New Zealand’s North and South Islands are collectively the size of California, which is barely big enough to contain the nation’s impressive collection of mammoth glaciers, rain forests, towering mountains, pristine beaches, and active volcanoes. And somehow, amongst these colossal swathes of natural beauty, those crafty Kiwis found enough space to fit in 400 wineries, much to the satisfaction of wine lovers worldwide.
The island nation in the south, South Pacific has been producing wines since the late 1700s, but the country’s geographic isolation has kept its prized Pinots and remarkable Rieslings under wraps. That all changed in 1985 when Cloudy Bay released a Sauvignon Blanc that captured the world’s attention.
New Zealand winemakers have not looked back since, making the most of their unique combination of volcanic soil and sunny climate to produce a variety of varietals not only of superior quality, but also that taste distinctly different than the same style of wines made elsewhere. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand producers have mastered a number of cool weather whites, including Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris. Red wine lovers should not fear, for Syrah is growing in popularity, while the Pinot Noir is becoming the country’s second most loved vino after Sauvignon Blanc.
New Zealand wineries are found on both the North and South Island, so wine lovers can cover most of the country, sip to sip from tip to tip, on a self-guided car trip, or an organized wine tour. Either way, you will enjoy world-class wines with famous winemakers, stunning and diverse scenery, and the Kiwi’s own take on Pacific rim cuisine that’s gaining as much popularity as their wines.
Numerous wine tours exist of different durations and luxury, so choosing one may depend on your preference for an individual vintner or style. But if you simply want to sample a wide variety of the very best from both islands, you should aim for these four key regions: Waiheke Island, Hawkes Bay, Marlborough, and Central Otago.
Your tour starts soon after your plane lands in Auckland, where you will take a short boat ride to the “Island Suburb” of Waiheke Island. Due to its sheltered position in the Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke’s climate is sunny and dry, especially during the critical grape-ripening period. Known to many as the Bordeaux of the South Pacific, Waiheke has more than 30 wineries nestled in its lush valleys, many of which concentrate on making complex reds that regularly win awards all over the world.
Your next tasting target is further down the coast of the North Island—legendary Hawkes Bay, a sun-drenched land home to 40 wineries. Oenophiles are drawn to Hawke’s Bay for its limited-edition wines, cheese rooms, culinary schools, and wine museums. If that’s not enough, you can also tour art deco architecture in Napier, a city reborn after an earthquake and fire leveled it in 1931, and climb Te Mata Peak for a stunning view of the green-carpeted landscape.
At the southern end of the island, amid spectacular alpine scenery, is Central Otago, the world’s southernmost winemaking region. The nation’s best Pinot Noir is grown in Otago in vineyards planted up to 400 meters above sea level. Several wine trails can be found throughout the region, even one near Queenstown that lets you sample wines in New Zealand’s largest underground wine cave.
Wine caves or sunny bays, there are hundreds of unforgettable locales to sample hundreds of unforgettable wines throughout New Zealand. To add unforgettable travel plans to that equation, contact a trusted travel agent. Agents are skilled and experienced professionals who can add the extraordinary to your journey, like a hot air balloon ride over a glacier or a tour of beautiful Christchurch, giving you a well-balanced vacation filled with your destination’s very best.