlborough Sounds boasts some of the best scenic hiking in New Zealand.  Queen Charlotte Sound has walks ranging from Governor’s Bay Track (a gentle stroll to a swimming beach) to the Peninsular Walk (a one hour trek between Mistletoe and Waterfall Bays).

For something a bit more energetic, then opt for the popular three to five day Queen Charlotte Track.  This beautiful walk is a gem for nature lovers and encompasses native rainforest and ridges studded with hidden bays and coves.  Accommodation options featuring homestays and huts are available along the way, and to underline its remoteness, the start of the track is only accessible by boat.

Speaking of inaccessible, the New Zealand Post makes its delivery runs by boat to the isolated Pelorus Sound on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.  You can take a ride on board with the postie for a glimpse into the backblocks of New Zealand life and a close up view of the Pelorus Sound mussel farms. This is a great way to meet some genuine local characters and witness the full beauty of the Sounds.

Must-Visit: Marlborough Wine and Food Festival

If you’re heading to Marlborough in early February then you’ll be able to time your visit to coincide with the Marlborough Food and Wine Festival.  This is when vintners proudly showcase their best wines to visitors each year from New Zealand and overseas.  New Zealand’s iconic festival has been running for thirty years and is hosted in the grounds of Brancott Vineyard, the oldest and most picturesque vineyard in Marlborough.

This really is Marlborough’s premier event of the year, so if you’re a wine and food lover but pressed for time to sample all the wineries in the area then it’s worthwhile booking a ticket. As well as wine seminars, fashion shows and entertainment, you’ll experience the best wine and food Marlborough has to offer in the most magnificent of settings.

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Kumeu Wine Country: West is Best

Kumeu

Escape the hustle and bustle of Auckland with just a short drive north-west to the peaceful orchards and vineyards of Kumeu Wine Country.  This is the region’s oldest fruit growing and wine making district and also nicknamed the ‘Fruit Bowl of Auckland’ – strawberry picking is just one of the district’s sweet delights in early summer. With its farmers markets, artisan food stores and gourmet restaurants, Kumeu is definitely becoming something of a small foodie paradise.

There are lots of other things to keep visitors coming back to these parts as well. Nearby Muriwai Beach and Woodhill Forest boast lots of outdoor activities and the settlements of Waimauku and Huapai are home to many cafés and art & craft shops. Come out to Kumeu and you’ll find a small town that offers big rewards for those that take the time to discover its pleasures.

Kumeu Keeps It Fresh

Since there’s so much fresh produce on offer in Kumeu, it makes sense to visit one of the plentiful fruit and vegetable vendors. With a boot full of sweet, juicy fruit and plump, handpicked vegetables you can relax and get down to the real business of sampling some of the fine food products at the local market.

Kumeu Country Market is held once a month on a Sunday at the Kumeu Showgrounds during spring and summer.  Here you can buy anything from Hungarian fried bread puffs to pet care products. At this ‘destination market’ you can meet the locals and snack on French crepes or wood-fired pizza whilst you browse the numerous stalls selling jewellery, beauty products, hand-made chocolates and more.

The recently opened Boric Food Market at the junction of State Highway 16 and Coatesville-Riverhead Highway fulfils the demand for artisan food products in Kumeu, both by locals and visitors.  This locally owned business has actually been around since 1942, it’s just undergone a revamp.  Stop off here for an astonishing array of gourmet food including: Belgian chocolate mousse, dried figs, fresh gooseberries, jams & relishes, French sausages and manuka smoked salmon. Products from all over New Zealand make an appearance like Lavender & Green’s lemon and lavender jelly from Featherston and Wildberry sauce by Peplers from Te Kauwhata. There are even DIY Italian cheese making kits and ready gourmet rice puddings of chocolate and blueberry and raisin and toasted almond.

If these give your sweet tooth a nudge stop into neighbouring Blossoms Café for a selection of delectable homemade treats or BeesOnline Honey Centre and Café near Waimauku for an extensive range of honey and honey products. Complimentary honey tastings are available and you can even see the bees busily at work producing the goods.

When afternoon slips away into evening then try out one of Kumeu’s excellent restaurants. Perhaps Ribier for its French, Italian and Mediterranean fusion style duck and venison dishes, The Fireplace Bar & Brasserie for its renowned gourmet burger or Popina’s Pizzeria for its tasty wood-fired pizza – vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free options available.

