I have been all over the world and one of my favorite countries is New Zealand.
It reminds me of home – Western Scotland – plus has Switzerland, Norway, and Austria's spectacular scenery all rolled into one small island.
Even if you are not a wine buff, this is a lovely route to take. It has more than 100 cellar doors along the North Island journey, memorable tasting experiences which bring the trail to life.
The people you meet have an intense passion for wine, matched by an immense knowledge of how it’s made. This is a wonderful mild maritime climate (75 degrees is a heat wave), and with just over 3 million people and 66 million sheep, you are never in a traffic jam.
Encompassing Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Wellington (the capital) and Marlborough, the journey takes you on a drive through regions accounting for more than 80 percent of New Zealand’s wine production. Combined with farmers' markets, great little restaurants, and artisan food producers you encounter along the way, you will experience a great food and wine adventure. You can rent a bike to wander around the wineries, have fantastic picnics, take wine and cooking classes, and play golf on some outstanding courses.
The route starts at Napier on the North Island, along State Highway 2 which is easy to follow since it is signposted as the Classic Wine Trail, going to Masterton, 3 hours 20 minutes, then Martinborough, Wellington, 3 hours 15 minutes, then over to the South Island by air, 30 minutes, or ferry to Picton, which takes just over three hours, then pick up a car and drive 25 minutes to Blenheim, which is the region where the famous Sauvignon Blanc is made. My favorite wine is Cloudy Bay. I bought a special padded wine carrier so I can always bring a bottle home in the middle of my suitcase. I would leave your car in Wellington, and pick up one when you get to Picton. Cheaper to do it this way and I love the ferry ride through the Marlborough Sound.
If you want to take side trips not related to wine, I can recommend Napier to Rotorua, the Maori area of New Zealand. It’s a 3 hour drive, and well worth going to a Hangi (a Maori feast and concert) and seeing the bubbling steaming ponds with fantastic color.
Lake Taupo is another good destination, 2 hours from Napier. Great trout fishing.
Once you are on the South Island, Nelson is a lovely little town, full of art galleries and unique shops. Abel Tasman National Park is a lovely place to take hikes, or rent a kayak or canoe. You can also take a guided hiking walk for several days.
Head south along the coast from Blenheim to Kaikoura, 1.hour 35 minutes which is a spot to stop and take a whale tour which are there all year. From Kaikoura to Christchurch is only a 2.hour 30 minute drive.
Some important tips for sightseeing along the route: In Hawke’s Bay, take a walking tour around Napier and see the Art Deco architecture. Take a safari to Cape Kidnappers, home to the world’s largest gannet colony; this is also a wonderful golf course to play on.
Wairarapa has Cape Palliser lighthouse for spectacular views and eat at the Lake Ferry Hotel. Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre is home to endangered species, including the Kiwi. Take a tour of the Tui Brewery at Mangatainoka.
Some of the Maori words and names of places are awful to get your tongue around.
In Wellington, my number one favorite is Te Papa National Museum. I could spend a day there and usually always do Christmas shopping in the lovely museum shop full of New Zealand crafts. Take a cable car ride from Lambton Quay up to the Botanical Gardens.
In the South Island, Marlborough put New Zealand on the map with its medal winning Sauvignon Blanc white wine. It is home to 142 wineries, mostly small boutique family producers.
Take a tour of the Greenshell Mussel farm.
A must-see for men is the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, where the stories of pioneer aviation heroes of WWI are brought to life.
Bike, hike, or kayak the Queen Charlotte Track, which is one of the easiest of the 200 hiking trails.
It's a very special place – you will enjoy New Zealand. It has air that only the angels breathe.