Wine-lovers, rejoice: Wellington lies at the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail.
Taste your way through Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Wellington, and Marlborough – a journey that loops through regions accounting for more than 80 per cent of New Zealand’s wine production. Along the way, enjoy stunning scenery, beautiful forest parks and indulgent food experiences (plus plenty of world-class wine, natch).
Hawke’s Bay is the land of robust cabernet sauvignon and merlot; in Wairarapa, pinot noir gets star billing; Wellington is the coffee, cocktail and craft beer capital; Marlborough is the blockbuster sauvignon blanc country. There are 230 wineries on the touring route and more than 100 cellar doors – take your time and discover your favourites.
Great wine deserves great food: you won’t go hungry along the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. Pick your own sun-sweetened stone fruit, berries and apples in orchards, browse edible treasures at the friendly farmers’ markets and eat your way around Wellington, the culinary capital.
Although the main focus of the journey is wine and food, the route also serves up cultural experiences and natural adventures. You could encounter unique wildlife, discover historic villages, peek inside eclectic artists’ studios, meet specialist food producers, enjoy live theatre, embark on forest hikes, brewery tours, fishing trips and more.
Introducing the Classic New Zealand wine trail
Allow five or six days for the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, which traditionally begins in Napier. The vineyards of Hawke’s Bay are within easy reach of Napier, so spend day one getting to know the local grapes. You could join a wine tour, book a chauffeur, drive yourselves around at your own pace, or try a ‘cycling the vines’ experience.
From Napier, follow the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail south on State Highway 2 to the Wairarapa region. Stop off at the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre and admire the world’s only white kiwi in captivity (plus plenty of other native wildlife). Carry on driving south to Wairarapa, admiring the impressive scenery en route. Have a pit stop in Greytown for a coffee and a bite to eat, and browse the characterful little shops and galleries. Choc-addicts won’t want to miss Schoc Chocolates, a kingdom to cacao.
Keep driving through Greytown and turn left for Martinborough, whose village square is laid out like a Union Jack. There are 20 top-notch wineries within easy reach; pinot noir fans will be in heaven: the region produces some unforgettable versions, many of which come from family-run vineyards. Explore the region’s cafés, stores, boutique hotels, olive groves and excellent restaurants at your leisure while you’re here.
From Martinborough, it’s an hour’s drive to Wellington. Pause on the way at Featherston for C’est Cheese, where you can browse artisan cheeses that hail from all over the country, plus plenty of other picnic-perfect treats. Cheese-fueled, drive over the rugged Rimutaka Range, which offers eyeball-widening views. Keep your camera within reach as you wind through the scenic Hutt Valley, before joining the motorway that will whoosh you into the city.
Wellington is compact, colourful and cosmopolitan. Start by exploring downtown, pausing for a glass of wine or two in one of the friendly bars or restaurants. Spend a bit of time soaking up the city’s political history and modern character, too.
Having got to know Wellington, hop on a ferry to the pretty seaside town of Picton on the South Island. The passage across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds is one of the most scenic ferry trips in the world. The cruise-style ferry takes just over three hours; along the way, keep your eyes peeled for the Red Rocks seal colony, Tory Channel, Cook’s Lookout and the beautiful coves of the Sounds.
Picton is the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds and their abundant marine, forest and island attractions. There are plenty of beautiful local walks and interesting museums; the photogenic Queen Charlotte Track is also well worth exploring, either on foot or by bike.
From Picton, it’s just a short drive across the Wairau Plains to Blenheim, which has more than 20 wineries within easy reach. Set off on a tour from the town and don’t miss the region’s headline act: aromatic sauvignon blanc. Spend some time in Blenheim, too: the town has a tempting food and drink scene, plus some lovely hotels. If you’re a seafood fan, pay a trip to nearby Havelock, which is known as the Greenshell mussel capital. If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, explore the South Island further, tasting the delicious pinot noir that’s produced in Central Otago.