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With a name not easy to pronounce, Wairarapa – situated an hour east of New Zealand’s bustling capital city, Wellington – is easy to overlook. But missing it would be a mistake. The region’s quaint towns are home to more sheep than humans, cattle than cars, and some of the most highly praised pinot noir in the world. The wine region is small in terms of production, but packs a big punch. Since the 1980s, the former railroad town of Martinborough has earned international renown for producing pinots to rival Burgundy.
Wine tours are often led by owners who eagerly share stories straight from their vineyards. It is not uncommon to see tractors beside tasting rooms and farm dogs asleep on the floor. And never a tour bus. Instead, in front of every winery, bikes and trikes (for those less confident after a few glasses) lean together to create a picturesque scene of chilled-out tasting.
Begin at Martinborough Vineyard, the grandfather of the region. Afterwards, make way to Te Kairanga. Be sure to sample the rose and enjoy a pleasant afternoon lounging in a colorful beanbag on the tasting room’s spacious patio.
For a more comprehensive tour, Wharekauhau (pronounced “Far-ee-ko-ho”) Country Estate is home to one of the most prestigious wine collections in the region. Join General Manager and wine aficionado, Richard Rooney, along with Wharekauhau’s sommelier on an exclusive tour through the private cellars of some of the most esteemed craftsmen of the region. Start with a walk through the vineyard at the award-winning Devotus Estate, drawing samples from barrels to taste wine at each stage of fermentation. Afterward, visit the private cellar of the world-famous Martinborough Vineyards to sample older vintages and rare gems from the region.
Beyond the vine, there’s much to do:
Shop: Paul Melser’s stoneware is designed and made in the artist’s studio in Wairarapa. Melser’s pottery is rooted in functionality: each piece is meant to add beauty to ordinary, everyday life.
Dine: Wairarapa has experienced a renaissance and is home to numerous boutique restaurants and wineries. In true Kiwi style, even the most celebrated cafes maintain a low, letting the delicate flavors of fresh ingredients and creative pairings drive acclaim. Ride from vineyard to vineyard, stopping by Poppies for a midday snack. In the evening, don’t miss the incredible dining experience on display at Wharekauhau.
Sleep: The best place to stay is Wharekauhau. A short drive from the vineyards and surrounded by thousands of acres of private farmland, the Estate still exudes its historic roots as a sheep station with nearly 160 years under its belt. Despite its reputation as a five-star luxury lodge, the property maintains its authentic identity through its commitment to local ingredients, unique experiences, and world-class guides. By day, guests can do everything from take part in the life of a traditional sheep station, to ATV through the hills, or just relax at the lodge’s spa.
Cottage suites are perched high atop dramatic cliffs overlooking the black sand beach of Palliser Bay. The spacious cottages provide separate seating areas and gas fireplaces to cozy up on cooler nights. Natural materials are used throughout the cottage suites, including clay tiles, pebble mosaics, plastered walls, rich New Zealand wool carpeting, cotton bed linen and hemp curtains.
Getting There: The Wairarapa is an hour drive (or 15-minute helicopter ride) from New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. It’s best to visit in the spring and summer, from October through March.
(Leslie Canter, of Departure Lounge, is a travel advisor and travel/lifestyle blogger based in Washington D.C. Read more on her travels at www.canterburyjourneys.com).
Office: (732) 473-9982
Fax: (732) 473-9986