Discover the bounty in Hawkes Bay New Zealand
For foodies and oenophiles eager to escape the crowds of California’s congested wine country – and for adventurers who possess the sitting power required for a 12-hour flight to New Zealand – Hawkes Bay is waiting for you to explore to your heart’s (and palate’s) content. Below the equator, it’s winter. The air is crisp. There’s probably rain, but it’s the perfect time to visit without the crowds.
Motor past the sheep endlessly grazing on the rolling hillsides, drift down scenic roads alongside the sparkling Pacific Ocean and zip in and out of the craggy mountain ranges in this lush locale on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Indulge in spectacular wines, beautiful olive oils, unrivaled cheeses, and green lips so sweet, tender and plentiful, you’ll think you died and gone to mussel heaven. At every turn, make fast friends with “kiwis” (as New Zealanders call themselves), and discovered the rumors are true: they are some of the friendliest people on Earth.
Historians debate if the Maoris (the local people) were Polynesians that came to New Zealand from Southeast Asia or America. It’s said they arrived around 1300 via canoes that still remain a big part of the Maori tradition. Their rich culture is highlighted in their language and their arts and crafts.
Napier is the perfect place to stay in this land of plenty. In 1931, this beautiful town was destroyed by New Zealand’s worse natural disaster – a 7.9 magnitude earthquake that killed over 250 people. Rebuilt after the quake and subsequent fire, it is renowned for numerous Art Deco buildings, elaborate Maori motifs and towering Norfolk pines.
Napier’s Shoreline Motel lives up to its name. From its perch on Marine Parade, soak up magnificent views of Hawkes Bay. Offering just the right amenities, plan on staying for awhile. The kitchenette is ideal for steaming the plump green lips you can get for a steal at the local market. Together with a chilled bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc – the white peach taste is unforgettable – melt onto the deck overlooking the cresting waters of the bay and the Pacific beyond. As the sun slowly drifts below the horizon, turn on the jets and jump into the Jacuzzi conveniently located in the corner of the room.
A short drive around the bay, Cape Kidnappers boasts one of golf’s hottest new destinations while also home to the largest gannet colony in the world. If that isn’t enough, it’s been said the crescent shape of Hawkes Bay, together with the rugged point of the Cape itself, formed the hook Maoris used to pull New Zealand’s North Island out of the South Pacific!
From the Shoreline Motel, it is a quick jaunt to visit some of the more than 100 fabulous stops on the Hawkes Bay Food and Wine Trails – delightful roads that wend their way from Napier through Havelock North and Hastings, both about 20 minutes away. Microclimates and varied soil profiles make this a prime region for internationally recognized award winning wines. Favorites include: Esk Valley, Matariki, Te Awa, Te Mata and Kim Crawford, to name a few. Whether it’s pinot noir or sauvignon blanc, these “new world” wineries are doing everything right. They are true to a vintner’s romantic mantra: “have a great time while making great wine.”
Warm summers and nippy winters provide the perfect combination for fresh vegetables, luscious fruits and mouth-watering artisanal products found along the trails. The Sunday farmers market in Hastings is the ultimate stage from which to savor it all: the award winning Telegraph Hill olive oil direct from the ranch down the street, creamy goat cheese from the Te Mata Cheese Company near Craggy Range and more gourmet meats, jams, coffee and breads than we could try in a single morning. Just before the final call, we squeezed in a taste of succulent Ostrich sausage.
When it's time to eat even more, head to Dockside Napier at the nearby Napier marina for some seriously delectable tapas paired with favorite local wines. Choose from spicy chorizo, prawn kabobs, zucchini fritters, pork meatballs – it is one enticing treat after another. Or join the rugby craze at Shed 2 on the Quay where there are at least two to three games on the big screens. As a boisterous crowd cheers their favorite league, indulge in a delicious peri peri chicken wood-fired pizza and a seafood platter with fresh scallops, prawns, mussels and much more. After long days of eating and drinking your way through this heavenly valley, both restaurants offer the perfect pairing of New Zealand delicacies, wine, beer and kiwi conversation, with stunning views of the sun slowly sinking behind the moored sailboats gently bobbing on the bay.
Hawkes Bay is a memorable place in an unforgettable land. Definitely worth the trip, or two or three.