Hawke’s Bay is justly famous for its luxury lodges. They trade on the region’s jaw-droppingly beautiful countryside and a combination of outdoorsy leisure activities such as golfing, tramping and fly-fishing.
But if your singular passion is food and wine, you’ve come to the right place too. I arrive at Hawke’s Bay Airport with little more than a road map and a hankering for some gourmet gluttony. It’s easy to get around on four wheels, so I pick up a car and head for the hills.
My destination is almost an hour’s drive away – a private retreat nestled in the Te Mata hillscape. But getting there is the best part.
I abandon the expressway and drive south past Napier’s art deco wharf buildings with their porthole windows and angular lines. I take Mariner’s Parade for breathtaking views to the white cliffs of Cape Kidnappers. And as the coast gives way to the countryside, I pass endless apple orchards dotted with sheep and bounded with three-metre high hedgerows. Napier might be the art deco capital, but the outlying townships have charming examples of domestic deco too.
I’m already relaxed when I arrive at Black Dog Cottage – one of 12 lodges offered by the Black Barn Vineyard. The winery – worth a visit for lunch – manages each lodge on behalf of absentee owners and so there’s a cosy feel to the cottage as I enter. Each corner impresses. There is a chef’s kitchen with cathedral ceiling, a lounge with open fireplace and two ensuite bedrooms – one with walk-in robe and the other with oversized tub. Walls are decorated with the work of local artist Dick Frizzell and each window frames the emerald green hills. The view to Te Mata from the covered terrace is, quite frankly, ridiculously beautiful.
Te Mata is perfect for tramping. It’s also steeped in Maori legend. After years of war, tribal chief Te Mata fell in love with Hinerakau, the beautiful daughter of a neighbouring chief. Peace reigned but only momentarily. The people still wanted revenge and demanded that Te Mata prove his devotion by eating through the coastal hills. Te Mata died in the process and his prostrate body forms Te Mata Peak. It’s a cautionary tale for those visiting Hawke’s Bay. But what else is a holiday for, if not a little over indulgence?
The perfect place to acquaint yourself with the fresh produce of Hawke’s Bay is at the Sunday morning farmers market. Everything from goats’ cheese to wagyu beef, smoked mushrooms to raspberries is available for ‘toothpick tasting’. It’s also the place to pick up supplies for the perfect night in. Of course, most lodges have their own chefs. And after a day’s touring, I abandon plans to cook at Black Dog Cottage.
Instead, I take a progressive dinner tour with the small group Odyssey tours. The evening begins at Vidal Estate, a boutique winery, which specialises in food matching. After a little cellar door tasting – try the 2005 Stopbank Pinot Noir – we order entrée. I choose a creamy pea and mint soup, but the seared scallops crusted in black pudding look divine too. Main course is at Craggy Range. I choose the 2006 Block 14 Syrah to match my hearty Portobello and porcini mushroom pie. There is braised lamb shank and crisp duck confit on the menu too. For dessert, we visit Mission Estate – New Zealand’s oldest winery.
The sprawling mansion-style seminary was built in 1880 by French Marist Missionaries and has 360-degree views. The gold-medal winning 2005 Noble Semillon goes down nicely. Other fine dining experiences on the religious theme include Church Rd winery for a hearty lunch, and The Old Church restaurant for a flamboyant dining experience reminiscent of the movie Beetlejuice.
For those seeking a traditional lodge experience, try The Masters Lodge perched on Bluff Hill in Napier. Built in bungalow style in the late 1800s, it was revamped in the ’30s. It is now run by a New Yorker expat couple with a passion for modern art. It has two self-contained rooms done out fabulously in art deco style, both with views across the Pacific.
On an even grander scale is Greenhill Lodge near Hastings. Until recently, the Victorian farming homestead remained in family ownership. It hosted a youthful Queen Mother in 1958. New owners Neil Barber and Craig Hay have done a painstaking restoration, and now offer three rooms and three suites including a romantic honeymoon cottage. Barber, a former accountant with a passion for fine dining, will point you in the direction of the wine trails best. I leave with hand-written instructions, bound for Trinity Hill, Unison Vineyard and Clearview Estate.
Any trip to Hawke’s Bay must include a tour of Napier’s art deco heritage. An earthquake in 1931 flattened almost everything and new buildings were constructed in the style of the day – reinforced concrete with low relief ornaments in a fabulous array of cream, ochre, pink, green and blue. Soak up the style at The Dome Luxury Penthouse Apartments. The waterfront T&G Insurance building was erected in 1936. It has recently been converted into two executive apartments, and no expense has been spared in the plush designer fit-out.
While in Napier, do an art deco walking tour and drop into the tasting store, Indulge. They have 10 bottles of Hawke’s Bay’s finest on tasting every day plus a range of local cheeses and condiments. Just beware you don’t die trying them all.
Food and wine pairings at Mission Estate