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There are some things that just don’t go together, and it’s safe to say a road trip and a shedload of wineries is a combo pretty high on that list. But (yes, there’s always a but) if you are responsible, this route around Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Wellington and Marlborough is pretty special – just leave the tasting to the end of the driving day. Along the signposted 380km, you’ll be met with not only world-class wineries, but also some incredible foodie experiences along the way. Loosen your belts, this one is fun.
Art Deco dreamland Napier is your starting point to explore the vineyards of Hawke’s Bay. There are more than you can count, and they are all within easy reach of this friendly seaside town. And if you need a break from the grape, head down the coast to Cape Kidnappers for the gannet colony, the golf and the views.
Then it’s time to swap the coast for some greener pastures, straight down the middle of the North Island, south on SH2. As you head towards Wairarapa and Martinborough, you’ll certainly see a lot of livestock and farm life, but if you make a stop at Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, you might even see the world’s only white kiwi in captivity.
Rural New Zealand can be utterly bewitching – who hasn’t thought about making a move to the country after driving through the rolling hills and idyllic pastures – but it’s the people that make this part of the country great. Along SH2, there are so many eclectic and interesting towns to stop for a coffee or icecream – or something a bit more fun. There’s the famous Tui Brewery in Mangatainoka of course, and in Carterton there’s a working replica of England’s Stonehenge that is well worth swinging off the main drag to see.
The real pay-off however, is arriving in Martinborough, with its 20-plus wineries, all within cycling or walking distance of the village square. Stretch the legs, and the elbows, and make the most of a night here.
When the sun rises, set the GPS for the capital. The drive will take a little over an hour, but you might need to allow some time at Featherston’s C’est Cheese, with treats from around the country. A pitstop here will give you something to snack on as you journey over the Remutaka Ranges – and might stop your jaw from dropping at the heavenly vistas in every direction.
Wellington is full to the brim with gastronomic joy, but you’re really here for the ferry. Your passage across the Cook Strait must obviously be booked in advance, but for almost four hours, you can step away from the car, marvel at the Marlborough Sounds (and try not to sing the Interislander song to yourself for the entire sailing).
Arriving in Picton, you are just a short drive up SH1 and across the Wairau Plains to Blenheim. You will get a taste for the area’s wineries as you pass vineyards along the way. In fact, there are more than 20 wineries within driving distance of Blenheim.