Cooling Wine

While you’re in Kumeu cool your palate with a glass of the flavourful Chardonnay or Pinot Gris the area is known for.  Croatian immigrants started planting these early ripening varieties here in the 1930s. They recognised the potential Kumeu had for wine making with its self-irrigating clay-based soil and microclimate.

Today, Auckland’s oldest wine making district produces all kinds of good quality wines, both red and white, including: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.  Some vineyards, such as Coopers Creek, are experimenting with new types of grapes like Viognier, Grüner Veltliner, Marsanne and Montepulciano which are new to New Zealand.

The list of Kumeu wineries features some of New Zealand’s oldest and best loved brands who have produced many gold medal winning wines over the years including: Matua Valley, Landmark Estate, Westbrook and Nobilos. The Nobilo Wine Group is incidentally the second largest wine company in New Zealand.

The best way to appreciate Kumeu Wine Country if you’re a wine lover is to book into some vineyard accommodation and take your time making your way around the selection. Besides wines Kumeu also has some other great activities on offer so you’ll want to spend some time here.

Get Out and About in Kumeu

Mountain bike enthusiasts will love the premier tracks at Woodhill Forest. Located just a 15-20 minute drive up the road from Kumeu, this forest has trails to suit everyone from beginners to experts.  Bike hireage is available either in Kumeu or the main car park at Woodhill.  Quad biking, trail biking, orienteering, dog walking and bush walking are just some of the other activities you can do at Woodhill Forest.  For some more good bush walking head to Goldie’s Bush near Muriwai which has many scenic tracks overlooked by beautiful native bush and towering kauri trees.

The sound of the sea isn’t too far away with Muriwai beach just a short drive from Kumeu. This is just one of West Auckland’s spectacular black sand beaches and is popular for surfing, fishing, trail bikes and horse riding.  Other activities include visiting the gannet colony, playing a game of golf and dining on fish & chips at Sand Dunz Beach Café.  Brave souls can swim here but west coast beaches are notorious for rips so always swim between the flags, or just paddle if you’re not a strong swimmer.

Kumeu Events to Mark on Your Calendar

Kumeu likes to celebrate with a number of shows and events on its annual calendar. First up is the Auckland Folk Festival normally held on the last weekend in January.  This long-running festival, now in its 28th year, is held at the Kumeu Showgrounds and features a four day fiesta of music, dancing and shows.  Next is the Kumeu Classic Car & Hot Rod Festival, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s held in late January and is a must for classic car enthusiasts.

The biggest annual agricultural event in the district, and indeed in the country, is the Kumeu Agricultural and Horticultural Show in March which features sheep racing & shearing, highland dancing, indoor exhibits, a wood chopping competition and a parade of various livestock all over a whopping 34 hectares.

There’s not much chance of leaving Kumeu without a full sensory experience of food, wine, sun and sand.  It’s worthwhile taking the time to come out and explore this green oasis of West Auckland where the finer things of country life are thriving.

Ferry Yourself to The Island of Wine

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Ever since the ferry service from Auckland improved in the 1980s, visitors to Waiheke Island have steadily increased, as have the vineyards.  Its nickname ‘The Island of Wine’ says it all.  With over 30 wineries, and award winning wines to boot, Waiheke Island has earned a reputation as one of New Zealand’s quality wine producers.

Waiheke’s close proximity to Auckland, just 35 minutes by ferry, makes it a popular place for local or international visitors to undertake a day or weekend trip, especially during the warmer months. With a temperature always just a couple of degrees higher than the mainland, this island paradise is just waiting to be explored. The real beauty of Waiheke is that its array of pristine beaches, walking tracks, wineries, restaurants and cafés are all situated within a relatively compact area.  Those pressured for time can pack a lot of activities into a short space of time if they really have to but, like any fine wine, the Waiheke Island experience is one best savoured.

Water and Wine

In terms of size, Waiheke isn’t the largest of New Zealand’s off-shore islands, but it is the most populated. Million dollar holiday homes, boutique hotels and fine dining restaurants have sprung up all over the island as a result of the wine tourism industry that’s taken off over the last thirty years. Not bad for an island that still relies on tank water. Waiheke means ‘descending waters’, which is ironic as during the dry, hot summer months rain on Waiheke is sometimes a rare commodity, and water has to be ordered in. But luckily for vintners, this is a climate grapes thrive in.

