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TRAVEL & LEISURE

Six Ways to Make Your Winter Trip to Hawke's Bay the Best One Yet

The east coast winemaking region comes alive in the colder months.
By Stephen Heard
May 28, 2021
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By Stephen Heard
May 28, 2021
  shares

While Hawke's Bay is commonly known as food and wine country, your visit doesn't necessarily need to revolve around feasting — although it certainly comes highly recommended. The region comes alive in the colder months with bustling farmers' markets and light and fire festivals. Complete your itinerary with behind-the-scenes winery experiences, scenic cycling tours and guided gin tastings and you have one hell of a weekend getaway. Here are six ways to make your winter trip to Hawke's Bay the best one yet.

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EXPLORE THE REGION ON TWO WHEELS WITH TAKARO TRAILS

With more than 200 kilometres of flat, easy and fast trails in Hawke's Bay, cycling is by far one of the best ways to get around — especially if you plan on dropping into a few wineries along the way. Based out of seaside town Ahuriri, Tākaro Trails provides individuals, groups and families with everything they need to see, explore and experience the best of the Hawke's Bay by bike — whether it's a self-guided afternoon outing or multi-day adventure. You can choose from pedal-powered two-wheelers or opt for an e-bike to give some assistance up those steep winery driveways. The best bit is that all rides come equipped with a handlebar bag for your belongings and a carrier to hold all the bottles of wine that you pick up along the way. Owners Karen and Rog will point you in the right direction and let you know all the great things to see and do along the way. And if your winery lunch extends into the afternoon, the Tākaro Trails crew will happily swing by in their shuttle to pick you up.

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TAKE A BEHIND-THE-SCENES TOUR OF CHURCH ROAD WINES

If leaving from Tākaro Trails headquarters on a self-guided wine tour, you'll make your way around the Ahuriri estuary, across an old railway bridge and down flat shingle trails lined with wild fennel. Popping into the historic Mission Estate is recommended, as is a visit to the popular Church Road Wines, which is handily located right next door. The winemakers here have been at the forefront of the Hawke's Bay winemaking region since 1897. They're particularly known for being the first to craft Bordeaux-style red wine in NZ. The best way to learn about the winery's rich history is by taking a behind-the-scenes tour. With a glass in hand, you'll discover how Church Road helped pioneer the Hawke's Bay wine industry, learn about the wine-making process from start to finish, hear how they plan to expand with balsamic vinegar and barrel-aged spirits, and sample young wines right there in the engine room. The hour and a half tours wrap up inside the cosy cellar door with a guided wine tasting. Extend your session at Verde Restaurant with a delicious antipasto platter or something from the a la carte menu.

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SHOP LOCAL AT THE HAWKE'S BAY FARMERS' MARKET

The Hawke's Bay Farmers' Market opened in 2000 and is one of the oldest and largest farmers' markets in the country. Every Sunday at Hastings' Waikoko Gardens you can meet some of the region's finest growers and producers, and see, touch, smell and taste the goods before buying. Ask a local about their market favourite and they'll likely say a bacon buttie from either founding members Holly Bacon or the aptly titled The Bacon Sandwich Co. — the food truck's plump white bread sammies have been a go-to since 2008. Also on the menu here you'll find breakfast tacos, gyoza dumplings, mussel fritters and masala scrambled eggs. As you sip on locally roasted coffee, whip around the sprawling grounds and fill up your tote bag with everything from homemade relishes and jams to fresh honeycomb, hot sauce and hemp products. Elsewhere, The Organic Farm Butchery will sort you right for dinner, while Good Vibes Fungi will help you grow your own mushrooms on a log.

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SIP ON ARTISAN SPIRITS AND LIQUEURS AT HASTING DISTILLERS

Following decades-long spells in winemaking, Kate Galloway and David Ramonteu set out to craft sophisticated and unique spirits and liqueurs — and that's exactly what they've achieved with Hastings Distillers. The boutique gin distillery is said to be New Zealand's first producer of certified organic artisan spirits and liqueurs. Visitors to the elegant tasting room in central Hastings can pop in at their leisure to sample three-part gin flights for $20, or book in for guided tastings in groups of six or more. Each tasting is $90 and begins with the brand's 'L'Opera' bitter orange aperitif, followed by three tastings from the core range and seasonal gins or liqueurs the team have been working on. That might mean a sneak peak of the unreleased 'Ignis Fatuus', a premium gin that offers a taste of local history (and the forest) through the use of kauri gum. Nibbling on a platter of local cheeses, breads, nuts, olives and figs, you'll also hear about the couple's interest in biodynamics, from the process of burying cow horns to vitality-giving ceramic eggs, and the extensive range of botanicals used to create full-bodied sipping spirits. The use of spring water is one particularly intriguing element — and something which came in a dream for Kate. To finish, guests can select a cocktail of their choice from the tasting room menu.

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TAKE IN SOME CULTURE AT A FOOD OR ARTS FESTIVAL

Every year, the F.A.W.C.! Food and Wine Classic celebrates the blossoming Hawke's Bay food and wine scene with a series of feasting and drinking experiences, set in stunning locations throughout the region. Ahead of the ten-day summer affair in early November is the Winter F.A.W.C! program which runs over four consecutive weekends in June. The event typically includes more than 40 events, from masterclasses and degustations to winemaker's lunches and garden parties. Also on the agenda in the colder months is Walk of Wonders, a light and fire festival showcasing works from both New Zealand and international artists. This year, the festival is extending to nine nights (5–15 August) and will invite ticket holders to explore an immersive two-kilometre walkway throughout the grounds of Black Barn Vineyards. Expect animation, augmented reality, graphic illustration, projection mapping, roaming performance art, kinetic sculpture and fire.

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REST YOUR HEAD AT THE CROWN HOTEL

Ahuriri is a seaside port settlement in Napier that has evolved from the domain of mariners and sea dogs to a satellite town with a growing list of cool cafes, bars, restaurants, galleries and boutique stores. The Crown Hotel Napier overlooks the beachfront promenade in the seaside village and is the perfect base to explore the region. Highlights right on your doorstep include Crazy Good for early morning coffee and the famed Y'a Bon doughnuts, while the Gintrap is somewhere to head for afternoon bevvies in the sun. The hotel's own restaurant Milk & Honey is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week and the house bar offers an alfresco hour daily with complimentary bar snacks. There are 39 guest rooms to book at The Crown, including studios, one and two-bedroom suites.

Published on May 28, 2021 by Stephen Heard

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