We’re driving on the wrong side of a steep, winding road in a small motorhome. In between hairpin turns, I glance at the surrounding landscape, in some spots craggy and rocky, in others pastoral and peaceful. As we descend to where the East Coast meets the Pacific, the terrain flattens out and vineyards, bathed in golden sunlight, begin to appear. We drive straight to the beach, and before us the tranquil Pacific undulates eastward.
Welcome to Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, one of the prettiest places on earth.
I’m exploring the North Island in a motorhome for two weeks with my husband, Peter, and our son, Scott. A visit to this South Pacific paradise has been on my bucket list for a long time, and a writing conference in Auckland last year provided the perfect excuse to make my dream come true.
It’s only our second week in New Zealand, yet I’ve already tubed through underground streams, seen millions of tiny glowworms light up black caves, visited Hobbit homes, been covered in therapeutic mud, watched bubbling craters filled with colorful geothermal fluid, inhaled intense sulfurous fumes—and almost bungee jumped.
Here’s Part 2 of our Kiwi adventure.
THE FRUIT BOWL
Camping at a winery is one of the add-ons you can arrange when you rent a motorhome through Maui rentals, and being oenophiles, this sounds like heaven. We arrive at Linden Estate, nestled in the tranquil rolling hills west of Hawke’s Bay and meet Gerald Beach, who offers us a wine tasting before sending us off to our campsite with a picnic basket containing ingredients for dinner—a nice cut of lamb, potatoes, produce, and even dessert. This package—called Winery Havens—can be arranged when you book your motorhome. For an extra fee, you stay at any of five hand-picked wine estates across New Zealand, learn about local varietals, and wake up in a vineyard. Naturally, the package includes a bottle of wine!
We follow Gerald’s directions to the campsite—or at least we think we do—and end up near some cows and an avocado tree at the edge of the vineyard. It’s nice, kind of rustic, we think, and begin to set up a camp. Just then a jeep pulls up. Josh, the hipster-winemaker at Linden Estate, says we can camp here if we want, but the real campsites are on the other side of the property. We sheepishly follow him to the top of a hill, where five or six campsites—all empty—offer amazing views of the countryside. Much nicer! Josh invites us for a tour of the winery and lets us taste still-aging 2013 Malbec and Shiraz right out of the barrel. Yum!
Linden Estate is just one of dozens of wineries in Hawke’s Bay, which has ideal conditions for growing grapes. Peter and I endeavor to visit as many as we can and choose to rent bikes so we can combine our imbibing with exercise. Scott’s not a big wine drinker, but he pedals along with us good-naturedly, enjoying the scenery. (See sidebar for wineries and bike rental information.)
Hawke’s Bay is a stunning region. In the distance mountains rise to the west, and to the east miles of pristine beaches line the Pacific. With its mild climate, Hawke’s Bay is known as the fruit bowl of New Zealand. In addition to grapes, just about every type of fruit grows here. We visit the bustling farmer’s market one morning and sample foods we’ve never even heard of—fig loaf, anyone?
The city of Napier is known as the Art Deco Capital of the World. Nearly leveled after a massive earthquake in 1931, the city was rebuilt in Art Deco, the prevailing style of the time. Like a time capsule, the downtown area has maintained these Art Deco elements, says Maxine, who gives us a walking tour of the city. She points out motifs like the zig zag, ziggurat, sunburst, fountain, and speed lines. You’ll also see Egyptian designs, along with Mayan and even Maori influences—unique to New Zealand.
We enjoy another city tour in a 1938 Packard with Tony Mairs, who tells us more about the earthquake that leveled Napier. “It was a bomb site,” he says. But the earthquake caused the land to rise about eight feet, and the city gained 8500 acres of new land as lagoons filled up. The volcanic ash deposits also contribute to the region’s thriving timber industry. “The pines love it and grow two times faster here than in the U.S.,” says Tony. We’re standing high on a bluff overlooking Napier’s harbor, where stacks of pine logs await shipment to Asia. In the distance, the Pacific sparkles in the warm sun.
That night we dine in Napier at Mr. D’s, a lively bistro with eclectic cuisine. We start with the D-trio, which features paté, pork terrine, and lamb rillettes. Scott chooses the wild rabbit tortellini served in a Dijon mustard broth for his main course. I opt for a risotto with braised duck, spinach, currants, and pine nuts. Peter orders the fish of the day, a pan-roasted bluenose served with grapes, chick peas, olives, and wilted greens. Yum! The food, service, and vibe were all extraordinary.
Another must-see attraction in Hawke’s Bay is Te Mata Peak, standing 1200 feet above sea level with stunning 360-degree views. Trails take intrepid hikers to the mountaintop, but we opt to drive our camper up the twisting, vertigo-inducing roads to the parking area at the summit, where we eat our lunch while admiring some of the most amazing views anywhere. So far we’ve had gorgeous blue-sky weather, perfect for camping and sightseeing, and this day is no exception.
