Take three major wine producing regions add gourmet food, a buzzing capital city, charming small town life and sparkling coastal waterways and you’ve got an unbeatable holiday experience.
Classic New Zealand Wine Trail is a self-drive expedition for food and wine lovers - taking a journey of the senses through some of New Zealand’s most picturesque countryside.
At around 380km, the trail covers both the North and South islands, and is reportedly one of the best wine drives in the world.
More than 230 wineries are found along the trail and about 100 have an open cellar door open to wine lovers. An increasing number of vineyards also offer dining, accommodation and visitor tours.
Each region on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail is famous for its own distinctive wine style thus offering a unique experience for wine enthusiasts.
Most visitors choose to travel north to south and start their journey in Hawke’s Bay on the east coast. The second largest wine producing region in the country, has some of New Zealand’s highest sunshine hours - a climate that brings out the best in the region’s award-winning wine and gourmet food.
Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest wine region. As early as in 1851 a group of French missionaries founded the Mission Estate Winery.
Since then the stony old river bed of Gimblett Gravels - a defined wine region within Hawke's Bay - has quickly established itself as the terroir for outstanding New Zealand cabernet-merlot.
Next to its legendary food and wine, Hawke’s Bay is also known as the place to best explore art deco architecture. The city of Napier has one of the highest concentrations of art deco architecture in the world and a colourful heritage story to tell.
After a massive earthquake in 1931, which destroyed the twin cities of Napier and Hastings, both were entirely rebuilt in just two years in the distinctive 1930s art deco style.
Bike the Vines. Image: Chris McLennan
The journey on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail continues south to the Wairarapa - a boutique wine destination, renowned for Kiwi hospitality and a laid-back lifestyle.
Famous for pinot gris and world-acclaimed pinot noir, many Wairarapa vineyards are within a short distance of Martinborough village allowing visitors to stroll or cycle between wineries.
The Wairarapa region has an innovative and vibrant group of eateries. From Wellington it is an easy day trip and a popular destination for locals who come to shop and sample gourmet bread, chocolate, cheese and olive oil from artisan food producers.
A local favourite is the tiny Schoc Chocolates shop in Greytown. Schoc combines the enjoyment and health benefits of consuming quality chocolate with an understanding of what chocolate preferences reveal about a person. Unusual flavours include chocolate with chilli, lemongrass, Earl Grey tea and even pink peppercorns.
Wairarapa is also known for its rugged coastline. Nature and wildlife attractions include the Cape Palliser seal colony, rare native bird species at Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, and a variety of nature tracks.
From rural towns and picturesque vineyards the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail moves into Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city.
Although not the largest city in New Zealand, Wellington is famed for its lively down town café scene, shopping, nightlife and entertainment venues.
The city has more restaurants, bars and cafés per capita than New York, and claims to be New Zealand’s coffee capital. From roasting coffee to meeting top professional chefs, Wellington is a renowned ‘foodie’ heaven.
Many Wellington chefs have an international reputation including Rex Morgan (Citron), Steve Logan and Alistair Brown (Logan Brown), Martin Bosley (Yacht Club) and Ruth Pretty.
The Wellington to Picton ferry ride - across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds - takes visitors to the trail’s final destination.
The Marlborough region, at the top of the South Island, is New Zealand’s largest wine growing region - representing 56% of the total wine producing area.
Marlborough’s unique terroir of free draining, alluvial loams over gravel and sheltered climate, provide the ideal conditions for producing world-acclaimed wines.
The Wairau and Awatere river valleys have become renowned for sauvignon blanc, and other varietals now produced there include chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling and pinot gris.
Many of Marlborough’s more than 100 vineyards have restaurants on site and offer locally-sourced food to go with their wines. Visitors can explore the vineyards on self-drive, bicycle or guided tours, and enjoy cellar door wine tastings or alfresco dining.
The region is famed for great seafood. The deep, clean waters of the Marlborough Sounds provide ideal conditions for farming New Zealand green shell mussels.
Marlborough produces 80% of New Zealand’s aquaculture exports - king salmon, pacific oysters, paua (abalone), kingfish, and koura (crayfish).
The Marlborough Sounds are noted for their scenic beauty and abundance of bird and marine life.
Passengers on cruises or guided sea kayaking trips in Queen Charlotte Sound can see dolphins, seals, whales, king shags and blue penguins playing in their natural environment. The five dolphin species found in the sound include the rare Hector’s, Dusky and bottlenose varieties.
Cruising in Marlborough Sounds. Image: Rob Suisted
The trail is a year-round adventure. Each season brings its own attractions with enticing coastlines and waterways to enjoy in the summer and dramatic snow-clad landscapes in the winter.
British travel writer Jonathan Ray sums it up: "The distances aren’t long, the food and wine are of outstanding quality (and differ so much between the regions) and ... there are a million things to do.
"I have just had the time of my life, and it would be fair to say that I have returned home with my gob not so much smacked as pinned to the wall and trussed up, and well and truly spatchcocked."
Background: Classic New Zealand Wine Trail
•6 farmers markets offer fresh seasonal produce for sample and sale, and great opportunities to meet growers and locals
•25 female winemakers, including Jane Hunter - New Zealand's most awarded female winemaker
•74% of New Zealand’s total annual wine production comes from the regions on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail
•100 road signs on the main highways guide visitors through the wine regions of Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Wellington and Marlborough
Events on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail
•February - Hawke's Bay Art Deco Weekend / Marlborough Wine Festival
•March / April (Easter) - biennial Marlborough Classic Fighters
•June - Hawke's Bay Matariki Festival
•August - Wellington on a Plate festival
•September - World of WearableArt Awards, Wellington
•November - Toast Martinborough / Wairarapa Garden Festival / Marlborough, Marlborough Garden Festival
For more information and New Zealand holiday ideas, check out www.tourism.net.nz