The past few weekends were spent lounging around the house, visiting cafes and eating copious amounts of wings and fries. Now, I’m all for R&R but I also get a bit ‘squirrely’ when I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything. This past weekend we switched things up and drove four hours up the North Island to Napier for a weekend away from the city. *Note that it took five hours because of my superb navigation skills.
Napier is a unique city – and much bigger than I’d anticipated. Part of the City Centre was rebuilt after a massive earthquake in the 1930s, and now boasts an abundance of Art Deco buildings from that era. Now there’s your history lesson for the day.
We spent two nights at The Nautilus on Marine Parade. Our perch from the second floor was stunning: unobstructed views of the ocean and Cape Kidnappers in the distance. We were just far enough from the City Centre to avoid the crowds of tourists, but just close enough to walk to dozens of restaurants and the bike shop where we began our wine tour on Saturday morning.
The Vineyard Tour
I wasn’t initially sold on the idea of biking from vineyard to vineyard, but decided it would be a good idea to burn some calories while drinking a lot of wine. Brilliant, right? So we booked ourselves in with Napier City Bike Tours on the “Country to Coast” self-guided tour. I think this was a great package: we were dropped off about 20 minutes out of the city at 10:30am, bike 16km and stopped at six cellar doors, then we were picked up and shuttled back to the city at 4:00pm.
Any reservations I’d had about biking around the vineyards quickly disappeared. This was an excellent way to spend a Saturday: The sun was shining and temps were around 25 degrees all day. Each vineyard was unique and special in its own way – differentiated by their host, scenery, wine offerings, and history of the vineyard. We visited:
- Black Barn Vineyards
- Te Mata Estate (*Best experience with the host, tastings, etc.)
- Akarangi (*Most unique setting in a church and best wine overall)
- Beach House Wines
- Te Awanga Estate
- Elephant Hill Estate
Above: Te Mata and Beach House
Our wine choices
We purchased wine from both Te Mata and Akarangi. The funny thing about wine is that there are two types I will always avoid: Shiraz and Chardonnay. They just don’t do it for me (I actually had to dump out my Chardonnay tasting at Black Barn).
However… Our favourite wine at Te Mata was a Syrah (related to the Shiraz grape) and the Chardonnay from Akarangi. The fact that I bought Chardonnay speaks volumes for this vineyard. We learned from the owner that they’d produced wine in previous years, shut down the business for family reasons, and have only just started producing wine again since late 2016. Their wines are currently online and at their cellar door (which happens to be a church, relocated from nearby Clive). Akarangi was certainly my top pick for location, chill vibes and beautiful wines.
Note: Another bonus of the tour is that you can leave your purchases at the vineyard and the shuttle driver will collect them before meeting you at your pick-up location. That was a much-appreciated perk.
The unexpected highlight
Near Te Mata vineyard is a café called Chalk ‘n’ Cheese. Do not bypass this place. We stopped in for a cheeseboard and while choosing our selection had a full cheese-tasting experience. I cannot recall the exact cheese we decided on but everything was incredible – and the woman conducting the tasting was very knowledgeable. She also had a very dry sense of humor, which came through when Brett remarked that one of the cheeses would “taste good in a toastie” and her reply to me (with an eyeroll) was, “I am so sorry for this Kiwi man.”
We sat outside underneath beautiful, ripe fig trees. I know they were ripe because one plummeted down onto my arm and exploded with fig juice. A man, whom I’m assuming is a regular, looked at me and said “Oh, you got figged on!”.
Yes, yes I did.
Aside from the fig incident, this was the perfect pit stop on our bike tour, and I couldn’t recommend it enough for anyone in the area.
Dining out in Napier
After arriving back in the city we went on an evening bike ride to find some food. Honestly, we just wanted pizza. While we were cycling around the “non-tourist” area of town looking for Hell Pizza, we came across Dough Pizzeria. It looked much more inviting than the mob of hungry takeaway patrons at Hell, so we parked our bikes outside of Dough and went in. The wood fire pizza was delicious and reminded me of a place back in Newfoundland that serves authentic, Italian-style pizza (or so I assume since I’ve never been to Italy). I opted for the Mediterranean simply for the black olives, and Brett ordered a chicken pizza. Both were delicious and devoured in minutes (no joke). I think we went to bed at 9:30pm with our carb coma, and it was so worth it.
We headed back to Wellington early Sunday morning, and it’s incredible how much we were able to see while in Napier for just two nights. I can definitely see myself heading back there in the summer months to visit more vineyards, bike along the trails and get consumed in the relaxed lifestyle once again.