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New Zealand's Wine Country

June 11, 2013 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent


Vineyards of New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay
Verdant vineyards such as this one in Havelock North are a common sight for anyone touring Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.

Earthquakes usually crush any hope of tourism in the path of its destruction, but in the case of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, Mother Nature’s fury actually led to a tourism revival for the small town of Napier and the region as a whole. On a recent visit to the North Island’s wine country, we took part in an informative guided tour offered by the Art Deco Trust, during which we learned all about both the devastation the earthquake of 1931 brought to the town of Napier and also how the 7.8-magnitude earthquake helped reshape the region’s history, aesthetics and heritage. 

Travel Agent breaks down this tour and more as we give you all the selling points you’ll need to send clients to this booming wine country off New Zealand’s beaten path.

Traditionally, New Zealand has been looked at as a destination to pair with Australia, but Travel Agent can vouch that New Zealand, particularly Hawke’s Bay, has enough legs to host a vacation that stands on its own. All kinds of guests—from foodies to art enthusiasts to bird watchers—will find something of interest in Hawke’s Bay, located on the North Island’s eastern coast.

Hawke’s Bay is primarily known for its award-winning wines, but the region that bears the former name of what is now Hawke Bay, a large semi-circular bay that spans 62 miles from the Mahia Peninsula in the northeast to Cape Kidnappers in the southwest, has so much more to offer.

Art Deco Tours

Our first full day in Hawke’s Bay kicked off with a little art history lesson in the small town of Napier, widely considered the Art Deco capital of the world. We took part in the “Guided Walk + Vintage Car Tour,” where we learned about the aforementioned earthquake.. We were escorted by experienced tour guides Tony Mairs and David Brock in a 1939 Packard Six classic automobile.

According to Mairs, the earthquake of 1931 killed 261 people. Shorty after the quake, more than 6,000 tradesmen from all over New Zealand came to Napier to rebuild the town. So why rebuild it? Because of “the gift,” Mairs says, referring to several thousand new acres of land that were created when the quake raised the sea floor by about eight feet. 

Through the rebuild, the Art Deco style, which in its simplest form is basically a reinforced concrete box, was born. In the years that followed, however, architects from all over the world began putting their personal touches on these buildings, making this era an “architect’s dream,” says Mairs, because they basically had free rein to put their stamp on these otherwise plain buildings.

Twenty-two months after the quake, a carnival was held to celebrate the new Napier, which was hailed as “the most modern town in the world,” says Mairs. Most of the original Art Deco buildings were eventually lost and later rebuilt in 1986. The only factor keeping UNESCO from naming Napier a World Heritage Site is that not enough time has passed since 1986, Mairs adds.

Vintage Car Tours
Vintage Car Tours are a splendid way to see the town of Napier in all its Art Deco glory.

Our first stop was the Napier Port, which saw calls from 66 cruise ships this year, a leap from the 29 ships the port brought in just three years ago, Mairs says. Ships calling at the port include several major lines, such as Cunard Line, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line.

Other highlights of the tour were a stop at the iconic National Tobacco Company building, the Daily Telegraph building and the Napier Municipal Theatre, which was built in 1931 shortly after the town was reconstructed from the earthquake. The building has two of the first neon lights in all of New Zealand and is still an immensely popular place to see live shows. In fact, the theater once staged and sold out 19 performances of “Les Miserables,” and just last month the Moscow Ballet La Classique performed their masterpiece “The Nutcracker” there.

Strolling through this town is like taking a step back in time. The skyline is also very easy on the eyes as no utility wires obstruct the view. According to Mairs, when the town was rebuilt, all the wires were put underground to preserve the beauty of the skyline. And it worked. 

Walking Tours start at as little as $15. Agents should note that Car Tours are for a maximum of four people, but cost $150 whether you have four clients or just one, so tell clients to car pool. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reach out to General Manager Sally Jackson ([email protected]) with any queries.