The vineyards themselves on Waiheke may be small, but they consistently produce award winning wines that knock the competition out of the water. Red wine grapes especially do well here, as the popularity of Stonyridge’s “Larose” Cabernet Merlot 2010 can testify. This Bordeaux-varietal has a ripe fruity flavour and lingering savoury notes and has been judged amongst some of the best red wine New Zealand has ever produced. Stonyridge’s wines have become so popular that they are sold ‘en primeur’, which means they’re allocated to wine stockists before they’ve even left the barrel.

Other popular Waiheke wineries that have made a splash in the international wine scene are Kennedy Point, Cable Bay, Casita Miro, Te Whau, Passock Rock Wines and Goldie Estate. With so many great wineries on Waiheke you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to wine tastings. The best and cheapest way to see as many as possible is to book a ticket on the Vineyard Hopper bus. The price of the bus ticket includes the ferry and you can hop-on and hop-off as you please. Its loop covers around eight wineries including Cable Bay, Stonyridge, Castia Miro and Jurassic Ridge, with a stop off at Charlie Farley’s Bar and Restaurant in Onetangi Beach.

Waiheke Food: Farmers Markets and Winery Restaurants

Living on an island is sometimes all about making do, especially when it comes to the essentials like food and water. Much of Waiheke’s food, is imported from the mainland but it still relies heavily on locally grown produce. Weekend farmers markets, like the one in Ostend’s War Memorial Hall every Saturday morning, are a great way to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables if you’re renting a holiday home for the weekend and don’t want to lug them over from the mainland.

On the other end of the scale, Waiheke offers a selection of gourmet restaurants who also take advantage of the fresh local produce. Waiheke food is definitely no longer what it used to be. Rising from essentially a place where you’d pick up a half decent packet of fish & chips, to award winning boutique restaurants, the island’s reputation for fine dining, like its wines, is slowly but steadily gaining momentum.

High on the list of deliciousness are the winery restaurants of Cable Bay Vineyard, Casito Miro and Te Whau Vineyard. A meal and a glass of Waiheke wine at any one of these, and you’ll go home happy. Just make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment.

Mudbrick and Stonyridge Vineyards in Oneroa and Onetangi respectively, are consistently popular restaurants, especially if you’re seeking a decent but affordable meal.  For something a bit different try Red Crab Thai Cuisine in Oneroa for spicy and flavourful seafood, fresh ingredients and a good selection of Waiheke wines and Thai beers.

Outdoor Activities on Waiheke

Waiheke Island is a year round holiday destination but since quite a few of its attractions centre around outdoor activities, the spring, summer and autumn months are the best times to visit.  Still, choose a clear, crisp winter’s day and there’s nothing better than being curled up in a boutique hotel (say The Boatshed in Oneroa) with good wine and food on hand and a view of the waves rolling in.

At any other time, Waiheke is a must if you love the outdoors. Since it is a relatively hilly place mountain biking is very popular here, and there are several well-marked rides on the island that range from one to four hours. Some even take in a winery or two along the way! Bikes travel free on the ferry and you can pick up a trail map from the information centre in Oneroa.

If you prefer walking then Waiheke also has a good selection of short and long walks you can do. There are eight featured walks which range across the island from Matiatia Bay, where the ferry comes in, to the more remote Te Matuku Bay in the west part of the island. Hiring a car, or bringing your own across on the car ferry, will probably make accessing some of the walks easier than catching the local bus.

Beaches are also a big reason to come to Waiheke.  Any activity in summer – biking, walking, wine tasting – is all the more pleasurable when you can finish off with a refreshing swim in a big, clean golden sand beach. The north side of the island has the best safe swimming beaches as it’s more sheltered including Oneroa, Little Oneroa, Palm Beach and Onetangi Beach.  The south side is best for kayaking and kitesurfing.  Locals consider Cactus Bay to be Waiheke’s best beach but it is only accessible by kayak or boat as there is no land access.

Get Festive on Waiheke

If there’s one thing Waihetians know how to do it’s throw a party. In summer some of the wineries open up their grounds for dance parties, festivals and annual food and wine events.

Early February sees the arrival of the Food and Wine Festival which attracts ferry loads of foodies from the mainland.  Then there’s the popular Jazz Festival normally held round Easter for three days; wine and food flow freely here too.  The Waiheke Olive & Artisan Food Festival weekend takes place in late November and features free tastings of products from ten artisan food producers, olive oils at festival prices and live music.

