New Zealand’s Classic Wine Route


Nelson, New Zealand
Visitors can stroll among the vines and do some wine tasting in Nelson, New Zealand.

Maureen Jones, president of All Horizons Travel, Inc., a division of Frosch Travel Group, is a Kiwi (New Zealand) Specialist, a Premier Aussie Specialist and a Luxury Travel Expo Top Educator of the Year. Here she provides a firsthand, expert account of a tour through New Zealand wine country.

I have been all over the world and one of my favorite countries is New Zealand. It reminds me of home— Western Scotland—plus spectacular scenery like Switzerland, Norway and Austria, all rolled into two small islands. Even if you are not a wine buff, the Classic Wine Trail is a lovely route to take. It has more than 100 cellar doors along the North Island journey, and memorable tasting experiences, that bring the trail to life.

The people you meet with 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 three 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 your clients will encounter along the way, they’ll 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. 

Classic Wine Trail

This route starts at Napier on the North Island, along State Highway 2, which is easy to follow, since it is sign-posted as the Classic Wine Trail, going to Masterton, three hours 20 minutes, then Martinborough, Wellington, three hours 15 minutes, then over to the South Island by air, 30 minutes, or ferry to Picton, which takes just over three hours, 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 suggest leaving the rental car in Wellington, and picking up another upon arrival in Picton. It is cheaper to do it this way, and I love the ferry ride through the Marlborough Sound (as will your clients). 

If they want to take side trips, not related to wine, I can recommend Napier to Rotorua, the Maori area of New Zealand. It’s a three-hour drive, and well worth going to a Hangi (Maori feast and concert) and seeing the bubbling steaming ponds with fantastic color.

Lake Taupo is another good destination, two hours from Napier where there is 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 perfect place to take hikes, or rent a kayak or canoe. One can also take a guided hiking walk for several days.

Marlborough, New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc reaches its full potential in the dry, sunny climate of Marlborough, New Zealand.


Head south along the coast Blenheim to Kaikoura (one hour 35 minutes), which is a spot to stop and take a whale tour—they are there all year. From Kaikoura to Christchurch it is only a two-hour and 30-minute drive.

Some points of interest and suggestions 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. There is a wonderful golf course to play on.

Wairarapa has Cape Palliser lighthouse for spectacular views. 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

In Wellington, my number one favorite is the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. 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 wine lovers 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 history buffs is the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre where the stories of pioneer aviation heroes of WWI are brought to life. Then bike, hike or kayak along Queen Charlotte Track—one of the easiest of New Zealand’s 200 hiking trails.