Napier to Hastings Road Trip

Te Mata Peak Hawkes Bay

Located on the east coast of the North Island, Hawke’s Bay is one of NZ’s premier food, wine and lifestyle destinations. Home to NZ’s oldest operational winery it’s also the largest red wine producing region in the country. Wine lovers will discover more than 50 wineries in the region; over 30 of them provide a cellar door experience where you can visit, tour and taste. At some of the more boutique style vineyards such as Clearview Estate the knowledgeable person actually pouring the wine is often the winemaker themselves! We take three days to tour Hawke’s Bay towns of Napier and Hastings where we fill our picnic hamper to bursting point with gourmet delights found en route, then travel south to the capital city. We visit Marineland and the National Aquarium of NZ, taste the regions’ award winning wines, join locals at a Farmers’ Market and follow a trail of museums south to Wellington, home of Te Papa, the greatest museum of them all.

After a continental breakfast in-house, Bob’s keen to depart early. Today’s plan is to visit several vineyards and sample gourmet products created in specialist kitchens in the region. But first we drive to the richly ornate art deco National Tobacco Company building in Ahuriri, then through the art deco suburb of Marewa to Taradale’s McDeco McDee’s. It was formerly the Taradale Hotel, but in 1997 it was converted into a McDonalds.

But a burger is out of the question as Taradale is also home to some of Hawke’s Bay’s finest vineyards. We visit Mission Estate, NZ’s oldest winery, established in 1851 by the Marist Brothers. Its tasting room, cellar, restaurant and gallery are all housed inside a former seminary building nestled high on a plateau and it has a special ambience. We enjoy a small tasting then wash it down with a latté on a verandah overlooking the vines.

The next stop is at Taradale’s 114 Avocados where we have a complimentary tasting. I purchase ten avocados in various stages of ripeness for our picnic basket while Bob collects recipes from the owner, and then it’s on to Ruby Glen where we wander amongst the brambles collecting our own raspberries. Bob ends up looking like he’s wearing lipstick – more berries end up in his mouth than the collection basket – and his face turns the same colour when the checkout operator laughs and says his mouth is ‘Ruby Red’, like most who visit here.

Before hitting Hastings, we drive out to the coast at Te Awanga for lunch at Clearview Estate. When we arrive, winemaker Tim Turvey leaves the shed where he’s busy testing barrels and walks over to greet us. He leads us to an atmospheric tasting room, where riddling racks line the walls and cobbled floors meet tables crafted from wine barrels.

We’re guided through the vineyard’s range of organic wine, and then we have our lunch at an informal dining table and chairs built around an 80-year-old olive tree. I try the pan-fried snapper while Bob tucks into a brioche and anchovy-crusted lamb rack; they’re both delicious! After lunch we visit Goodin Grove where we taste a variety of organic extra virgin olive oils and collect a bottle for the picnic basket before driving to the Silky Oak Chocolate Company. As we step inside the smell of rich cocoa nearly bowls us over. “Wow,” says Bob, “I think we’ve arrived in heaven!”

Through the glass partitions we watch as workers craft the chocolate. A video plays in the corner and explains that only 100 per cent pure cocoa butter is used, but we’ve no time for that – we’re here to savour their wares. The cabinet displays a seemingly endless selection of chocolate from truffles to liqueurs, crèmes to caramels and even a chilli-chocolate blend!

In the midst of a chocoholic frenzy triggered by the intense aromas, it’s too hard to make a selection, so in the end, Bob says “what the heck,” and we simply take two of each. That sorted, we leave with our embarrassingly extra-large paper bag and proceed to sample chocolates all the way to Sileni Estate. It’s long, sweeping driveway and symmetrical architecture is designed to impress so we carefully check for tell-tale chocolate smears on our faces before stepping out to taste some of the classic wine varieties on offer.

But fine wine was only one of the elements that attracted us here: Sileni also has a well-stocked pantry which provides a roundup of all that’s on offer in Hawke’s Bay and a temperature-controlled room that provides the perfect setting for cheese to ripen. There’s a culinary school onsite and after perusing the list of courses Bob discusses returning for a class after we’ve completed our circumnavigation of NZ.

As Bob considers the pros and cons we drive to Havelock North to immerse ourselves in the aromas, tastes and sounds of the Hawthorne Coffee Roastery and Espresso Bar.

Next stop is xCraggy Range vineyard nestled beneath Te Mata Peak, and then we drive to the top for breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. The peak is known to the Maori as Te Mata o Rongokako (the face of Rongokako) and according to legend, Rongokako was challenged to eat his way through the peak to win the hand of the beautiful Muriwhenua. He choked on a rock and fell to the ground.

Bob can relate to the challenge. “I feel like I’ve eaten a track through Napier and Hastings,” he says, pointing below to where lights are beginning to come on one by one, “Look you can see where we’ve been!” A strong wind blows and grey clouds stack up on the horizon as we retreat to the warmth and comfort of a country B&B just south of Hastings. Our hosts provide a delicious dinner of roast beef followed by generous helpings of chocolate berry roulade, and we fall asleep to the patter of rain.