New Zealand’s best wine regions

Craggy Range vineyard in Hawkes Bay - photo by Rob McFarland

Craggy Range vineyard in Hawkes Bay – photo by Rob McFarland

Traveller, Sun-Herald, Australia – Apr 15, 2018

It’s hard to believe New Zealand produces less than one per cent of the world’s wine. So ubiquitous is its presence on international wine lists, you’d be forgiven for assuming it was a bigger player. However, in 2014 it ranked a surprising 14th in global wine production, one behind that well-known wine powerhouse, Romania.

Of course, much of NZ’s fame comes courtesy of one region and one varietal – Marlborough sauvignon blanc – and as such it’s tempting to think of it as a one-trick vine. But the country has more than 2000 vineyards, stretching 1600 kilometres from sub-tropical Northland to frosty Central Otago, which between them produce an intriguingly diverse range of wines.

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Riverhead ferry cruise in Auckland, NZ

Riverhead Ferry at Auckland Downtown Ferry Terminal - photo by Rob McFarland

Riverhead Ferry at Auckland Downtown Ferry Terminal – photo by Rob McFarland

Sun-Herald, Australia – January 10, 2016

The MV Kawau Isle looks conspicuous as she pootles into Auckland’s busy Downtown Ferry Terminal. All the other boats buzzing in and out are high-speed catamarans and ferries. We file onboard the elegant green and white wooden cruiser and she putters slowly away from the wharf into Auckland Harbour. The sleek catamarans all turn right, roaring off in a cloud of diesel fumes towards the islands of Waiheke and Rangitoto. We, on the other hand, turn left and take the river less travelled.

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An albatross named Grandma

Inside Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin, NZ - photo by Rob McFarland

Inside Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin, NZ – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – January 9, 2016

If Hollywood ever makes a biopic about an albatross (don’t rule it out), Grandma would be the obvious choice. Most albatrosses have one mate and live for around 40 years. Grandma, however, had five husbands (three of whom she outlived and one she married twice) and gave birth to her last chick aged 62.

Grandma is something of a legend at the Royal Albatross Centre, a complex at the end of New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula that protects the world’s only mainland breeding colony of these magnificent seabirds. Royal albatrosses usually only breed on islands but for some reason a group has chosen the tip of this 20-kilometre-long finger of land near Dunedin in the South Island to return to year after year.

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Sunset kayak to Rangitoto Island, Auckland

Kayaking to Auckland's Rangitoto Island - photo by Rob McFarland

Kayaking to Auckland’s Rangitoto Island – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – May 9, 2015

“Do you like wearing a skirt?” asks Sarah. “Only at weekends,” I reply, nervously. I pull on the waterproof spray skirt while apprehensively eyeing up the not inconsiderable distance between us and our destination. As the crow flies it’s five kilometres from St Heliers Beach in Auckland to Rangitoto Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Easy peasy for a crow; less straightforward in a kayak.

There are eight of us on this Auckland Sea Kayaks sunset tour in four double kayaks. I’m sharing with my sister, which should be interesting given the secret to kayaking is teamwork. She’s already commandeered the front seat so I’m relegated to the back and have been instructed to steer.

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Air NZ 75th anniversary exhibition at Te Papa museum, Wellington

A selection of old Air NZ crew uniforms - photo by Rob McFarland

A selection of old Air NZ crew uniforms – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – March 14, 2015

It’s easy to get all misty-eyed about the early days of commercial aviation. Passengers flying from Auckland to Sydney in the 1950s sat in spacious lounge-style seats, enjoyed a seven-course meal and had the option of playing deck quoits. It all sounds terribly glamorous until you discover that the flight was often uncomfortably turbulent because the plane was unpressurised so it had to fly at low altitude. It was also so cold that passengers were given hot water bottles and feet warmers. Oh, and it took eight hours. Give me an airconditioned Airbus A320 with a seatback TV any day.

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Great Barrier Island, New Zealand

View over Medlands Beach - photo by Rob McFarland

View over Medlands Beach - photo by Rob McFarland

With our belongings wrapped tightly in plastic bags and lashed to three body boards, the three of us tentatively wade into the creek. Soon the water is too deep to stand so we use the boards for buoyancy and kick for the other side. Ten minutes later, we’re standing on Whangapoua Beach, a long stretch of blindingly white sand backed by grass-covered dunes. Apart from a handful of birds, there’s not another soul here.

