Take A Bite Out Of The Hawke’s Bay
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, and artisan products.
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.
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.