The first thing I noticed when flying into Hawke’s Bay was the flatness — square after square of land sliced into slabs housing the region’s many orchards and vineyards — some, since the floods, reduced to patches of muddybrown nothingness. The purpose of my getaway was to showcase the vibrancy of this beautiful part of the country, but with those obliterated acres a poignant reminder, it’d be remiss not to touch on the devastation caused by February’s Cyclone Gabrielle.
Everyone here has a story to tell. At Craggy Range winery’s cellar door, I start with a wine tour, and while I sip their impeccable chardonnay, the sommelier tells how although their land didn’t suffer during the cyclone and subsequent flooding, meaning they could still have remained open to the public, they didn’t. Something about carrying on as usual didn’t feel right. Instead, Craggy Range harnessed the talent of their superb chefs and cooked meals — up to 20,000— for those in the area who needed food. He doesn’t tell this tale for praise or empathy, but simply as an example of how the community has banded together.
When approached to go on this trip, I’d questioned the appropriateness of showcasing the best of a region (recently crowned the 12th great wine capital of the world) that’s still in the process surviving the worst, but throughout my two days on the ground, it became clear that tourists are needed here. What followed the floods was a tsunami of cancellations — wine tours, Airbnbs, dinner reservations. Craggy Range wasn’t immune, yet as I was escorted to my on-site accommodation, it was obvious this majestic place is one to write home about.
Staying in a winery certainly has its advantages. I found myself just two minute’ walk from a fancy restaurant, waking up beside leafy green vines and falling asleep in the shadow of awe-inspiring Te Mata Peak. As well as its wine and food, Craggy Range is known for its boutique accommodation. In the River Lodge I stayed in, with a view of the Tukituki River, the interior was a take on country luxe (Vineyard and Garden Cottages are on offer as well). With so many excellent eateries in the area, it’s hard to imagine why you’d want to cook, but the full kitchen in my accommodation made it a possibility if I’d wanted to, while adding to its homely feel. Craggy Range takes the decision-making out of the equation, providing continental breakfast options and cooked breakfast supplies including bacon, mushrooms, farmhouse eggs and vine-grown tomatoes. It’s the kind of place you can check into, settle in front of the fire and hope you never have to leave.
I investigated the possibility of driving from Auckland to Hawke’s Bay but decided the extra travel time would put too much of a dent in my tourist time. Instead, I flew in, then picked up a Range Rover Velar plug-in electric hybrid (otherwise known as a PHEV) SUV to take it from there. This iteration of the Velar combines a petrol engine with an electric motor and is ultra-quiet, even when the petrol engine’s in use. It’s an ideal introduction into electric vehicles if, like me, you’re curious but unsure about giving up that reassuring tank of petrol. On longer journeys like from the airport to Craggy Range, I favoured a mix of petrol and electric power, then switched effortlessly to electric mode when cruising around Napier and later into Hastings. The quietness of the engine intensified the feeling of luxury I experienced inside the car, where the plush cream leather seats were a chic contrast to the gun-metal exterior. Heated seats further upped the comfort on the crisp Hawke’s Bay mornings, yet in the afternoon, when the sun was beating down, I was happy to be able to try out the refreshing seat-cooling function.
All you can eat – a tasty trio
1 / Craggy Range Winery
When staying at Craggy Range, the ultimate place to eat is… Craggy Range. On my first night, I meandered over to the restaurant to find that despite it being a Tuesday, it was full. Taking my seat in the intimate and relaxed setting, I tasted a bit of everything. The succulent duck and locally sourced snapper were delicious highlights, as was the roasted halloumi with burnt honey and walnut dressing, and my favourite— the sweet and sour shiitake mushrooms. Feeling knowledgeable after my earlier wine tasting, I selected my own Craggy Range drops to match, although the staff were ready and willing to give me direction if needed.
2 / Askerne Estate Winery
Another lovely spot is a scenic six-minute drive away from Craggy Range. Thanks to its gourmet picnics, Askerne make a fantastic family-friendly destination. When the weather’s good, families and couples alike sprawl among the vines to enjoy al fresco wining and dining. The day I arrived it was sunny but chilly, so I chose to stay inside. I was shown to what looked like a mini supermarket, handed a basket and told to choose what I’d like for my picnic from a plethora of chutneys, relishes, cheeses, smoked and cured meats, olives, dips, and all the best crackers and breadsticks. My host also brought me some bread and butter to go with it before we began a wine tasting that started with Askerne’s own bubbles.
3 / Cellar 495
One place people couldn’t stop talking about during my visit was Cellar 495. On the ground floor of the Hastings Municipal Building, which backs onto the historic Opera House, the intimate venue felt warm and cosy. After being seated at the bar, I was introduced to co-owner Michael Henley, the world’s 495th master of wine. It was he who suggested I trust the chef with my meal, so I embarked on a five-course degustation, featuring standouts like Ortiz anchovies on a potato doughnut, duck breast with a confit duck croquette, bonemarrow butter, and a side of Cellar 495’s famous potato hash fries, a satisfying hybrid of hash brown and French fries. During each course, Henley fills up your glass with a wine pairing — tipples not just from the region but from around the world — and his knowledge is unparalleled. I particularly loved tasting and learning about an orange wine by Pyramid Valley, made not with oranges but by leaving the skins of white wine grapes to ferment with the juice during fermentation. On my last night in my River Lodge at Craggy Range, I was feeling extremely full — and extremely contented. I happily prepared to head home with a few bottles and many stories I’d collected along the way.
For art’s sake
Driving through the heavenly Hawke’s Bay countryside is practically enough to make you feel as if you’re embracing the region’s best, but a trip to Hastings City Art Gallery will give you a boost of culture if you’re craving it. I saw the otherworldly No Straight Lines exhibition by Evan Woodruffe, who collages textiles, like his old shirts, into his works.
For morning tea
Hastings café Cupple is a lovely spot to sit and enjoy tea or coffee — plus it has a delectable selection of doughnuts and pastries handmade in-house.
For the memories
The iconic Art Deco architecture of Napier’s town centre is definitely worth a look-see, as is the 1935 sound shell on Marine Parade. If you’re after something a bit more off the beaten track, I can recommend taking a sunrise walk along Haumoana’s coastline, which has a view out to Cape Kidnappers.