A New Zealand getaway
New Zealand offers some of the most attractive and welcoming wineries in the world, along with its magnificent scenery and remarkable wildlife— no wonder it’s not just penguins that flock here.
In the week following Donald Trump’s election as 45th president of the United States, New Zealand received a surge in applications for citizenship from Americans. Under the headline “Trump Apocalypse,” the New Zealand Herald reported that 13,000 Americans—more than 17 times the normal number—had shown an interest in trading the land of the free for the land of the long white cloud.
While New Zealand is a country of two rather shaky islands, earthquakes seem to be of minor concern to the rich Americans who are now buying up parts of the country as a secure getaway from the craziness of the modern world. Citing government statistics, The New Yorker reported that, in the first ten months of 2016, foreign buyers purchased “nearly 1,400 square miles [3,600 sq km] of land in New Zealand, more than quadruple what they bought in the same period the previous year,” with tech billionaire Peter Thiel beating them to the party with the purchase of a 193ha (477-acre) property in Central Otago a year earlier. The country’s remote location, and the safety that such isolation brings, is clearly part of the lure in uncertain times. At least a 24-hour flight from London, or a 12-hour one from San Francisco, New Zealand isn’t a destination you visit for a long weekend.
Its major attraction is undoubtedly its natural beauty. From the sailing mecca of the Bay of Islands, a four-hour drive north of the country’s biggest city, Auckland, to the snowy peaks of the southern Alps, forming the jagged spine of the South Island, New Zealand is a country that does breathtaking views in large gasps.
Exploring nature and wildlife is also high on visitors’ list of things to do, with whale- and dolphin-watchers heading for Kaikoura, an easy drive south from Marlborough’s main town, Blenheim. Others come for the glowworms and the unique birdlife that goes with being such an isolated spot—where else could creatures such as the flightless kiwi survive and thrive? There’s also plenty of opportunity to get your penguin fix the farther south you head in New Zealand. Forget the aquarium: New Zealand still has three wild species of penguin, including the world’s smallest—the korora, or little blue penguin—and they can be spotted in a number of locations, including near the university town of Dunedin or Stewart Island.
The country’s waters don’t just offer the chance to spot sealife; surf breaks dot the coastline, whether along the black-sand beaches of western Auckland—made famous by the triple-Oscar-winning movie The Piano—or in the remote waters of Gisborne. While the more sedate pastimes of sailing, golfing, and walking (known as “tramping” in New Zealand) are readily available, New Zealand has made its name as the place for high-octane activities. Want to jump off a bridge with a piece of elastic tied to your ankles? They’ve got that covered—and hopefully your travel insurance has, too. Want to raft down rushing river rapids, jump out of a plane, take a helicopter to a remote mountain and ski down, or fly down a zip-line? Head to Central Otago—later on, you can settle your frayed nerves with a glass of powerful Pinot Noir. The heady mix of extreme sports and a once-weak New Zealand dollar made the country a magnet for backpackers, but now an increasing number of operators are catering for high-net-worth individuals: Fine dining, luxury lodges, and helicopter hire are all commonplace for those who have the means to enjoy them. Play a round of golf overlooking the Pacific Ocean at luxury resort Cape Kidnappers in the Hawke’s Bay, then relax with a spicy Syrah after the 18th hole, or fall in love with Wharekauhau Lodge, as the now-owner, US wine mogul Bill Foley, did in 2009 while sampling the savory Pinot Noirs from nearby Martinborough.
You don’t come to New Zealand to visit the cities. Neither the capital, Wellington, nor the country’s most populous urban center, Auckland, can really compete with London, New York, or Paris when it comes to historic buildings, high culture, or even retail therapy. Even so, it is inevitable that you’ll fly into one or the other city during your stay. Overnighters should certainly take in Te Papa, the country’s national museum on Wellington’s waterfront, for a succinct introduction to the nation’s history and culture. The compact city is also a hotbed of coffee that will have you reeling off superlatives, as well as fine food and hidden bars. If you’re pressed for time, give Auckland’s CBD a miss and jump on a commuter boat—or hire your own—to Waiheke Island. Once a place mainly for hippies, it is now a hideaway for Auckland’s millionaires and home to ever-improving wine producers including Man O’ War, Destiny Bay, and Stonyridge.
And when you pack your bags to come here, remember that the band Crowded House weren’t joking when they sang “Four Seasons in One Day”—pack for all conditions, and don’t forget the factor-50 sunscreen. Kiwis have long been reminded to “slip, slop, slap,” meaning slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, and slap on a hat, due to the high levels of UV radiation. Many tourists have scoffed at warnings by locals, only to end up red raw within a couple of hours of exposure. The lobster look has never been in vogue—unless it’s on a plate with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
Northland might not be the first place you think of when it comes to fine New Zealand wine, but the natural beauty of the Bay of Islands makes this a must-visit destination. The idyllic setting of Paroa Bay’s cottages and jaw-dropping views from its new luxury retreat, Tarapunga, means the Bay of Islands isn’t just a destination for the sailing community.
An elegant lodge, sitting atop cliffs that plunge 800ft (245m) to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, Cape Kidnappers is a secluded luxury retreat, home to one of the country’s best golf courses. Its cellar is one of the most comprehensive in the country, offering mature vintages of many fine regional wines.
Owned by Bill Foley, an American businessman and wine lover with brands from Napa to New Zealand, Wharekauhau offers the beauty of Edwardian architecture with modern Kiwi hospitality. On its extensive estate, guests can explore native forest, farmland, gardens, and orchards, and can even help out on the farm if they’re looking for the ultimate Kiwi experience.
