Escape as much of the sizzling Perth February as humanly possible. Visit Martinborough in the Wairarapa wine region, home to the best Pinot Noir Bill claims to have ever put to his lips. Spend some time in Wellington just because it’s there and easy to combine with Martinborough. Spend a couple of weeks in two locations on the South Island, the goal to drive less and relax more.
The Flights, all on Air New Zealand:
1) PER - AKL – purchased Premium Economy tickets; placed a bid (One-Up) for Business Class, which was accepted on the outbound flight. Not crazy about the seats, felt confined, layout strange (787 Dreamliner). Food, wine, entertainment system and service = excellent.
2) Wellington to Queenstown - incredible views from the right side of the plane as we approached Queenstown
3) Queenstown to Auckland
4) AKL - PER - Premium Economy, awesome. Best food we’ve ever had on a plane, hands down.
I never will tire of the barista service in Air NZ’s Koru Lounges.
Where we slept:
Auckland Airport Novotel – day room following our overnight flight from Perth (to sleep before late afternoon flight to Wellington).
Car Rental: APEX – our usual – had an issue with the car while in Wanaka, but APEX came through bless ‘em – sent an employee from Queenstown to drop off a replacement car. Struggled a bit in Wellington Airport though, had trouble locating free phone, and then our call went to voice-mail, which did not bode well, but we got it sorted. We logged a total of 2,241 kilometers between three cars on both islands over 20 days...a fraction of what we usually drive, which was pretty much the whole idea in the first place.
A sleepy small town (our favorite kind) in Pinot Noir country, 65 km north-east of Wellington. We were here to eat and drink; the restaurants/cafes have staggered opening days, so we booked several places in advance; can’t be going hungry in wine country! Cafes don’t open until 8:30 am, which is late for us.
Where we slept:
Pinot Villas – three nights, perfect, exceptional location, easy walk to town square.
Where we ate and drank:
Cool Change - mellow retro bar and eatery, beautiful atmosphere in former post office, great place for a glass of grape and tapas, loved our light nosh of heated olives with feta, regret we didn’t have time for an encore ($37.50 with wine).
Village Café – filling breakfast, but Huevos Rancheros was heavy on the beans, chintzy on the huevos. Smashed avo and tomato on toast with haloumi was a match made in heaven, but too much food for me ($50 with flat whites), made a return trip for their excellent coffee.
Bloom @ Murdoch James Estate – splash out winery lunch, booked in advance. Bill loved the Monkfish, my vegetable fritters were less of a success, a shared white chocolate poached pear brulee and affogatos were delicious, wine lovely ($111). Nice views, beautiful décor, accommodating service.
Poppies – my favorite Martinborough winery, adored Poppy, her wine philosophy and her contagious enthusiasm – no menus here, just asked if we had any food issues, then served up a nice varied platter of house made products on their patio. Pigs that we are, we ordered dessert too, a fabulous lemon coconut tart for Bill, a so-so chocolate chili tart for me, excellent wine and service, two thumbs up ($122).
Tirohana Estate – Just WOW. Owner came to pick us up, all part of the service. Fixed price three course dinner $59 each ($167 with nice bottle of Leslie Reserve Pinot Noir). Cream of roasted tomato soup, spinach and ricotta pasta for me – can’t remember the last time I consumed so much butter, thought my arteries would clog on the spot, rich and decadent. Salmon fishcakes and a perfectly cooked rare sirloin made Bill’s night. In lieu of dessert we asked for affogatos, they were happy to oblige and even included a shot of Kahlua, which the waitress struggled to pronounce. Beautiful food, elegant surroundings, relaxed service, brilliant all around. FWIW, Tirohana is situated on Martinborough’s ‘golden mile’.
Café Medici – Bill enjoyed their Eggs Bennie, I had a nice savory muffin, but we weren’t crazy about their flat whites ($32.50)
Vineyard Café at Margrain - they don’t open until 11, so we had brunch here the morning we left for Wellington. Spanish eggs for Bill, corn fritters and manuka smoked bacon for me, glass of wine for both. Good food, nice alfresco area overlooking the vines, $52.50.
Our villa patio – perfect place to sample some of the numerous bottles of wine we purchased. Nice makeshift platter made from goods sourced at the local 4 Square market.
Cellar doors we visited not mentioned above:
Martinborough Vineyard, home to that much anticipated Pinot Noir, unfortunately 2006 was an exceptional year, and subsequent vintages can’t compete, much to Bill’s disappointment. Never mind, we bought some 2012 Burnt Spur anyway.
Ata Rangi – beautiful Riesling (which is Mel speak for bone dry)
What we did (besides eat and drink):
Drove to Lake Ferry and Cape Palliser on the recommendation of our accommodation host - he’d also mentioned Ngawi, a small fishing village, but we failed to see the allure. We climbed the 250 steps to the Palliser Lighthouse, explored Onoke Spit and visited the seal colony. The scenery paled in comparison to the South Island and frankly, it didn’t do much for us.
We’d hoped to take the Palliser Vineyard Walk, but it was closed due to bird shooting. No, they don’t actually shoot the birds, but they fire gas guns to scare them away from the grapes. We heard gas guns on a regular basis throughout our stay. Oddly, we didn’t hear a single gas gun on the South Island.
We took the Rapaki Hillside Walk, a 2.5 mile trek through farmland and up a hill for some nice views; it took us about 1:15.
We mindlessly wandered the back country roads, convinced at one point that we were utterly lost, but eventually found our way back to Martinborough.
The weather ranged from an overnight 7c (cold enough to make us wish we’d packed our down slippers) to 32c.
We really enjoyed Martinborough, it’s our kind of place. The food and wine on offer in this town of 1,326 people is pretty amazing and its proximity to Wellington makes it easy to reach. We found the people friendly, helpful and relaxed. The landscape reminded us of Blenheim, and while pretty in its own way, the scenery certainly didn’t knock our socks off
Up next: Wellington
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