Every two years in February Waiheke Island also hosts the Headland Sculpture on the Gulf above Matiatia Bay. Not only is it New Zealand’s biggest outdoor sculpture event, it also shows off Waiheke’s stunning coastline and promotes works from talented local and New Zealand sculptors.

The exhibition underlines the fact that Waiheke Island, despite its burgeoning millionaires, is still a haven for artistic types – sculptors, writers, musicians and potters. It’s a place that’s essentially more laid back than loaded but now offers the best of both worlds. You can wine taste in the morning, partake of fish & chips for lunch, walk on the beach in the afternoon and then enjoy fine dining in the evening. And what can be better than that?

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Matakana Coast For Great Nosh and Fine Wine

Matakana

For free-flowing wine and food, drive for an hour north-east of Auckland to the district of Matakana. This lovely coastal area lies in between Warkworth and Leigh, and is close to many of Auckland’s popular swimming and surfing spots – Omaha, Tawharanui and Goat Island.   Though small, Matakana punches well above its weight when it comes to producing stand out wine and food. It is home to over 30 vineyards, 12 wineries and several excellent eateries.

Matakana Village is the focus of the district with its classy cinema, farmers’ markets, cafes, boutique shops and even a beauty lounge. It’s not surprising this is the weekend hot spot for Aucklanders wanting a day out or weekend mini-break. Matakana really offers the best of both worlds, a peaceful rural location with all the spoils of the city.

Valleys of Wine

Matakana is actually one of the country’s pioneers of wine even though it’s considered a newcomer to the wine industry.  Wines have been made here in some form since the late 19th century when dairy and fruit farming took over from Kauri tree felling and wood production.  Early Croatian and Russian immigrants dappled in peach wines in the 1880s and in the 1940s a wine made from oranges and lemons called Lemora was made.  It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that winemaking took off in full force in Matakana with red wines such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinotage, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese making an appearance. Today the district is seeing a surge in white wine plantings with Chardonnay, Viognier and Pinot Gris being experimented with.

Matakana provides perfect grape growing conditions with a warm, sub-tropical climate and cooling winds blowing in from the Pacific Ocean.  Matakana vineyards are grown on sloping valleys to aid drainage of the clay soil; as well as assisting with irrigation the clay also boosts richness in the wine’s flavour.

Most businesses are small and family owned and much of the wine produced is sold through the wineries’ shops and accompanying restaurants. However, some vintners also export throughout New Zealand and overseas. Ascension Wine Estate, Herons Flight, Hyperion and Ransom are just a few of the wineries who offer ad hoc tastings but for more of a ‘destination experience’ there are wine tours available.

For a one-stop shop of Matakana wines and wine tours head to The Vintry which adjoins the cinema in Matakana Village.  Doubling as a wine centre and bar, at The Vintry it’s possible to purchase wine by the glass or bottle, order food, book a wine tour or taste from an extensive range of local wines.  Look out for Omaha Bay’s 2009 Pinot Gris, Ti Point’s Merlot/Cabernet 2010 and “Matriarch” Syrah 2010. The Ransom “Cosmos” Chardonnay 2008 has also received rave reviews for its full bodied peach, apricot and nectarine flavours finished with creamy hazelnut.

Matakana’s Great Nosh

Fruit isn’t just a highlight of the wine, it’s also a highlight of the district.  A staggering array of fruit and vegetables can be procured from any of the roadside stalls in the vicinity. Depending on the season you can pick up anything from avocados and persimmons, to peaches and limes. This really is the place to come if you’re a foodie or enjoy meals prepared with fresh, local produce.

There are five weekend markets in the area but the most popular is the Saturday Matakana Farmer’s Market in the village centre which has grown in popularity over the last few years to become a destination in itself.  Here you can sip freshly brewed coffee as you wander around the stalls of locally grown produce and artisan products. Live music is usually a feature of the market as well.

Don’t be surprised if you spy high heels rather than gumboots either, on Saturday mornings Matakana Village is a countrified version of Ponsonby.  There’s even a Nosh store if you want to stock up at their butchery, deli, or consult with the store manager who also happens to be a European trained chef.

If your mouth waters every time you think of scones, jam and cream head to Brookview Tea House by the roundabout in Matakana Village. This charming bungalow is a treasure trove of home baking and specialty teas all served with fine porcelain china. You can sit either indoors or on the deck which faces out onto a lovely manicured garden.