Where to Stay

While in Hawke’s Bay, Travel Agent stayed at one of the finest luxury resorts in New Zealand—The Farm, Cape Kidnappers. This Relais & Chateaux resort is the ultimate combination of old-fashioned, classic elegance and modern chic. The modern touches are very subtle and tasteful and in no way interfere with the classic vibe of the hotel. For example, all flat-screen TVs in the rooms are hidden behind either paintings or colonial style cabinets with curtains. There are speakers in the ceilings of the living rooms and bathroom, iPod docking stations, and free Wi-Fi with no log-in or password required.

Premiere Lodge Suite at the Farm, Cape Kidnappers
A typically bright and airy Premiere Lodge Suite at the Farm, Cape Kidnappers, a Relais & Chateaux hotel.


Our room #13 was a Hilltop Suite with a king-size bed and a small balcony with incredible views of the farm and the Pacific Ocean. The minibar is stocked with liquor, beer, nonalcoholic drinks and snacks; everything except the liquor is free. A pitcher of fresh lemon water stands near the nightstand. and is refilled by the hotel staff every night. The room also comes with a small walk-in closet and old-fashioned locks. To add to that old-world feel, all rooms include pencils instead of pens. Two Hilltop Suites have the option to add an interconnecting second smaller bedroom, a convenient option for families.

The best rooms here are located in the Owner’s Cottage, which is a four-bedroom accommodation that can sleep as many as 12 people since extra beds can be added on request. Wine-pairing dinners can also be arranged in the rooms. This cottage is well-suited for a family or group of friends traveling together. All four deluxe bedrooms come with fireplaces, large bathrooms, walk-in closets, minibars and private balconies overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The large living room has a stone fireplace, generously-sized open-plan kitchen and dining area. 

The cottage also comes with two smaller sitting rooms, each with fireplaces, TVs and comfortable seating. It also has an outdoor Jacuzzi and a stone terrace. The Owner’s Cottage can be rented as a two-bedroom or four-bedroom house.

The property also gives an array of tours. We highly suggest the once-in-a-lifetime Kiwi Discovery Walk, where clients are taken through the Cape Sanctuary to look for kiwis. An interesting fact about these birds is that though they lay eggs, they are mammal-like in many respects. They are sometimes called New Zealand’s “honorary mammal.” The kiwi is endemic to New Zealand.

There are five species, all of which are endangered. Finding them is not terribly difficult—the Environmental Services that monitor these birds have fixed tracking devices on the birds’ feet. No worries, animal lovers. The specialists on property check these devices often to make sure they are not hurting the bird or causing an infection. To book one of these tours in advance, travel agents should contact John McLennan ([email protected]), the sanctuary advisor and a kiwi expert, who along with his team leads the Kiwi Discovery Walk.

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is definitely a must for all foodies and wine enthusiasts. The service is impeccable and the staff can meet most requests. Agents should direct any questions to Kerry Molloy ([email protected]), general manager.

Hawke’s Bay
Hawke’s Bay wineries such as Elephant Hill have various tours and tastings.

If it’s something a little bit more budget-friendly and less over-the-top that your clients are looking for, we suggest the modest Navigate Seaside Accommodation. It’s a very simple hotel with all the fixtures you’ll need to enjoy your stay in the Hawke’s Bay area, and the rooms are also very elegant and spacious. Navigate has 26 rooms in all spread over three levels, with the ground-floor rooms all opening onto a large courtyard area and the others having private balconies. It’s conveniently located in Ahuriri, Napier, a vibrant and colorful seaside village. Navigate is the chic, fun place to stay in the Bay.

Agents should get in touch with Andrew Buenter ([email protected]), onsite manager, who can answer any questions.

Attention Bird Watchers

For any birding enthusiasts among your clientele, suggest the Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony, where we took a tour with Gannet Safaris. We went on a bus ride to see some incredible landscape, tons of sheep and cows, and small groupings of gannets. Cape Kidnappers is one of the world’s largest and most accessible mainland colonies of these fish-eating seabirds. Guests can come and see these amazing avians nesting, preening, flying and performing the famous recognition ritual, the “dance of the gannets.” 

