If you love food, wine and unique travel experiences then New Zealand is probably already on your bucket list. This article is a guide for overseas travellers planning a trip of 2 to 3 weeks in New Zealand, we’ll introduce you to our wine regions, the best wines to try and our recommendations for the best wineries to visit on your trip.
New Zealand is one of a group of “new world” wine growing countries changing the global wine landscape and while our viticulture history doesn’t go as far back as the traditional wine growing areas of Europe and the Middle East, it hasn’t taken long for New Zealand wines to gain a fantastic international reputation.
A short history of New Zealand wine
As the youngest country on earth, our winemaking history is relatively short, the first grapes were introduced by missionary Samuel Marsden in 1819 who remarked “New Zealand promises to be very favourable to the vine”. Wine was produced for British soldiers in Northland in 1836 and our oldest vineyard was started in 1851 in the Hawke’s Bay, Mission Estate Winery in Hawke’s Bay.
The first larger scale wineries were established by Croatian immigrants around Auckland at the end of the 19th century but it wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that the industry really started to develop. Montana (now Brancott Estate) planted Marlborough’s first Sauvignon Blanc vineyard for which the region is now world famous for. Ironically it was the relaxation of import controls on foreign wines coming into New Zealand in 1985 which lead to local producers going on an export drive which has been a stunning success. From that time the New Zealand wine industry has gone from strength to strength, with new regions, wines and individual wineries cropping up all over the country.
New Zealand Wine Regions
From North to South, here is an introduction to the best known wine growing regions of New Zealand, the types of wines they’re famous for, our favourite wineries in each region and of course some specific wine recommendations. There are other regions we haven’t included on this list, like Gisborne, but in the interest of helping overseas visitors find wineries to visit on their trip to New Zealand, we’ll limit it to the areas easily accessible to most visitors.
It might surprise visitors to Auckland that our biggest city has some wonderful wine producers and culinary experiences which fit nicely into your trip and combine easily with visits to the scenic highlights of the Hauraki Gulf and Waitakere Ranges. Auckland’s wineries are concentrated in three areas: Waiheke Island, Kumeu / West Auckland and Matakana.
Waiheke Island is a short 30 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland and with around 30 wineries to choose from it’s the perfect place for day trip from the city. The climate suits Bordeaux type grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc but Waiheke Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah’s also have a good reputation.
According to TripAdvisor, the best three wineries to visit on Waiheke Island are:
One Waiheke wine you must try:
West Auckland’s vineyards are at the foot of the Waitakere Ranges and make for a perfect lunch stop on the way out to the ranges or our famous West Coast Beaches of Muriwai, Piha or Karekare. These are some of the oldest vineyards in New Zealand, and wineries which still operate today like Babich, Corbans, Delegats and Nobilo are the founding families of the New Zealand wine industry. Nowadays West Auckland is known for its elegant Chardonnays and stylish Merlots.
If you’re driving yourself these wineries are easily explored in a relaxed day trip from Auckland City, otherwise there are day tours from the city which you can book and take with ease.
An hour or so north of Auckland, Matakana is home to numerous wineries set amongst the rolling green hills and pretty beachside towns like Leigh. Pinot Gris, Syrah and Bordeaux Reds are the regions pride and joy.
Special mention in Auckland goes to Villa Maria Winery in Mangere, an tranquil oasis close to Auckland International Airport. If you have a flight to catch and would love to fit in one last tasting and lunch, this is the spot for you. Be sure to book in advance!
Our tips for visiting Auckland wineries on your New Zealand holiday
A day out to Waiheke on the ferry from Auckland CBD is one of the most popular day trips from Auckland for visitors. Visiting the West Coast beaches and Waitakere Ranges is another great full day option from the city which will give you the chance to visit the Kumeu wineries on the way out or back. You can drive yourself but if you’ve just arrived and still getting used to time zones and New Zealand roads we suggest taking a guided tour.
For visiting the Auckland’s wineries in style, how about a heli wine option for an unforgettable day taking in the best views and food & wine in Auckland. Find out more here.
Hawke’s Bay Wines
With lots of sunshine, low rainfall and free draining soil, Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s most established wine region, home to our oldest winery and many other award winning vineyards. There are over 70 wineries and 120 independent grape growers in the area, making viticulture a big part of life in “the Bay”.
By the early 1920s the iconic wineries of Mission Estate, Te Mata Estate, Vidal Estate, McDonalds Winery and Glenvale Winery (now Esk Valley) were all established, giving Hawke’s Bay a history unrivalled by any other wine region in New Zealand.
Hawke’s Bay wineries successfully grow a wide range of grape varieties, something which gives it quite a unique place in the world. Current production is split approximately 60:40 in favour of white wine over red. White varieties include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris while reds include Merlot Cabernet, Syrah and Pinot Noir.
One Hawke’s Bay wine you must try:
According to TripAdvisor, the best wineries to visit in the Hawke’s Bay are:
Visiting Hawke’s Bay wineries on your New Zealand holiday
Look at a map of New Zealand and you’ll see Hawke’s Bay is on the East Coast of the North Island right in the middle. Visiting Hawke’s Bay requires a bit of time, at least one night, but two is better to give you a full day to visit the wineries and the stunning coastline. A sample itinerary would be, Auckland - Rotorua - Napier - Wairarapa - Wellington, which takes you through three of our highlighted wine regions.
Clustered around the towns of Martinborough, Gladstone and Masterton are the Wairarapa wineries, making a more boutique area than the larger producing regions like Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough. This is what gives it charm and a real food and wine scene has popped up in recent years, enjoyed by both Kiwis and overseas visitors. The small towns here have a real colonial charm and the main streets have lots of antique shops and boutique eateries which complement the wineries beautifully. Wairarapa is mostly known for its Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and aromatics.
