Here's our quintessential guide to New Zealand's spectacular Hawke's Bay.
Get ready for the best drops, the best eats and the most spectacular stays on this wild stretch of New Zealand's North Island.
A black sand beach and icy sea hint at the stark coastline beyond but Napier, a convenient hub from which to explore Hawke’s Bay (New Zealand’s second-largest wine region after Marlborough), has her own charms. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, the city was rebuilt in the style of the day, giving rise to the world’s highest concentration of Art Deco architecture (even the local McDonald’s sports stained-glass windows). A champagne tower wouldn’t be out of place but that’s not what wine lovers are here for: it’s all about the syrah.
The Te Mata Peak lookout offers sweeping views across Hawke's Bay
Grapes of all varieties thrive along this stretch of the east coast, thanks to its maritime climate. Though hard to come by in Australia, Hawke’s Bay chardonnays and Bordeaux-style blends are globally renowned. But it’s the delicate, spicy syrahs that have taken the world by storm over the past 20 years, outshining Australian shirazes at high-profile shows (the Kiwis use the grape’s French name to distinguish it from our own warm-blooded style).
About 200 kilometres of cycling tracks thread through this deep pocket of the North Island, five-and-a-half hours’ drive south of Auckland. From Napier, a 35-kilometre pedal gets you to the Gimblett Gravels, one of the 12 sub-regions. It was here that another natural disaster – floods in 1867 – exposed a vast swathe of new country. The stony soil was quarried for concrete until, in the 1980s, maverick winemakers tried their luck on the cheap plots. Today, the Gimblett Gravels district is famed for its full-bodied reds – and those enterprising vignerons who turned water into wine.
Warren Gibson has run this stellar winery, Trinity Hill since taking the reins from founding winemaker John Hancock, a pioneer of the Gimblett Gravels vineyards and the local syrah style.
Drink now Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo
Put in the Cellar Homage Syrah
State-of-the-art is an overused term but so right for the architectural masterpiece that is Elephant Hill. Ocean views, topnotch wines and a brilliant restaurant complete the picture (see restaurant review below).
Drink now Le Phant Rouge
Put in the Cellar Airavata Syrah
French missionaries established Mission Estate in 1851 and the spectacular cellar door is a living museum as a result. The wines and stunning views are a bonus.
Drink now VS Rosé
Put in the Cellar Reserve Cabernet Franc
Te Awa Collection
The benchmark Te Awa wines come from the Gimblett Gravels district, with the best parcels labelled Kidnapper Cliffs. The Left Field range lives up to its name.
Drink now Left Field Albariño
Put in the Cellar Kidnapper Cliffs Chardonnay
Top wines and splendid food, plus daily tours of the winery and museum, make Church Road a must-visit.
Drink now Pinot Gris
Put in the Cellar Tom Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
Eat, drink, shop
For breakfast and coffee
F.G. SMITH EATERY
9a Ossian Street, Ahuriri
If you’re prepared to forgo water views, follow Napier locals to this sun-soaked café in an industrial part of town. Order the pumpkin tartine with tahini and cashew cream, made with hearty wholemeal bread from Smith’s nearby bakery, The Picnic, and grab an Allpress coffee. Then peruse the new and pre-loved designer clothing at the adjoining Aroha store.
86 Clifton Road, Te Awanga
With wall-to-wall windows and sea views framed by the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers, Elephant Hill is the belle of the bay’s 76 wineries. Take a seat on the deck and watch the pukeko birds play in the water feature as you feast on smoked venison with vanilla parsnip purée, black garlic and pickled plum.
40 Hastings Street, Napier
Helmed by James Beck, who cut his teeth at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, Bistronomy is a cosy eatery with cheery staff and serious credentials. Leave your food fate in Beck’s hands and order the six-course Chef’s Choice menu.
For taking home
DECORUM DECO ATTIRE
4 Herschell Street, Napier South
Fancy a ’70s safari suit? The Art Deco capital is a treasure- trove of vintage wear and the two-storey Decorum Deco is one of the best shops around. It’s brimming with quirky finds and offers a range of sizes at great prices.
THE FARM AT CAPE KIDNAPPERS
446 Clifton Road, Te Awanga
A nod to the owner’s American heritage, the main lodge on this 2400-hectare farm is designed to look like an Arkansas homestead – albeit one with a Picasso in the library, A-list guests such as Paul McCartney and views of the property’s Tom Doak-designed fairways (among the world’s top 30 golf courses). This is exclusive stuff with prices to match: the 22 suites start at about $1500 per night for two, including meals.
THE BLACK BARN
Black Barn Road, Havelock North
With its exposed beams, stone fireplace and vast oil paintings, the two-bedroom cottage at Black Barn Vineyards is both homey and luxurious. The commercial-style kitchen is ideal for catered celebrations but if you’re after a low-key night in, swing by the cellar door for a delicious heat-and-eat meal, such as sous-vide beef cheeks in red wine. Te Mata Estate is a 10-minute walk away but chances are you’re going to want to burrow in.
If you don’t want to drive
Take a daytrip with Odyssey NZ for a taste of six different wineries. Or make the most of the area’s cycling tracks with a Takaro Trails package. Choose from guided or DIY winery tours, ranging from two hours to several days, and you’ll get gear, transfers and pack-free pedalling.
If you don't want to leave home
Sometimes it's not possible... So here is a selection of stellar Hawke's Bay wines that you can buy through Qantas Wines.
2016 / $34
Winemaking duo Lorraine Leheny and Warren Gibson planted six hectares on a precipitous slope overlooking the Gimblett Gravels district. Their top- shelf label is La Collina, with Bilancia a value-packed alternative. The 2016 syrah smells of fresh red fruits (raspberry and redcurrant), with a lift of allspice that would suit a mushroom risotto.
Stonecroft Reserve Syrah
2014 / $82
Owners Dermot McCollum and Andria Monin are upholding the vision and drive of founder Alan Limmer. Organic farming of the 30-year-old syrah vines brings freshness to the aromas – ripe plum and mulberry with sweet spices and mocha notes. The bold flavours are of red and black fruits with a firm frame of tannins extending the finish. Venison pie, please.
Te Mata Estate Coleraine
2016 / $112
Established in 1896, Te Mata was resuscitated by John Buck in 1974, with the lineage of Coleraine dating back to 1982. The 2016 is worthy of its pedigree: blackcurrant, wild thyme and silken tannins make it a delight to drink now (with slow-cooked lamb shoulder) but it will be even better in a decade.
Vidal Legacy Chardonnay
2016 / $56
In 1905, Spanish immigrant Anthony Joseph Vidal planted his first vines at Hastings and his legacy is celebrated with this fulsome chardonnay. The palate’s generous flavours are restrained by a subtle touch of French oak, with a zip of citrus-bright acidity refreshing the finish. Try it with pan-fried rainbow trout.
Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Chardonnay
2017 / $46
Craggy Range wines are as spectacular as their winery, with the Prestige Collection worthy of its (hefty) cost. More modestly priced, this luxe Family Collection chardonnay has pink grapefruit and white peach aromas, the palate restrained by oak and refreshed with a mineral acidity. Enjoy with roast chook.
Photo credits: Richard Brimer, Brian Curly, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Guy Bailey