Travel Your Way Through New Zealand & Experience Its Wine Regions
(Updated August 2022)
New Zealand is known for many things, unique untouched landscapes, prehistoric glaciers, a biodiversity that’s incomparable but also, for its wine regions.
The culture of the country is very much reflected in the wines that are produced. With 11 main wine regions, New Zealand’s wine regions are scattered throughout the whole country – ranging from subtropical Northland (36° S) down to Central Otago (46° S). With wine regions extending 1,600 km, you can also find the world’s southernmost vineyards here, along with the incredible Waiheke Island – New Zealand’s most famous vineyard island.
Long sunshine hours, nights that are cooled by the sea and a moderating effect of the maritime climate make it the ideal place for the grapes.
During my one-year stay, I visited many New Zealand wine regions, tried my fair share of wine, and vineyards and consumed more bottles than I have ever before.
From the boom of natural wines in Wellington, to falling even more for oaky chardonnays and discovering that a rosé can actually taste incredibly good – this post gives tips on how to visit some of the best New Zealand wine regions, how to get there, which vineyards are worth visiting and which wine is a must-try!
New Zealand: Wine Regions
Napier & Hastings
Wellington to Napier: 4 hours by car | 5 hours 40 minutes by bus
Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s Art Deco capital as well as the first stop on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. It’s a popular place for self-guided wine tours, with flat cycling trails allowing you to visit more than 30+ cellar doors.
You shouldn’t miss this gorgeous city and its pastel-coloured art deco buildings by no means. Take a map from the local i-visit and go on a street art walking tour and admire the cool ocean conversation-inspired murals.
How To Get Into Hawke’s Bay
From Wellington its a 4-hour something drive that leads you through Palmerston North to the two wine cities of the region. Coming from Auckland, it takes a good 6-7 hours with stops for 400 km. You can also take the InterCity buses which stop in either Hastings or Napier city centre.
Best Wineries in Hawke’s Bay
Church Road Winery
This one got me hooked way before I even went to Napier. As I am a big fan of oaky chardonnay – Church Road Winery is such a winner! Try to go for a cheese platter at lunch and relax outside in their bean bags, sipping away on a glass. They also got a wide range of tasting experiences, starting at $5 per person.
Family-owned since 1986, cellar door visitors can enjoy a beautifully bespoke wine tasting. The restaurant serves Mediterranean-style dining in a green vineyard setting. Make sure to try their Chardonnay! Clearview Estate produces them for 30 years and won continuous five-star, gold medal awards for it!
Established in 1851, Mission Estate Winery is New Zealand’s oldest winery. It’s located in an elegant seminary, and offers lots of outdoor seating and a history-rich interior. The tasting features interesting wines and includes a branded glass. This dreamy venue is an ideal location for a wedding or engagement shooting.
Wellington to Martinborough: 75 minutes by car | 1 hour 15 minutes by train |
2 hours by shuttle
The Wairarapa is a region in the south-eastern corner of New Zealand’s North Island – in close proximity to Wellington. It’s a compact and varied region, full of boutique vineyards producing wine of exceptional quality. The region produces some of the world’s best pinot noir alongside outstanding sauvignon blanc, stylish chardonnay, syrah and dessert wines.
The vineyards are in the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, only 30 km from the sea – welcoming people with a variety of wine tourism activities.
The Wairarapa is divided into three sub-regions: Martinborough, Masterton and Gladstone.
From personal experience, Martinborough has to be my favourite New Zealand wine region, not just because it’s a stone’s throw away from Wellington, but also because you’ve got 20+ wineries in close proximity.
Get Into Martinborough
The most convenient option is to get there in a car and stay the night in town. As accommodation in Martinborough is limited and get pricey, consider staying in the nearby village of Greytown. A charming little place that won the award of being ‘New Zealand Most Beautiful Small Town’ – with good reason.
Alternatively, you can take the train (Wairarapa Line) from the Wellington train station in the morning and get it back in the late afternoon. You would get off in Featherston to catch the bus to Martinborough. Conveniently, the buses are scheduled to wait for the train at the station. Price: One-way $17.50 (cash) or $10.09 (Snapper)
Once in Martinborough hop on a bike from Green Jersey Cycle Tours and start your self-guided wine tour! Full-day bike hire will cost $40 – make sure to book in advance as they can fill up quickly!
Best Wineries in Martinborough
The best atmosphere in all Martinborough – Poppies is worth a visit for their homegrown wine as much as it is for their delicious, varied sharing platters. An elegant but laid-back venue, surrounded by their vineyard makes it the ideal place for a wedding reception or big celebration. A wine tasting will cost $10 and lets you try 6 wines. You can buy their wine exclusively from the cellar door – so make sure to stock up on some!
Established in 1998, Schubert Wines is a small but welcoming vineyard that serves great pinot noir. Even on a rainy day, you can have a cosy wine tasting. My favourite happened to be their 2019 rosé – with notes of strawberry and pomegranate. So good! The wine tasting costs $10 per person, with 5 wines to try.
One of my favourite vineyards, to which I went back twice! Colombo Martinborough settled on the far end of the Martinborough wine area, with a great outdoor area. In summer, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a glass (or two) accompanied by their tasty pizza. Here, you can choose between a regular wine tasting and flights of 4 or 6 wines. We opted for a flight of 4 to share ($20). Again, one of the tastiest ones was their Rose!