For a delicious winery lunch head out to Ransom vineyard to sample their exceptional lunch platters, or for an affordable deli style picnic Ascension Wine Estate’s “The Larder”. This sells cured meats, New Zealand and European cheeses, olives, quiches, terrines, pastries, fresh bread and more. Covered tables are provided or you can lunch on the vineyard lawn on your own picnic rug.

Going out for dinner is always a treat in Matakana with restaurants like Matakana Market Kitchen, situated underneath the cinema, and Matakana Village Pub just across the road. Here the menus are exciting, tasty and sophisticated while still retaining an element of the provincial.  Matakana Village Pub and its fare are especially beloved by locals thanks to the popularity of chef Michael Van de Elzen’s Food Truck television series.

Other Activities in Matakana

Matakana is brimming with activities and attractions to make visiting the area a fun day out or perfect for a longer stay.

Goat Island Marine Reserve in Leigh is a short drive north of Matakana and is famous for its marine life.  Here you can snorkel, dive, or take a ride in a glass bottom boat to see the fishes. A boat trip to Kawau Island from nearby Sandspit is also a great way to spend the day. Kawau is a time capsule of New Zealand history with well-preserved Mansion House, the residence of former governor Sir George Grey in the 1800s, extensive gardens to picnic in, native birds, bush walks and the remains of a copper mining industry.

Back in Matakana, if you’re planning on visiting a winery or two you might like to stop off at one of its local artisan shops. River Nile Linens just north of Warkworth on Matakana Road make luxury sheets and duvets with 100% pure Egyptian and Turkish cotton, as well selling blankets, table linen and gifts.

The area is also home to Morrison & James Pottery situated near Matakana village.  This is one of the country’s largest and most famous potters, who have been making their wares with locally sourced clay since 1978.  There are free pottery tours available in the morning for those keen to learn more about the process. Or just browse their vibrant and eclectic range of pots, plaques and garden sculptures and afterwards have lunch in the picturesque garden courtyard café.

For something different, Brick Bay Winery offers an outdoor sculpture walk along with wine tastings and platter style lunches in its unique Glass House Building.  This is where ‘art and wine entwine’ with the best in New Zealand wine and sculptures both able to be purchased on the property.

Although many Matakana Coast wineries, like Brick Bay, have only just recently come on the wine scene, their dedication to producing innovative and quality wines have attracted wine lovers both locally and overseas.  Couple this with delicious food, great shopping and a laid back lifestyle, and you’ve got a winning combination for a holiday destination.

Take A Bite Out Of The Hawke’s Bay

Hawkes Bay NZ

Wine and warmth go hand in hand in the Hawke’s Bay, and have done so for over a hundred years. This sunny eastern coast of the North Island is the oldest wine producing region in New Zealand, and has earned a reputation for its full bodied reds and crisp, dry whites. They also take food seriously here, and why not when there’s an abundance of fresh, local produce practically falling off the trees.  Anyone who appreciates a good vintage and seeks a culinary adventure will love the gastronomic delights of the Hawke’s Bay. So get ready for wine and foodie heaven!

Food and Wine Classic Festival

The ‘bite’ of Hawke Bay, where the region got its name, is a fitting metaphor for the Food and Wine Classic festival (F.A.W.C pronounced ‘fork’) that takes place once a year.  This is a 10 day extravaganza of food events where you can ‘bite’ your way around culinary masterpieces from some of the Hawke’s Bay’s finest chefs and taste the area’s excellent wines.  F.A.W.C ’s message is ‘make sure you come hungry’ which gives you a good indication of exactly how much food there is on offer.

F.A.W.C’s finger-licking fun is held each November and the Summer Series has been so popular the organisers are now running a June event as well, just in case anyone misses out.

Other major dates you might like to mark on your foodie calendar for the Hawke’s Bay are the Signature Dish during September-October, where local chefs compete for the prize of best dish, and the New Zealand Olive Festival in late September.

Food Trails, Farmers Markets and Winery Restaurants

For a great day out in the Bay, pick up a map and head out on the Wine Country Food Trail for some great gourmet nosh. There are 85 stops featured on this popular trail, so depending on tastes and time, you’ll want to plan your route to the various artisan producers and food outlets on offer. There are specialty products, as well as local seasonal produce including: asparagus, strawberries, stone fruit, apples, olives and, of course, grapes – all can be purchased from gates, the growers or the outlet stores on the trail. Don’t worry about getting lost either, places are well marked and correspond to the numbers on the map. And if you do, with over 90 wineries in the region there is always a consoling glass of wine waiting in the wings.