It’s hard to believe we’re on New Zealand’s fourth-largest island in the middle of the busiest holiday of the year. But that’s the appeal of Great Barrier Island – no one seems to know about it. The term “best-kept secret” is overused in travel articles but I honestly don’t understand why more people don’t come here. It’s only a four-hour ferry ride or 30-minute flight from Auckland and awaiting you is a ruggedly beautiful wilderness.

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Cruising the Bay of Islands

Ipipiri cruising the Bay of Islands - photo by Rob McFarland

Ipipiri cruising the Bay of Islands - photo by Rob McFarland

New Zealand is hardly short of picturesque holiday spots but the Bay of Islands, located three hours’ drive north of Auckland, is particularly idyllic. The natural bay provides a sheltered haven for boat lovers with dozens of islands to explore and plenty of coves and inlets in which to moor.

Looking at this tranquil picture today, it’s hard to believe it was once known as the “hell hole of the Pacific”. But if you’d visited the town of Russell in the early 1800s, you’d have found a lawless outpost famous for its drunkenness, gambling and prostitution. Sadly, I couldn’t find any evidence of this but I did stumble across a fascinating museum and several excellent cafes.

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Magical Mollies, Auckland

Mollies' dining room

Mollies' dining room

In the genteel Auckland suburb of St Marys Bay, Mollies is the most unashamedly romantic hotel I have ever stayed in. I was there on my own and had to constantly fight the urge to propose to one of the staff.

The hotel is named after the current owner’s mother, who ran it first as a guesthouse and then as a motel.

When Frances and her husband, Stephen, took over in 2001, it was in desperate need of modernisation. They pulled up the ’70s-style cream shagpile carpets, tore down the fake mahogany panelling and threw out the burnt orange and avocado furnishings. Eighteen months and a lot of work later, the hotel reopened as Mollies and has been collecting awards worldwide ever since.

Frances tells us this potted history over pre-dinner drinks in the sitting room where guests congregate among a sea of flickering candles and billowing silk drapes.

It is a beautiful room with polished wooden floors, an imposing marble fireplace and an eclectic range of furnishings including Philippe Starck’s famous transparent Louis Ghost chairs. She makes no apologies for the extravagance, saying with a smile: “I like to make every evening a romantic occasion. I love having far too many candles and far too many flowers.”

It’s a wonderfully relaxed and intimate environment and a great opportunity to mingle with other guests.

The best is yet to come, however. Frances is an experienced opera voice coach who has taught all over the world. She introduces us to Morag Atchison, an opera singer with New Zealand’s national opera company, and an expectant hush descends over the room.

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Heavenly Huka Lodge

Dinner in Huka Lodge's Wine Cellar - photo by Rob McFarland

Dinner in Huka Lodge's Wine Cellar - photo by Rob McFarland

It’s not quite the first impression I had hoped to make. Not only do we pull up at the reception of one of the world’s leading resorts in a dented rented Daewoo but two minutes after our arrival the manager comes to tell us they are experiencing what he amusingly describes as a small challenge.

The keys are locked inside the car and did we have a spare set? I sheepishly shake my head. Do not worry, he says, we will take care of it.

Ten minutes later the car is in the car park and our luggage is in our room. Later we discover that the Automobile Association has been called in but no one makes a big deal about it and we are made to feel as if this is the sort of trivial incident they encounter on an hourly basis

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Coast to coast in Auckland

Cornwall Park in Auckland

Cornwall Park in Auckland

There can’t be many cities in the world where you can set off from an ocean on one side and four hours later be standing looking out across a sea on the other. Auckland’s 16-kilometre Coast to Coast walk threads its way from Waitemata Harbour on Auckland’s east coast to Manukau Harbour on the west, taking in some of the city’s most scenic spots along the way.

It’s a great way to spend a morning or an afternoon, providing, that is, you have someone who can read the map supplied by the tourist information centre.

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