Unfortunately for us, the wind kept them from doing anything but singing and making poor attempts to fly, but perhaps your clients will have better luck. Having said that, it was a stunning excursion even without any bird drama. While the gannets are incredible to watch, the amazing views from some of the cliffs defy description and scream “Facebook cover shot.” 

The roundtrip takes three hours and the driver/guides have extensive knowledge of the gannets and the farm property. This is a totally unique experience that cannot be repeated anywhere in the world. Daily tours depart at 9.30 a.m. and return by 12.30 p.m., with a second tour departing at 1.30 p.m. and returning by 4.30 p.m. These tours run from September 1-April 30. 

Agents should get in touch with Manager Michael Neilson ([email protected]) for any questions.

Learn About the Maori

Maori tradition is very important in New Zealand as it helped shape the country into what it is today and many of its practices are still kept alive. For a great introduction to the culture and its many customs, we highly recommend the Waimaramamaori Tours at Hakikino. Guests will be honored with songs and other welcome rituals. The tour also throws light on  the legends and traditional talents of the Maoris. Agents should reach out to Anne Maloney ([email protected]), the company’s marketing manager, for more information.

Best Wineries of Hawke’s Bay

The first winery we hit upon during our stay in Hawke’s Bay was also the oldest. In fact, Mission Estate is not only Hawke’s Bay’s very first winery, but it is also the oldest winery in all of New Zealand. Beautifully restored, the award-winning restaurant in this historical seminary (which became a winery roughly 20 years ago) in the Taradale hills dishes out lunch and dinner and has sweeping views of vineyards, Napier and the coast beyond. 

We had the privilege of eating lunch here and highly recommend the braised crackled pork belly with a glass of Mission Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2010. Just about every wine we tasted was excellent, but our favorites were the Chardonnay and the Mission Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, which is very light and sweet and goes very well with lamb. Agents should mention that all tastings here are free. For bookings, contact Brand Manager Kathryn McGarvey ([email protected]). 

We concluded our first day in Hawke’s Bay with a dinner and wine pairing at the second winery on our to-do list, Craggy Range Winery. From its vantage point at the base of the Te Mata Peak escarpment, Craggy Range offers spectacular scenery. Respecting the legend of The Fallen Giant, Craggy Range has named its home Giants Winery.


Te Mata Peak
Clients can hike, bike or drive up Te Mata Peak for spectacular views in every direction.


At the heart of the Giants Winery complex is the Craggy Range Cellar Door, a fitting setting for tasting its single vineyard vintages, many of which are not available elsewhere. For a well-matched food-and-wine experience, head to the Terroir Restaurant, which serves lunch and dinner. Three words of advice: Order the clams. Craggy Range is also a popular wedding destination and includes two self-contained cottages. A third cottage is slated to come onboard later this year, says Tracey McInnes, hospitality manager. 

One of Hawke’s Bay’s newest wineries, Elephant Hill, is an architectural marvel, located in Te Awanga, looking across to the Pacific Ocean with excellent views of Cape Kidnappers. A trip here is incomplete without taking back a bottle or two of Chardonnay. Agents should contact Vince Labat ([email protected]), head of marketing.

If one winery per day doesn’t suit your clients’ desires, tell them about the Winery Tours from On Yer Bike. New Zealand has 19 official cycle trails—three of them in Hawke’s Bay, best-known as the Hawke’s Bay Trails.

Travel Agent also took part in the “wineries ride,” taking in the cellar doors and vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa wine-growing areas. On Yer Bike offers a unique, one-day, cycling experience, giving visitors the opportunity to taste some of Hawke’s Bay’s finest foods and wines while enjoying the scenery. 

The total distance around the Ngatarawa Triangle, including six wineries, is roughly 17 miles. The terrain is flat and easy to ride on. Agents should book these tours weeks in advance if you have clients going in the very popular months of February and March as there are only about 50 bikes available. 

The best wineries we saw on this tour were Trinity Hill; Ash Ridge Wines, which is where the bike tour begins; and Ngatarawa. Trinity Hill has three ranges of wines including its renowned Homage wine and the vineyard’s top-of-the-line Syrah that goes for roughly $120 a bottle. Our favorite wine here, however, was the much more affordable 2011 Arneis, an Italian food-friendly white variety that goes excellently with cheeses and cold cuts. Agents should reach out to Trinity Hill’s CEO Michael Henley ([email protected]).

