The Gisborne wine region lies on the north-eastern corner of the North Island, in New Zealand. It is bordered by Hawke’s Bay and Waikato wine regions. When Captain James Cook first arrived in New Zealand, he disembarked in Gisborne, but the first European settlement only happened during the 1850s. The Gisborne wine region is characterized by a mix of individual entrepreneurs that often have boutique wineries and large wineries. The Gisborne District is famous for its terrific landscapes, for being one of the first places touched by the sunlight in the morning, for wine, and for keeping a strong Māori culture. Indeed, 45% of the population of the District identify themselves as being a Māori.
The planted vineyard area of the Gisborne wine region counts around 1,192 hectares of land. Among these, the most planted grape is Chardonnay, followed by Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.
Grapes from the Gisborne wine region are usually the first ones to be harvested in New Zealand. This is due to the climatic situation of the region, which takes advantage of the high sunshine hours, the warm inland weather and the mild ocean climate, courtesy of the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to this favourable situation, grapes can develop complex tastes and aromas from a very early growing stage.
The passage of several rivers, especially of the Waipaoa River, in the area provides a certain diversity of soil. Vineyards are planted along riverbanks, where a mix of clay and silt loams is ideal for aromatic and fresh wines; other vineyards can be found on the lowland plains that present heavier clay soils. Recently, some independent winemakers are starting to expand on the young, green hills that dominate the Gisborne wine region.
History of the Gisborne Wine Region
Viticulture tradition in the Gisborne wine region began around the 1800s, when a group of settlers landed by mistake in the Poverty Bay. These people were carrying some vines that were supposed to be planted in the Hawkes Bay. However, the Gisborne wine region turned out to be a fertile and climatically perfect area for vines to grow.
It was only during the 1920s that Gisborne became known for its wine-making tradition; during the 1970s wine enthusiasts from all over the world started to arrive to the Gisborne wine region. Today, the wine production of this District is still developing and growing.
Sub-Regions of Gisborne
Gisborne wine region can be divided into three sub-regions: Ormond, Patutahi, and Manutuke.
The Ormond wine-producing area is mostly made up of independent wineries. The renowned 10km ‘Golden Slope’ is in this sub-region, and thanks to its limestone soil, it makes it possible for local wineries to produce Gisborne’s best Chardonnay.
The Patutahi sub-region is mainly a warm inland area, located to the west of Gisborne. Clay and silt soil together with a low rainfall rate are perfect to grow an excellent Gewürztraminer grape.
Manutuke is a coastal sub-region, where Chardonnay is the main variety. Vine rows are planted in well-drained, clay and sandy soils. The vineyards closer to riverbanks produce fine aromatic grapes. Manutuke is the Gisborne wine region’s oldest wine-growing area.
Chardonnay from the Gisborne wine region is highly aromatic, thanks to the fertile soil by the riverbanks, with a notable fruity aftertaste. This wine presents a full-body style, with a low acid percentage that feels soft to the palate. Gisborne’s Chardonnay grapes are used to make smooth and delicate sparkling wines but also full-bodied table wines that bring to every meal the cool of the ocean breeze.
The second most planted variety in the Gisborne wine region is Pinot Gris. Depending on the levels of humidity of the year, Pinot Gris grape can deliver different intensity of sweetness and fruit aromas.
Red wines from the Gisborne wine region are less popular and occupy a minimum part of the planted vineyards. Malbec and Merlot are the main red varieties, and both are harvested in autumn in order to get a fully ripen, dark blue grape. These wines have a dense colour, accompanied by a strong plum and blackberry aroma. If you visit the Gisborne wine region, don’t forget to taste the local sparkling wines, which are becoming pretty successful. Most sparkling wines are made with the ‘méthode traditionelle’ and are produced using ripe, early-picked Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes.
Located on the Otiki Hill in East Cape, the East Cape Lighthouse dominates the easternmost point of New Zealand. The lighthouse is 154 metres high and even though it is not accessible to the public, the view from its position is pretty impressive, especially at sunrise.