Delicious chocolate also features on the Hawke’s Bay menu thanks to the Silky Oak Chocolate Company situated in Napier. Along with a wide range of chocolate themed treats, you can also see the chocolate making process in action or learn about its history in the Chocolate Thru’ The Ages Museum.

If Farmers Markets are your thing, then make sure you’re in the Hawke’s Bay on a weekend.  The Napier Urban Market is held every Saturday morning in Lower Emerson Street, or on Sunday morning head to Hastings’ Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market in the A&P Showgrounds, arguably the best market in New Zealand. It’s free to enter but foodies should go with a full wallet if you like freshly roasted coffee, specialty cheeses, breads, artisan products & great board games.

When it comes to eating out the Hawke’s Bay boasts a wide range of excellent restaurants -too many to list here!. Some of the best that come highly recommended include Terriôr at Craggy Range Winery in Havelock North, The Old Church Restaurant just south of Napier, Black Barn Bistro in Havelock North and East Pier Bar and Brasserie in Ahuriri.

Celebrate Wine

Sampling great food is even better if you’re drinking great wine.  With its free draining alluvial valleys, wide fertile plains and micro-climate, the Hawke’s Bay is perfect wine producing country. The vines have to work hard here to suck moisture out of the earth and the result is small bunches of grapes springing with flavour.  Red wine grape planting began here in the 1960s and shows no signs of stopping.  New boutique wineries constantly crop up alongside the old-timers, like Mission Estate Winery; here you’ll get a history lesson or two with your wine tasting.  This winery also holds the popular Mission Estate Concert in its grounds in late February which draws thousands of people each year.

With so many wineries now calling the Hawke’s Bay home, you can expect some fierce competition especially when it comes to full-bodied Bordeaux blends – Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also do Sauvignon Blanc here, not to step on Marlborough’s toes mind you.

Some of the best known producers include Babich, Brookfields Estate, Clearview Estate, Church Road, Corbans, Villa Maria, Trinity Hill, Te Mata Estate, Moana Park Estate, Mission Estate, Morton Estate, Sileni and Sacred Hill.

Unsurprisingly Wine Trails are a popular pastime here, with many wineries concentrated near Hastings.  Tours run the gamut, from cellar door wine tastings, to the full destination experience of vineyard and distillery tour, restaurant and gourmet shop.

As wineries are spaced at a reasonable distance there are quite a few options for getting around. You can do a self-guided drive, cycle to them, go on a bus tour or even take a helicopter or jet boat ride.  If you wish to self-drive then Wine Trail Maps are available from any cellar door or local visitor centres.

Art Deco and Sightseeing

If the food and wine weren’t enough, the Hawke’s Bay also has some pretty special sight-seeing.  Famous for its collection of Art Deco buildings, Napier is living proof that you can make the best out of a bad situation. In 1931 a severe earthquake rocked the region demolishing much of the city.  Now the city’s Art Deco walking tours, vintage car trips, souvenir shops and annual Art Deco Weekend in February have put Napier on the map.  It’s considered one of the best preserved Art Deco towns in the world, along with Miami Beach in Florida.

Information about the earthquake in the local museum makes for thought-provoking reading, and it also has a room where you can experience a mock shakeup of the earthquake’s force (7.9 on the Richter scale). You only need to take a walk along the beach too see how the earthquake has affected the shoreline; it was thrust up several metres from its original height.

Cape Kidnappers, south east of Napier, is an interesting place for a drive, either to see the fault lines in the ancient cliffs or the Gannet colony.  The colony is home to around 15,000 birds during nesting season in November and can be accessed via a guided tour by tractor or 4WD vehicle.

For more wildlife head to Napier’s Marine Parade which houses the newly refurbished National Aquarium which has a travelator to enable viewing of fish, stingrays and sharks. The Aquarium also has many species of New Zealand wildlife including tuatara and kiwi.

Any well-rounded trip to the Hawke’s Bay should take into account the myriad of activities on offer as well as the wine – but for wine connoisseurs it’ll be hard to tear themselves away. Late summer when the grapes are full of juice and ready to be harvested, is definitely the best time for vintage lovers to visit.

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