Hawke’s Bay is a region on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The region is mostly known for its Art Deco town, amazing landscapes and wine. Indeed, the Hawke’s Bay wine region is the oldest and the second most productive wine region in the country. Most of Hawke’s Bay vineyards are located on the slopes of low hills and in valleys around Napier and Hastings (the two main cities). The Hawke’s Bay wine region is mostly famous for its Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blends, and for its long narrow ocean beaches perfect for sipping a glass of wine in total relax.
Winegrowing tradition in the Hawke’s Bay wine region started around the 1850s when Marist missionaries came to the area and planted the first vine rows. At first, only dry red wines were produced and sold, but by the 1920s a larger and region-wide industry started to develop.
As of 2020, the Hawke’s Bay wine region accounts for around 9% of the national production of New Zealand. 71 out of 94 wineries open their cellars to tourists that are willing to learn about the high-quality wines from the Hawke’s Bay wine region. For sure, wineries also offer detailed and guided wine tasting experiences. With the opening to an international public, fine Bordeaux Blends and fruity whites have become popular and requested all over the world.
Climate and Soil of the Hawke’s Bay Wine Region
The vineyards of the Hawke’s Bay wine region spread from a very sunny and hot ocean climate to a cooler, more wet weather in the inland sub-regions. The temperate climate permits a longer and more prolific growing season. The hills surrounding the coastal area protects vineyards from rainfalls and the cold; the central wine areas, which may risk frost and experience more rain, have a natural draining soil that avoid floods during the growing season.
The inland plains have a more alluvial, loamy-clay soil over gravely sub-soils, while the coastal areas are characterised by sandy loams. Vines on the hillsides are planted in clay and limestone soils.
Sub-Regions of the Hawke’s Bay Wine Region
The Hawke’s Bay wine region is entirely registered as a GI, that is why its wines possess a certification of quality. There are 5 sub-regions under the Hawke’s Bay GI: Hillsides, Central Hawke’s Bay, Alluvial Plains, River Valleys, and Coastal Areas.
The Hillsides sub-region is mainly concentrated on the slopes of the Te Mata Peak, where vineyards have been productive since the 1890s. Today, the productive land has expanded, and vineyards can be found also in the Esk River Valley and in Maraekakaho. Hillsides are the perfect area for growing classic red varieties.
The Central Hawke’s Bay sub-region is the coolest wine-growing area of the Hawke’s Bay wine region. Vineyards are at 300m above sea level and are mostly planted with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir grapes.
Hawke’s Bay’s first wineries started working in the Alluvial Plains sub-region, which is also the area with the oldest soil. The alluvial soil, made up of stones and gravels, accumulates the heat during the day and keeps the vine rows heated during the night. This makes it possible to grow juicy Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
The River Valleys sub-region has this name because it takes in several valleys created by four different rivers. As a matter of fact, there is a huge diversity in the soil type, altitude, sun exposure, and grape grown in the River Valleys sub-region. The premium grapes from these areas are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Coastal Areas vineyards are those which get the highest sun exposure and can benefit from the temperate climate of the Pacific Ocean. The best grapes that grow in this sub-region are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, an early ripening red variety.
Bordeaux blends like Merlot and Cabernet are very popular and successful in the Hawke’s Bay wine region. Both wines present a full-body style, with a controlled level of acidity and strong and rich plum aroma. Among the red varieties produced in the Hawke’s Bay wine region, Syrah is characterised by a strong ripe fruit perfume, while Pinot Noir is very aromatical.
Cabernet and Merlot acquire an even complex structure with aging, together with a stronger aftertaste of ripe fruit.
On the other hand, white wines like Chardonnay are full-bodied, rich and complex wines with a perfectly balanced acidity. Sauvignon Blanc has a characteristic fruit and herbal aroma that emphasise its acidity.
Te Mata Estate, located in between the Te Mata Hills and the Tukituki River, was the first legally protected winery in New Zealand. The winery was first established in 1896 and it is run by one family of expert winemakers. Its wines are of premium quality, and in fact, the Te Mata Estate ships its bottles to 42 states. The main varieties grown in the vineyards of the estate are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.
The award-winning Hopesgrove winery is a family-owned business located in the limestone hills near Paki Paki. All wines are produced with the most meticulous care, as all the levels of the production are controlled and done by family members. Pieter Koopman’s, the owner, philosophy is “Less is more”, meaning that the focus of the winemaking process is the quality and not the quantity. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah are the top grapes from the Hopesgrove winery.
The Linden Estate winery owns some of the oldest vineyards of the Hawke’s Bay wine region. The winery has a small boutique near Napier, where you can taste and buy their iconic award-winning Chardonnay. The Linden Estate winery follows very strict sustainability rules to make their wines. Indeed, in the end, all wines have a very strong aroma profile and fully represent the character of the sub-region.