This new four-bedroom private lodge is nestled beneath the statuesque Te Mata peak, offering a private chef, in-lodge wine tasting, swimming pool, and trout fishing in the Tuki Tuki river. The addition of this wine lodge to the Art Deco capital of New Zealand, Hawke’s Bay, puts the region firmly on the must-visit map for wine tourists.
Built as a convent in 1901, the elegant timber frame has since been moved ten minutes' drive from its original home in Blenheim and now sits in 6ha (15 acres) of private parkland. Take in the views from the balcony of your suite, and join the head gardener on a daily tour of the gardens and vineyard.
Admire the panoramic views from this luxury villa at Mahana Estate, where vines roll down the hillside toward the twinkling waters of Tasman Bay and the snowcapped peaks of Mount Arthur. A blend of steel, glass, and wood, the building is as beautiful as the vistas it provides, and its American owner, businessman and hotelier Glenn Schaeffer, has adorned the walls with his private collection of contemporary art.
If you can get a booking at this restaurant—which is increasingly difficult now that ex-Noma chef Jacob Kear is heading up the kitchen—sink into one of its leather booths for the evening and prepare to be lavished with 13 courses of dégustation delight. It is possibly the finest restaurant in New Zealand.
Floor-to-ceiling windows provide views out to the Pacific shoreline, which ebbs and flows just meters from the vineyard’s edge, and the majestic Cape Kidnappers peninsula, a bird-watcher’s paradise. The restaurant pairs fine dining with the German-owned winery’s restrained whites and savory reds.
Christchurch residents happily drive an hour up State Highway 1 to this unpretentious winery. The fine food served here has led to it being recognized as New Zealand winery restaurant of the year no fewer than seven times. Its very decor speaks of many good times; empty bottles of fine wine line the shelves and have even been crafted into quirky chandeliers.
Being named the country’s best winery restaurant on several occasions—and being the closest cellar door to Queenstown—makes Amisfield very popular. Enjoy fine dining, traditional-method sparkling wine, and broody Pinot Noir in its modern building while gazing out over Lake Hayes up to Coronet Peak.
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
Aucklanders flock to Matakana, an hour’s drive north of the city, to get their rural fix at weekends. Signs for beaches and vineyards adorn the roadside, but one has become a destination in itself. Brick Bay’s sculpture trail weaves through native bush, pastures, and vineyard and, with all artworks on sale, this is an exhibition that is always evolving.
A strong contender for the most idyllic setting for a cellar door and winery, Man O’ War bay is tucked away in the far east of Waiheke Island. While away a lazy afternoon on the lawns, cooling off in the clear waters. Access for vehicles is via a winding, dusty track, while boat owners drop anchor and row ashore—or you can arrive in style by seaplane.
www.manowarvineyards.co.nz | www.aucklandseaplanes.com/dine.php
The most easterly point of New Zealand, Gisborne is also far from the madding crowd. Come here for long, warm days, great surf breaks, Maori culture, and to meet biodynamic wine pioneer James Millton. Enjoy a personal tasting at the cellar door before settling down to watch a Tui dance performance in the gorgeous garden lovingly nurtured by Annie Millton.
Explore the history of New Zealand’s oldest winery. Founded by French missionaries in 1851, the property has had its challenges—from floods, fires, and earthquakes, to a Rod Stewart concert. The plane-tree-lined driveway was planted in 1911, and as you approach the estate, look out for a single row of Muscat vines grafted over the years from the original stock brought from France in the 19th century.
Outside Blenheim airport, the gateway to Marlborough, there’s a statue of a man named David Herd. In 1873, this Scottish immigrant planted the first vines in Marlborough, on the Auntsfield Estate, while everyone else was farming sheep. It would be another century before wine was taken seriously by locals, but his original winery still stands and can be visited before tasting at the more modern cellar door.
Owned by multinational drinks company Pernod Ricard, Brancott’s Heritage Centre is an impressive glass construction, perched above the first block of Sauvignon Blanc vines planted in the region. It affords expansive views over the Brancott Valley and beyond. In addition to the cellar door and restaurant, the winery has a partnership with Marlborough Heritage Falcon Trust and visitors can watch displays of native birds of prey in full flight.
The Cloudy Bay’s leafy cellar door comes alive in summer, when the croquet and petanque sets are laid out on the lawns. Enjoy a glass of this iconic Sauvignon Blanc and some freshly shucked oysters, book a vineyard tour by car or helicopter followed by a tutored tasting, or splurge on a day trip aboard the estate’s yacht on the Marlborough Sounds.
New Zealand’s first underground rock cellar lies 65ft (20m) below a precipitous hill that climbs above the camper-van-filled road on the way to Picton, the gateway to the stunning Marlborough Sounds. Its co-founder is German, and in Marlborough’s cool climate, it’s no surprise that the winery excels at aromatic white varieties.
Visit the birthplace of Central Otago’s modern wine industry. It was founded in 1990 by Irish journalist Alan Brady, one of the pioneers of Central Otago’s wine revolution. Arrive early, before the crowds, to tour European-style caves hewn from the rock, and hire bicycles to explore the area’s goldmining past and vinous present.
Boaties, skiers, and wedding parties are lured to Wanaka year-round by its stunning lake and mountain vistas. Vines cascade to the water’s edge at Rippon, making it the most photographed vineyard in the country, if not the world. But there’s more to Rippon than its looks; its mature-vine Pinot Noirs are as impressive as the view.