In late 2008, the Wilcock and Peet family established Ash Ridge Wines to produce a range of premium wines using fruit from their own vineyards. The winery now produces a range of four wines, two from each vineyard. The best wine here is the Syrah, which was a little less peppery than the other bottles of Syrah we had on this tour, making it smoother and slightly crisper to drink.

Agents should contact Chris Wilcock ([email protected]), the proprietor, or Sales Manager Simon Bell ([email protected]).

Ngatarawa is located in the Bridge Pa Triangle, a sub-region of Hawke’s Bay on the old Ngaruroro riverbed. This is a smaller, boutique winery with perhaps the best Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc we tried on our trip. Questions can be directed to Joanne Smith ([email protected]), public relations and account manager.


The wineries in Hawke’s Bay do serve meals, but for standalone dining options, we suggest the trendy Milk & Honey. Attached to The Crown Hotel in historic Ahuriri, this chic restaurant overlooks the water and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. Chef Paolo Pancotti, from Milan, offers an Italian-influenced menu matched to owner Sean Burn’s eclectic wine list. We recommend the Wakanui beef entrée and the figs as an appetizer if they are in season. 

Also, tell clients about the unique breakfast spot, Mister D’s, which is known for its fill-your-own donut offerings. They give you an empty, sugar-covered donut. You then choose which fillings you would like, with custard and chocolate being the most popular ones. The filling is brought to clients in a plastic syringe. You then inject the donut with as much or as many as you like. Keep it simple and go with the chocolate and custard.


Trenz 2013

The impetus for Travel Agent‘s visit to New Zealand was to attend the annual TRENZ show, which has been described as the country’s biggest travel industry show of the year. Here’s some highlights.

John Key
John Key, New Zealand’s Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism

We had the privilege of sitting down with New Zealand’s Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, John Key, who told us that there will be an aggressive push to promote the destination to U.S. agents. Key recently released details of budget initiatives for tourism, including roughly $28 million for business events and $17 million to attract very high-value clients.

As part of a larger internationally-focused growth package, the government is investing an additional $132 million in tourism through Budget 2013 to attract more visitors to New Zealand, particularly high-spending ones.Key told us that roughly $23.5 million of those funds will be used to promote New Zealand’s core markets, which includes the U.S. The money allocated toward U.S. marketing will be used primarily to advertise the destination via digital media and to advocate the destination to agents.

Key told us that one of the main benefits of getting more agents to the country is to help sell New Zealand’s luxury offerings, something that often gets ignored by the U.S. market, primarily because people fail to associate the outdoor adventure offerings that New Zealand has with luxury.

“We can do a better job in the industry of promoting our luxury products,” Key told Travel Agent. “Some of our luxury products are up there with some of the best in the world. This is to ensure that we give the same world-class experience.”

Some emerging markets for New Zealand include India, Indonesia and South America, while the destination’s core markets continue to be the U.S., Canada, China and Australia. Travel from the U.S. increased a whopping 24 percent for the month of March mainly due to the popularity of the Peter Jackson film, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Luxury continues to be a niche market New Zealand is looking to target out of the U.S. simply because a strong New Zealand economy has resulted in increased cost to travel to the destination.

As for air service, Travel Agent learned that Air New Zealand will look into expanding to some new emerging markets in the U.S. somewhere down the line, but is currently focused on adding flights to existing U.S. markets such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

TRENZ, which was hosted by Queenstown in 2011 and 2012, will return to Auckland next year.


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About the Author

Joe Pike
Joe Pike is Travel Agent's senior editor covering the Caribbean, Bahamas & Bermuda; Hawaii; Central & South America. Previously, Pike was a newspaper reporter for The Asbury Park...

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By Joe Pike | June 11, 2013
Travel Agent recently toured the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island and found exotic birds, an Art Deco rebirth, elegant luxury resorts and a bountiful supply of wine.