The Hawke’s Bay region on the east coast of North Island has a lot going for it.
The weather is amazing, the Art Deco architecture renowned, seaside towns cheerful and, everywhere you look, the gobsmacking scenery that New Zealand does so well unfolds.
But best of all, this is New Zealand’s most enjoyable food and wine region, a claim upheld by some rather impressive achievements.
Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s leading producer of red wines, and home to its oldest winery.
It boasts award-winning restaurants led by some of New Zealand’s finest chefs, as well as one of the country’s oldest and largest farmers’ markets, among many other list-topping records.
And Hawke’s Bay is never content to rest on its laurels. The gourmet scene here is creative and constantly changing.
Head out on the culinary trail and you’re in for a treat. Or many treats. Move over Marlborough: this is where the real foodies go.
Grape expectations: Hawke’s Bay wineries
The temperate, Mediterranean-style climate in Hawke’s Bay is as good for its visitors as its vines.
This wine region is best known for producing merlot-cabernet blends, syrah and chardonnay, all of which have given it an impressive international reputation for quality wines.
More than 35 Hawke’s Bay wineries have cellar doors. At New Zealand’s oldest winery, Mission Estate, the cellar door occupies a colonial-era seminary. Wander through the fabulous old building and modern wine cellars before a wine tasting or meal of seared scallops and braised lamb at the fine-dining restaurant.
For a particularly stunning location, call at Elephant Hill, with its ultra-modern glass-and-concrete cellar door sitting on the Te Awanga coast.
Its ‘Flight & Bites’ tasting matches wine with fresh seasonal produce from the chic restaurant.
Te Mata Estate Winery is one of New Zealand’s most prestigious vineyards, and another great place for a tasting and winery tour.
You’ll find an interesting variety of experiences at Church Road, where you can learn about winemaking, sample unique varietals, and see how different terroirs affect the flavour of the estate’s renowned Bordeaux-style reds.
Many of the cellar doors have restaurants, but the restaurant at Craggy Range is exceptional, having won two hats in the Cuisine Good Food Awards 2019.
Head chef Casey McDonald showcases the best of Hawke’s Bay produce, including local venison, fish, mushrooms, cheese and honey, as well as vegetables from the estate garden.
Don’t miss the Smith & Sheth’s Heretaunga Wine Studio in Havelock North, the only experience of its kind in New Zealand. Here a sommelier will take you on a tasting experience through a range of wine styles and varietals from many estates.
Eat treats: Hawke’s Bay food
Hawke’s Bay isn’t short of other great dining experiences. Relaxed Malo in Havelock North has a great cocktail list and sophisticated modern menu from Dutch-born Bert van de Steeg, who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; his signature pork belly with kumara and kale is sensational.
At Pacifica Restaurant in Napier, three-hatted chef Jeremy Rameka’s degustation menu shows just how brilliant contemporary New Zealand cuisine can be.
A more informal option is Central Fire Station Bistro, where chef Sam Clark produces lip-smacking French- and Italian-inspired food such as duck and pistachio terrine, gnocchi with gorgonzola, and beef sirloin in a rich shiitake bordelaise sauce.
Explore the region’s great produce in other ways, too. Follow the food trail and discover artisan producers, farm gates, delicatessens and weekend farmers’ markets.
Visit Arataki Honey to learn about honey production, observe bees at work and sample honey with unique New Zealand flavours such as pohutukawa and kamahi.
A score of companies takes you on food and wine tours. Bay Tours runs excursions to Napier and Hastings’ best wineries, while Prinsy’s Tours not only hosts wine tours, but trout-fishing and farm tours as well. And by the way, Hawke’s Bay also has a lively craft-beer and cider scene beyond the cellar doors.
Get active: Hawke’s Bay activities
At some point, you’re going to want to shake down all that great food – and work up an appetite for more.
With no shortage of lovely valleys, farmland, coastline and rolling hills, Hawke’s Bay offers scenic walking and hiking aplenty. Stroll through giant redwood trees at Te Mata Park, or tackle any of several hiking trails for magnificent views.
If you’re really keen, the single-day Bell Rock Track through native bush and up onto an exposed ridgeline with expansive views, is an utterly impressive experience.
Or you can hit the byways by bike with Takaro Trails, whose day tours meander along the coast or through vineyards, with pauses at wineries along the way.
Head out with Waimārama Māori Tours for an authentic experience of living Māori culture and landscapes near Napier.
And, of course, a walking tour around Napier itself with Art Deco Trust will give you greater insight to Napier’s stunning 1930s architecture and history.
Check in: Hawke’s Bay accommodation
Hawke’s Bay has plenty of accommodation options. For contemporary studios and suites on the Ahuriri waterfront, check into The Crown Hotel Napier, which also has heritage suites in its original 1930s building. For something quirkier, Art Deco Masonic Hotel in Napier blends stylish retro charm with bold modern furnishings; its gastro-pub is a lively evening spot.
For a country experience, Mangapapa Hotel has just 12 suites in a heritage hotel wedged in landscaped gardens, plus a wallow-worthy spa and noted restaurant – the multicourse ‘trust the chef’ menu is a treat. Wallingford is a boutique luxury homestead in Central Hawke’s Bay with a tranquil country vibe that encourages guests to truly unwind.
Foodies will also appreciate the gastronomic restaurant.
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is one of New Zealand’s most famous getaways. The luxury boutique hotel is set on a working sheep and cattle property and has a golf course, not to mention a spa retreat and is a wildlife sanctuary, home to some of New Zealand’s most precious flora and fauna.
With an extensive wine cellar, you can enjoy a range of Hawke’s Bay wines over a superb five-course Relais & Châteaux dinner for yet another classic Hawke’s Bay experience.
Hawke’s Bay Airport just outside Napier has connecting flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. By car, Napier is a 2.5-hour drive from Rotorua via scenic Lake Taupo, or three hours from Gisborne down the magnificent Pacific Coast Highway.
Wine lovers should consider the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail from Wellington through Wairarapa, which gets you to Hawke’s Bay in just three hours of driving time – though you won’t want to hurry.