Napier and Hawke’s Bay, NZ – a food and wine mecca

Hawke’s Bay is so saturated with fine wineries, restaurants and natural produce that we barely registered that Napier, its main town, also lays claim to being the art deco capital of the world.

After devastating earthquake damage in the 1930s, the town was completely rebuilt according to the architecture & design fashion of the period. Today the distinctive graphic shapes and pastel colours of the Art Deco style can be seen all over.

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We allowed one morning for a stroll around town for a dutiful dose of culture before we got stuck in to what we had really come for: food and wine. I may not know much about art, but I know what I like…

Mini Yorkshire puddings, bone marrow & horseradish and sardines on toast (love the presentation of a sardine tin for lemon wedges) at hip Napier restaurant Mister D.

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Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s longest established wine growing area. In the 1850s missionaries planted the first vines to make sacramental wine and would sell off the excess. Before long the commercial side of winemaking was thriving and dozens of vineyards and wineries popped up. Today you can tour between them, tasting as you go.

A classic NZ sight – where else in the world would you find the grass between the vines tended by sheep?

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The organised tours which drive you around are quite expensive and often follow a well trodden route so I offered to be the designated driver, much to Mark’s delight. It was quite fun steering Gabby the campervan around the picturesque winding roads while Mark got increasingly sozzled.

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We pootled around wineries including Te Mata, CJ Pask and Craggy Range – many of the Pinot Noirs (the specialty of this region) were first rate and some of the Chardonnays were just as good. Te Mata was a real standout and we invested in a bottle or two.

The view from the top of the “craggy” bit of Craggy Range (Gabby did well to get up here)…

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We couldn’t resist a couple of frivolous purchases from the quirky Crab Farm winery: a map of Hawke’s Bay styled to look like a London Underground map and a bottle of spicy, sweet and interesting port, named “Starboard” (geddit).

We rounded off a fine day with dinner at Mission Estate, the area’s oldest winery whose name honours its ecclesiastical history. We kept hearing it was one of the best restaurants in town and were suitably impressed by the lush grounds and fancy building (it’s also a popular venue for weddings and high profile concerts).

So I was a little embarrassed when Mark asked the manager if he would mind terribly if we could park our big ugly campervan on the grounds and sleep there overnight like a couple of bums. To his credit, the cheeky request was received with true Kiwi laidback charm and hospitality. The fact that this arrangement meant we were likely to order more booze with our bed stumbling distance away may have helped…

The food was indeed lovely. Mission is known for its confit duck and mandarin macaroon starter, which reminded me of the signature dish at London’s Duck & Waffle: the same sweet & savoury, meaty contrasts were going on.

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The other blobs were mandarin jelly, braised red cabbage and duck liver praline.

Wild venison, hazelnut dumplings and feijoa chutney for main course.

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The morning after we cured our hangovers with a trip to Napier’s farmers market. Nothing like a freshly squeezed juice and bacon sandwich to aid recovery…

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This part of the world is known as the fruit bowl of New Zealand; if you’ve ever bought a Braeburn apple in the UK, it may well have been grown here.

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With produce like this, you can see why Kiwis call their land “God’s own country”.

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2 responses to “Napier and Hawke’s Bay, NZ – a food and wine mecca

  1. The answer to where else in the world would you see the grass between the vines tended by sheep is here in Woodchester. A vineyard was planted, mostly last year, and sheep can be seen grazing it. When they started people were alarmed and asking if the sheep were escapees onto a good thing! I’ll show you one day. Rhiannon

  2. Pingback: From north to south: Wellington to Nelson, New Zealand | swallower of lives

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