TASTY TOURS & MORE
I hate to leave the peaceful vibe and pretty countryside of Hawke’s Bay, but it’s time to heard south toward Wairarapa and then to Wellington. First we stop at Tui Brewery, home of the popular New Zealand beer brand, for a tasty tour. Afterwards we head to Pukaha Mount Bruce, a wildlife sanctuary popular for bird watching. In fact, here we get our only glimpse of the elusive kiwi, a nocturnal creature now on the endangered list. We can barely see him in the dark exhibit, but outside we see a variety of colorful birds—lorimake, takahe, kakariki, and hihi. My favorites are the tui—yep, like the beer—and the korimako, whose exotic birdsong, clicks, chortles, chonks, and clonks I’ve been hearing since arriving in New Zealand.
We stop on a footbridge to view long-finned eels swimming underwater. They’re huge. Turns out the underground stream we floated on while blackwater rafting (see Part 1 on TW’s website) probably was home to a few hundred of these eels. I shudder to think I was floating above these slimy creatures, but I’m glad I didn’t know it at the time!
Our next stop is the little town of Greytown, where we walk through an early settlers village called Cobblestones. Historic buildings house a blacksmith, printing press, school, and authentic cottages representing the early 20th century. Afterwards we stroll on over to Schoc Choc, a boutique chocolate shop we’ve heard about, located next door. There we meet the colorful owner, Murray, who used to be a therapist. He tells us how he got into the chocolate business. “It started with a book,” he said. One night he and some of his therapist friends got to talking about why people choose different kinds of chocolates and what it says about their personality. So Murray decided to write a book about it called Chocolate Therapy based on observations of what his clients liked.
“Certain people all went for the same kind of chocolate,” Murray explains. He tested his theories, started writing, and then added in a few myths and legends about chocolate for good measure. At about the same time, he discovered he had a passion for chocolate and opened Schoc Choc, which makes gourmet chocolate in a variety of flavors using only natural ingredients. Murray also wrote an app called Chocology (available online), which describes personality types based on chocolate and flavoring preferences. If you like ginger, for example, you are a dreamer, according to Chocology.
Murray lets us taste some of his delicious chocolates: lavender-salted caramel, kiwifruit vodka, ginger-wasabi truffle, Turkish delight rose, and pinot noir truffle. Scott likes the chocolate with spicy chili peppers, and I like it all. Murray is great fun to talk to and clearly enjoys his vocation. “I tried to make it fun,” he says about his Chocology app. “People don’t have enough fun in their lives.” On that note, we say goodbye, chocolate in hand, vowing to have as much fun as we can during our last few days in New Zealand.
And Wellington, where we head next, is the perfect place for fun, we soon discover.
Next month: Part 3 of our NZ adventure.
For more information:
• Tourist Information - www.newzealand.com
• Maui Motor Home Rentals - www.maui.co.nz
• Hawke’s Bay - www.hawkesbaynz.com
Biking Through Vineyards in Hawke's Bay
There are dozens of wineries in Hawke’s Bay, so we spread our tastings over two days, focusing on a different area each time and using two different outfitters.
OVERLOOKING THE PACIFIC
In Te Awanga a scenic cycle path borders the Pacific, flat and perfect for cycling from one winery to the next.
• Coastal Wine Cycles - We rented bikes from Coastal Wine Cycles and headed out to two nearby wineries. www.winecycles.co.nz
• Clearview Estate Winery & Restaurant - A cozy winery with a courtyard for dining nestled among grapevines. My favorites included the 2012 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (passion fruit and pineapple notes) and the 2013 Beachhead Chardonnay (rich and nutty). Among the reds, I loved the 2012 Old Olive Block, a blend of four varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec), which was spicy and full-bodied. www.clearviewestate.co.nz
• Elephant Hill Winery & Restaurant - A stunning estate—comfortable and welcoming yet modern and trendy with Euro-chic design. As we entered the tasting room, we bumped into the director of the writers’ conference I just attended in Auckland, who was heading to Cape Kidnappers for a few days of golf with her husband. We sat down together and enjoyed a glass of wine and a cheese plate. Everyone’s favorite? The 2012 Le Phant, a red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec, silky with hints of cassis and blackberry.
Gimblett Gravels is home to a number of excellent wineries. The soil here is full of gravel, which “stresses” the grapes and produces more flavorful grapes.
• On Yer Bike Winery Tours - We rent bikes from On Yer Bike, which provides a pick-up service if you make purchases. It’s kind of hard to carry a case of wine on your handlebars. www.onyerbikehb.co.nz
• Ngatarawa Wines - Photos of champion horses line the walls of the tasting room, a glimpse of the farm’s previous life as a former racing stable. We meet a friendly young man named Gaston from Argentina, who leads us through a tasting of their delicious wines, many with names—like Stables and Silks—that honor the historic racing stables. www.ngatarawa.co.nz
• Salvare Estate - The cozy tasting room is actually a red barn with doors open on both sides, letting a breeze through. Out back picnic tables overlook the vineyards. We enjoyed the wines, but fell in love with their olive oils and dukkah, a spice-and-nut blend with Mid-East origins that combined turns ordinary bread into something extraordinary. www.salvare.co.nz
• Te Awa Winery - This elegant estate is also home to a restaurant featuring local produce and dishes with a Mediterranean flair. We sampled a vertical tasting of their Kidnapper Cliffs Ariki, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Each vintage was better than the last. www.teawa.com