You can reach the East Cape Lighthouse from the village of Te Araroa thanks to an incredible 22km drive on the coastline. On the road you will discover astonishing landscapes, and before witnessing the ultimate view from the lighthouse, you will need to walk 700 stairs up to the highest viewing point.
Tairawhiti Museum – Come Learn About the Ngati Porou
Located in the town of Gisborne, the biggest in the Gisborne wine region, the Tairawhiti Museum was first established in 1883. The first nucleus only consisted of one small room in the Municipal Office, but today it incorporates several wings and is all about the history of Ngati Porou.
The permanent exhibition features taonga (objects and artefacts with a great value) from the Ngati Porou and a series of historic photographs from the region.
Tikitiki – Art from the Māori
The teeny tiny village of Tikitiki, in the Waipu Valley, only has around 250 inhabitants but possesses an important heritage site for the entire New Zealand. Indeed, the Church of Saint Mary is one of the finest examples of Māori art and heritage. It was built in 1924 and is dedicated to the Ngati Porou soldiers who died during World War I.
The church was decorated with woven panels carved by local Ngati Porou artists. Today, the church and its heritage are protected by the New Zealand Historic Place Trust and is considered to be the cathedral of the Ngati Porou people.
Hidden Gem – Golden Slopes
The ‘Golden Slopes’ located in the Ormond sub-region, is the New Zealander version of the Côte-d’Or in Bourgogne. The 10km long strip is perfect to grow premium quality grapes because of the elevation and the clay, topsoil, and limestone soil. The Golden Slopes have the best climate and soil conditions for grape growing.
Nature to See in the Gisborne Wine Region
Rere Falls – Through the Curtains of the Waterfall
The Rere Falls are among the most enchanting falls of the entire New Zealand. The Rere Falls are approximately 45 minutes from Gisborne. Plus, 2km further from the falls there is the Rere Rockslide, a natural slope where you can have a super fun time!
For cycling enthusiast, the Rere Falls Trail is a 100km long trail that goes from Gisborne to Matawai. The trail is great if you want to experience one of New Zealand’s most remote region on a slower pace.
Eastwoodhill – Get Lost Among the Trees
Eastwoodhill is the national arboretum of New Zealand, it first opened in 1910 and spreads through an area of 135 hectares. The arboretum displays very diverse species of plants in order to help to the conservation of global biodiversity.
Eastwoodhill can be visited by following the many paths that are signposted in the arboretum. A must-see is William Douglas Cook’s enormous collection of Northern Hemisphere trees, which is the biggest in the entire Southern Hemisphere. The trees come from temperate climate zones and have perfectly grown in the mild climate of New Zealand.
Mount Hikurangi – Where the Sun Rises First
Mount Hikurangi is the highest peak in the Rukumara Range and it’s probably the best place to experience the most beautiful sunrise of your life. Indeed, the mountain is said to be the first peak of the above sea level world to catch the rays of the sun in the morning. The mountain is a sacred place for the Ngati Porou people because a legend says that Mount Hikuragi was the first point of the North Island to emerge from the sea. Also, the Nukutaimemeha canoe, that the god Māui used for his fishing trips, might be buried under the mountain. The spiritual value of Mount Hikurangi gives even more power to the scenic landscape that surrounds it.
What to Eat in Gisborne
Māori Hāngī – Taste the History of the Māori People
The Māori Hāngī (which means earth oven) is probably the most representative culinary tradition belonging to the Māori culture. Hāngī food can consist of fish, pork, lamb, cabbage, potatoes, all cooked in a pit on the ground. The ingredients were once wrapped in flax leaves, today aluminium or cloth sacks are also used.
The wraps are then placed in a basket that goes on the hot stones inside the pit. Cooking time is about three to four hours and the final result is a delicious, smoky, tender meat that brings to the table the taste of the earth.
Crayfish – New Zealander Lobster
The crayfish, called koura by the Māori, is a type of big lobster that is daily fished on the Pacific Coast of New Zealand. A fresh crayfish has a slightly sweet taste, and its texture is similar to that of tiger prawns.
The New Zealander crayfish is a delicate crustacean that doesn’t need to be cooked with a strong sauce or in water with too much salt.