According to TripAdvisor, the best wineries to visit in the Wairarapa are:
Fun food and wine events in the Wairarapa:
Visiting Wairarapa Wineries on your New Zealand trip
Wairarapa is just North of Wellington, on the Eastern side of the North Island making a day trip from Wellington a great way to visit, or if you’re travelling down from Hawke’s Bay you’ll pass right through. An excellent option which lets everyone enjoy the wine tasting is a Wairarapa winery day trip by train from Wellington.
The town of Martinborough is the centre of the Wairarapa wine region one great way to experience a range of different Wairarapa wines is at the Martinborough Wine Centre. Many of the boutique wineries are within walking distance of the town centre.
For many people around the world, Marlborough is the best known wine region of New Zealand and if there’s one variety synonymous with Marlborough its Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, 90% of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc vines are here and as a region this is the largest wine producing area in the country. Other notable Marlborough varieties include Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Like Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough is in a dry part of the country with free draining soils and lots of sunshine. Any visit to Marlborough will convince you that everything is right with the world, warm sunny weather, picturesque countryside, friendly locals and amazing food and wine at every turn. The small town of Renwick is the heart of Marlborough wine country and from here you have plenty of options to visit the local vineyards including walking, cycling, touring or driving yourself.
The best Marlborough wineries to visit according to TripAdvisor:
One Marlborough wine you have to try:
Of course a Sauvignon Blanc, Cloudy Bay 2016 Sauvignon Blanc.
This is the wine that many New Zealanders take overseas with them as a gift for overseas friends and family.
Visiting Marlborough Wineries on your New Zealand trip
If you’re planning to travel overland between the North and South Islands and take the ferry across the Cook Strait, then a trip to Marlborough will fit nicely into this itinerary. Renwick is just a short 30 minute drive from the ferry terminal at Picton (the South Island side), so easily visited before or after your crossing. A overnight stay in Picton or Blenheim will give you more time and there are plenty of tours leaving from both these centres if you don’t have your own transport.
In recent years cycling from vineyard to vineyard has become more popular, you can either take your own bike or rent one. Find out more about cycling in the Marlborough wine region here.
Central Otago Wines
For many overseas visitors, Central Otago is the perfect place to for wine touring, with the stunning scenery and all the other amazing experiences on offer in Queenstown and surrounds, everyone loves a trip to Central. Within the Central Otago wine producing region itself, there are six sub regions: the Cromwell Basin, Bendigo, Bannockburn, Gibbston, Alexandra and Wanaka. Many people assume Central Otago wines all come from Queenstown (the Gibbston Valley) but there is a lot more to Central than just Queenstown.
Pinot Noir is the dominant variety here and many of New Zealand’s most famous Pinot’s hail from Central. Decanter wine magazine name Central Otago as one of the best fine New World wine producing regions. Other varieties grown in Central include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.
Best Central Otago Wineries to visit according to TripAdvisor:
One Central Otago wine you must try:
Visiting Central Otago wineries on your New Zealand trip
Many travellers will already be planning to spend a few days in Queenstown or Wanaka on their itinerary, so including visits to wineries is easy. If you’re driving yourself there are many to choose from to make up a scenic fun filled day. You could fill a leisurely day of wineries and sights by visiting the popular Amisfield, Gibbston Valley and Chard Farm, all within 30 minutes of Queenstown, and make time for other scenic spots like Arrowtown and the Kawarau Gorge as well.
From Wanaka, the closest (and the one with the best view) is Rippon, right on the shores of Lake Wanaka, just 10 minutes from town.
From both Queenstown and Wanaka there are guided tours that will pick you up right at your accommodation and take care of all the details for you. Another really popular option is cycling on the new Queenstown - Gibbston River Trail, you can now cycle all the way from Queenstown to the Gibbston wineries on this new off cycling & walking trail. You can even get someone to come and get you if you don’t feel like the full return journey.
The main wine growing area of Canterbury is the Waipara Valley, just north of Christchurch. With warm summers, cold winters and good soil, Canterbury wines are renowned for their rich flavours. One of New Zealand’s newer wine regions, the Waipara Valley began production in the late 1970s. Canterbury has a reputation for excellent and elegant Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and aromatics.
Most of Canterbury’s wineries are close to Christchurch, but don’t think the Waipara Valley is the only place to visit. There are excellent wineries near Hanmer Springs and on the road to Akaroa too, easily visited on these popular day trip routes.
The best Canterbury wineries according to TripAdvisor:
One Canterbury wine you have to try:
Visiting Canterbury Wineries on your New Zealand trip
As the gateway to the South Island, many travellers will spend a night or two in Christchurch and take the opportunity to visit surrounding areas. Popular day tour destinations are Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura and Akaroa, which all have wineries on route to visit. You can drive yourself or take day tours from Christchurch.
For real wine connoisseurs the Waipara Valley, north of Christchurch is the place to visit, this is on the way to both Kaikoura and Hanmer Spring. For those travelling South after crossing the Cook Strait by ferry, a stop over in Kaikoura will be the perfect place to stay before visiting the Waipara Valley on the way South the following day.
This New Zealand wineries guide for travellers has been written by your friends at MoaTrek, we’ve been running small group tours around New Zealand since the 1970s and over that time, we’ve figured out where the best wines and wineries are. Our tours visit most of the above winery regions and include winery lunches and time for visits to some of our best known and popular wineries. See more information on our small group tours here.
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