As New Zealand's oldest wine region, Hawke's Bay is a must visit for wine adorers. Grapes have been grown here since 1851 with a handful of visionaries establishing this heavenly place on the east coast if the North Island as a world renowned wine growing region.
Today, Hawke's Bay, known locally as 'The Bay'and the 72 wineries that call it home, is famous for its robust reds (88% of New Zealand's Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah is grown here) and rich full-bodied Chardonnays.
So city stay or amongst the vines? Well I think both, but using time in Napier to whet your wine appetite for what lies beyond.
Napier: It's impossible to spend time in Napier, Hawke's Bay's main city, and not see the Art Deco influence. In 1931, the region was hit by a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake which almost completely destroyed Napier. As a result of being rebuilt within one time period Napier is a monument to Art Deco and it's a heritage the locals hold dear to their heart.
Visit: The Art Deco Centre on Tennyson Street to learn more about the history that formed Napier's unique personality. It's also a great place to book a tour or pick up a souvenir if you're so inclined.
Stay: The Art Deco Masonic Hotel on Tennyson Street for full Deco emersion.
Taste: Enjoy a plethora of exceptional local wines while listening to classic albums (on vinyl, no less) at The Urban Winery in The National Tobacco Building, also known as the Rothman’s Building in Ahuriri. The Urban Winery is the brainchild of winemaker Tony Bish, an undisputed legend of New Zealand Chardonnay. No self respecting wine devotee visits Hawke’s Bay to stay in town... do they? For me, the region’s delights are to be found in the wine country that surrounds Napier.
Stay: If you fancy full wine immersion stay at Millar Road, home of the Supernatural Wine Co., an organic and natural wine producer twenty minutes drive from Napier. Their stylish, contemporary, self catering accommodations are perched atop the hill overlooking the vines that sweep down the valley. After enjoying your locally sourced breakfast, enjoy a walk through the vines, a dip in the pool or a wine tasting at the poolside bar. Later if you don’t want to visit any of the winery restaurants local to Millar Road the team will assist in bringing the culinary best of the area to you.
Big: Elephant Hill is impressive on every level; modern, sleek and ergonomic with a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability. From the moment you pass the towering elephant sculpture - shipped from India for the winery entranceway - you know this place on Clifton Road, Te Awanga is special. The interior design is modern & luxurious overlooking the vines and the ocean. The quality of the locally sourced, seasonal produce is matched by the quality of their wine. My favourite? The Elephant Hill Estate Syrah for every day and the extraordinary Airavata Syrah for special occasions.
Boutique: In contrast Crab Farm Winery is small, rustic & homely but that only adds to the experience. This is a small winery with a big heart run by husband and wife team, Hamish & Dominique, who are at the centre of everything at Crab Farm. The welcome is warm, the service is friendly, the food is delicious & the wine is sublime. My personal favourite? The Crab Farm Chardonnay. Crab Farm host an irregular Saturday Night Session where they hire a band, clear the tables and get the party started. These sessions are a thing of local legend, so I was sorry my trip didn’t coincide, however, just another reason to visit again.
Visit: Church Road is so much more than a winery, it’s a time capsule into Hawke’s Bay’s illustrious wine past. Take the winery tour to learn about visionary, Tom McDonald, who after taking over the winery at the tender age of 19 put his energy into what he believed was the most important thing in winemaking...quality! That philosophy is held absolute at Church Road today almost 70 years after McDonald released New Zealand’s first commercial Cabernet Sauvignon and a range of
super premium wines, simply called “TOM” and considered some of New Zealand’s finest wines, are a fitting tribute to the man.
Well with consistently high sunshine hours, amazing food and wine and breaktaking coastline, I’m inclined to ask - is there a bad time? Highlights annually include, but are not limited to; for foodies:
The Food and Wine Classic or F.A.W.C! which happens summer (November) and winter (June), for culture vultures (and those who love a dress up party), the enormously popular Art Deco festival in February and for the musical The Winery Tour comes to Black Barn Estate in January/February.
Air New Zealand fly from Wellington, Christchurch & Dunedin into Napier and both Air New Zealand and Jetstar fly to Napier from Auckland. Depending on how much time you have the drive to Hawke’s Bay is beautiful from every direction.
Eat & Drink