Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and also the birth place of its wine industry. Auckland is where all the major producers started from humble beginnings about 70 years ago in rural west Auckland.
Auckland boasts a stunning harbour with waterfront and dockland redevelopment offering restaurants, cafes and bars right on the water. Close to the central city is Mount Eden, an ancient extinct volcanic cone that offers panoramic views of greater Auckland and both harbours. Further afield are the Waitakere Ranges, a native forest reserve where there are hiking tracks and the opportunity to see native birdlife. Please note – NZ has no snakes or dangerous animals of any kind!
With three distinct sub-regions - Historic Kumeu (west Auckland) and two new boutique regions less than 30 years old (Matakana and Waiheke Island) - Auckland offers a myriad of fine wine tasting experiences complimented by vineyard restaurants and stunning scenery.
WHEN TO GO AND FOR HOW LONG?
Any time of year is great, although some of the boutique wineries have limited opening hours off-season. In general, the warmer months from October to April are when most winery cellar doors are open for business.
I would recommend about 3-5 days, if you want to explore the city of Auckland and the surrounding wine areas too.
WHERE TO GO?
The historic Kumeu region is a 30-minute drive from downtown Auckland. Croatian immigrants began making wine in the early 20th century and have become a huge part of the wine scene in NZ with companies such as Nobilo, Kumeu River, Matua, Brancott, and Oyster Bay starting there from humble origins. Once at the end of the motorway it’s instant countryside: race horses grazing in green pasture, strawberry fields, apple and kiwi fruit orchards, sheep, cows, fruit & veg shops and, of course, vineyards. The rural Kumeu region has a number of restaurants and cafes, and is a short drive to Muriwai ‘black sand’ beach and a gannet colony.
Northeast Auckland’s Matakana is an up-and-coming young boutique region with most wineries established less than 15 years. It is a 50-minute drive from Auckland city, and Matakana’s sunny, north-facing hillsides produce ripe red wines from varieties such as Sangiovese and Pinotage. The white grapes Chardonnay, Viognier and Pinot Gris are also doing extremely well. Some vineyards bring in a small amount of grapes from Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough, but most grow the vast majority onsite.
Many vineyards have onsite restaurants or cafes, plus there is a local pottery - Morris & James, a honey centre, picturesque coastal scenery and a marine reserve. Quaint Victorian Warkworth township on the main road offers cafes, shopping and a boutique chocolate shop.
Waiheke Island, about 30 years ago, was seen as a quaint, if backward, rural weekend retreat for Aucklanders who had a holiday home there. As for the locals, they earned Waiheke the nickname Cadbury Island (full of fruits and nuts). And it is true, that Waiheke was a haven for artists, old hippies, dope growers and alternative life-stylers. Yet back in 1978, Kim and Jeanette Goldwater had the vision and passion to establish the Island's very first vineyard. Now, of course, many Aucklanders are kicking themselves that they didn’t invest in land in what is now premium, million-dollar-plus real estate, and one of the trendiest boutique wine regions in New Zealand with about 24 wineries.
With a temperature a few degrees warmer than the mainland and warm onshore breezes, Waiheke is renowned for its red wines, particularly Syrah but also Bordeaux blends and Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. A tourist Mecca in summer, Waiheke’s wine, fine dining and stunning Hauraki Gulf views draw both local and international visitors. The island’s population of around 8,000 can swell to three times or more that number on a busy summer’s day. Throughout the year it is also a popular venue for VIP and corporate long lunches, where guests are sometimes helicoptered in.