Napier is a seaport located on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The city is the center of Hawke’s Bay and it can be considered as an open-air Art Deco museum. Indeed, Napier is full of scenic restored Art Deco buildings. Every year in February, an Art Deco Festival is held in the city to celebrate its 1930s heritage.
When visiting Napier, don’t miss the Marine Parade bridge, which connects the city to the Pacific Ocean. Experience the ocean breeze and an amazing view of Hawke’s Bay. For keen Instagrammers, the viewing platform on Marine Parade close to the Pania statue is perfect for great pictures!
Ongaonga Historic Village – Froze in Time
The history of the Ongaonga historic village started in 1865 when an English man bought Fairfield farm and started to build a town around it. The name Ongaonga comes from the water stream that passes through the village. The Ongaonga village soon became a business center and an important engine for the development of the Central Hawke’s Bay area.
Today, the village still has some residents that dedicate their lives to the preservation of the historic sites of Ongaonga. Get lost in the old roads of Ongaonga, discover the history of its most iconic buildings and live a ‘time-machine’ experience.
Wairoa Lighthouse – Follow the River
While walking on the Wairoa River marina in the town of Waikokopu, you might ask yourself why there is a lighthouse on the bank of the river. Well, the lighthouse is the Wairoa Lighthouse and it was moved here from Portland Island in 1959.
The lighthouse operated on Portland Island for 77 years, before being replaced by a fully electric tower. The old building was then moved to the town where it was destroyed during Cyclone Bola. The one that is visible today was reconstructed at the end of the 1950s.
Nature to See in the Hawke’s Bay Wine Region
Cape Kidnappers – Don’t Worry, Take your Kids!
Cape Kidnappers or Te Kauwae-a-Māui is a headland located at the end of an 8km peninsula at the south end of Hawke’s Bay. Access to the Cape is possible from Clifton. The Cape offers a stunning image of the coastline and of Hawke’s Bay as it stretches out to the Pacific Ocean.
Cape Kidnappers is a natural reserve and an important birding area. Indeed, a colony of gannets lives on the Cape. Daily birdwatching tours take curious tourists to see the nesting areas, which are on rocks that have a high landslide risk; this is why it’s always better to book a guided tour and avoid going on solo adventures.
Te Mata Peak – Green all Around
The Te Mata Peak is a 399m high hill near Hastings. The hillscape might not be the highest point in New Zealand, but for sure it delivers an amazing 360° view, proving that height is just a number.
You can reach the top of the hill by bike, hiking or even driving. On clear days you can see the ocean, the Hawke’s Bay coastline, Napier and even the Ruapehu volcano. From above, the spectacular view opens on the limestone valley underneath the hill and carved by the Tukituki River.
Hawke’s Bay Trails – Discover the Region by Bike
Hawke’s Bay is full of amazing and adventurous trails for bike lovers. The trails cover more or less a 200km distance all around the region, from the inland to the ocean following rivers, valleys, and scenic vineyards.
A popular trail is the Tukituki trail in Central Hawke’s Bay and is a network of trails for bikes and hiking. It passes close to the towns of Waipakurau and Waipawa and follows the stream of the Tukituki River.
Food to Try in the Hawke’s Bay Wine Region
Rush Munro Ice-Cream – History on a Cone
The Rush Munro Ice-cream shop was founded by an English man who came to Hawke’s Bay in 1926. The one and only Rush Munro shop is in the town of Hastings and it is New Zealand’s oldest ice-cream parlor.
Today the shop is owned by a local Hawke’s Bay family and they work every day to serve their clients the best and most authentic “Kiwi” ice-cream.
Hōhepa Cheeses – Sustainability is Good
Hōhepa Cheeses are typical Hawke’s Bay products that you can find and taste at the Cheesery boutique in Napier. The milk with which the cheeses are produced comes entirely from the cows of the biodynamic farm adjacent to the shop.
Hōhepa Cheeses produces a wide range of cheese, plus biodynamic Greek yogurt. The biodynamic Blue Cheese is the latest addition to the family, and it has soon become one of the most appreciated among the cheeses. Another best seller is the Herb Quark, a perfect dip to serve as an aperitif paired with some local Hawke’s Bay wine.
Telegraph Hill Olives – Taste the Medierranean
On the outskirts of Hastings, more precisely on Telegraph Hill, a group of guys grow their own olives and produce all kinds of olivary product that you can think of. Olive oils, tapenade, olive pesto, tasteful olives for appetizers, everything!
To better decide which of these fine products to take home, you can visit the Telegraph Hill tasting room and learn which are the best pairings of olives and local Hawke’s Bay wines.