A premium boutique winery, situated at the entrance to Martinborough. Alana got a great laid-back, intimate atmosphere, which allowed us to taste the wines seated outdoors. I would definitely recommend going!
Lovely boutique vineyard with substantial platters and cosy, covered outdoor seating. Haythornthwaite is rather a small place in terms of restaurant space, but still a great stop for lunch (no reservation needed) and a taste of their 6 homegrown wines. The tasting costs $10 and a platter cost around $44.
Palliser Wines is one of New Zealand’s premier wine brands that you can find in restaurants worldwide. Beautiful space, an outstanding range of wines – definitely worth a visit!
Their signature wine is pinot noir and chenin blanc (which you can only buy on the cellar door or by mail-order). However, their pinot gris is made from some of the oldest vines in New Zealand.
Go to Cambridge Road Vineyard to enjoy an intimate wine tasting with great views of the adjacent vines.
Blenheim & Renwick
Wellington via Picton to Blenheim: 4 hours by ferry + 20 minutes by car or 26 minutes by train
Marlborough, nestled at the top of the South Island, is the largest wine-growing region in New Zealand. With 90% of the country’s sauvignon blanc plantings, many call it the world’s sauvignon blanc capital. With vines as far as the eye can see, its part of the 380km Class New Zealand Wine Trail, featuring more than 30 cellar doors to choose for a wine tasting.
The second runner-up in terms of wine grapes is pinot noir, along with fruity chardonnays and crisp rieslings.
The whole region of Marlborough circulates around the towns of Blenheim and Picton. From there, you would start your wine adventure or go on a trip through the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. This really is one of New Zealand’s best wine regions!
How To Get Into Marlborough
If you are coming from the North Island, taking the ferry from either Bluebridge or Interislander is a good choice when having your own car. Otherwise, if I’d do it again, I would definitely take the plane directly to Blenheim.
Tip: When on the ferry, make sure to sit up the top in case it gets too bumpy inside.
Best Wineries in Marlborough
To make the most of the experience, I recommend choosing a self-guided tour from Wine Tours by Bike. They include a pick-up from Blenheim & Renwick, an informative introduction to the area, recommendations on where to have lunch and a great map to use. From Renwick, you got a circle of 24 km in which you find more wineries than you can visit in a day.
Little side note, visit the farthest one first and make your way slowly back, towards the bike rental place.
The famous Wairau River Cellar Door and Restaurant is one of Marlborough’s prime wine destinations. Not only can you enjoy a delicious lunch within an outdoor seating, but also a wine tasting to learn more about the origins and history of the place. My favourite happened to their 2019 Wairau River Rosé, which displayed notes of raspberry and strawberry.
This award-winning cellar door is another must-visit winery. The owners passionately share the history of their Bladen Wines vineyard, the outdoor seating is lovely and the views of the adjacent vineyards are so worth it. Make sure to try the Gewürztraminer! It’s unlike anything I have tried before, with outstanding notes of Turkish delight, rose petal and lychee. Wine tastings of six wines cost $10 per person.
Gibson Bridge Vineyard
Gibson Bridge Vineyard should come onto your list if you want to try an array of pinot gris. The tasting studio used to be the old workshop. Nowadays it’s fitted with crystal chandeliers and candles, greeting visitors to try their award-winning wines. Our favourite was the 2018 Pinot Gris Rosé. A wine tasting of five wines costs $10.
The Giesen winery is just a must-visit, especially for lunch! No real wine tasting tour is complete without having a platter to snack (or in this case, feast on). It’s loaded with local produce and hands-down, was the best platter I had in all New Zealand! Definitely include a wine tasting here as well, prices start at 10$ per tasting.
Blenheim to Nelson: 1 hour 35 minutes by car
Although being rather one of the smaller wine regions of the country, it’s the home of the first commercial vineyard in the South Island. The mild maritime and sunny climate contributes to some of New Zealand’s most intensely flavoured sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, as well as a lively pinot noir.
Getting Into Nelson
Once you experienced the best of Marlborough, take the State Highway 6 towards Nelson. I’m not gonna lie, the roads are windy and narrow but it’s the shortest way. If you are a seafood fan, you should stop in Havelock for some of their famous green lip mussels at The Musselpot.
Best Wineries in Nelson Tasman
As a very new winery (without a cellar door yet), you physically cannot visit Unkel Wines. However, you can order their fantastic organic, unfiltered wines online ie at Everyday Wine. One of my favourites is the Carnival Sauvignon Blanc. If you are in Wellington, make sure to stop at Ascot bar, as they often have them stocked! It’s the best natural wine I had so far.
Moutere Hills Winery
Ok, so Moutere Hills Winery is a bit of a drive away – but super lovely and worth it! Nestled among picturesque hills, this family-owned boutique winery is the ideal place to stop for a tasting and snack on a platter outside in their garden.
Seifried Estate Winery
Another long-standing one, Seifried Estate Winery exports its wine to 28 countries and is home to New Zealand’s most awarded dessert wine, the ‘Sweet Agnes Nelson Riesling’.
Located on the Moutere Hills, Neudorf wines are served in various European restaurants. They highly focus on sustainability and are a proud producer of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Aromatics.
Visiting wineries and tasting new wines is definitely my new favourite things to do. To go on a wine tasting tour in New Zealand is such a fun thing to do. I hope this post helps you plan and decide on where to go. I’m sure no matter which one you decide on, it will be fantastic!
If you liked this post on New Zealand wine regions, check out my comprehensive South Island Photography Spots Itinerary!
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