Leading the lives of sybarites, Hawke’s Bay’s savvy locals have the region’s best watering holes well and truly sussed.
If their favourite favoured cafes, eateries and cellar doors aren’t always listed on visitor experience websites, that’s because some aren’t easy to find, tucked away as they are in semi-industrial zones, in the ‘burbs or located out in the bountiful countryside. But whether you’re a local or simply visiting, to scout out these hidden gems is to gain a greater appreciation of Hawke’s Bay undoubted charms.
Cycling is a popular way to explore wine country, follow the east coast’s typically braided rivers and soak up the crystalline light of the Pacific coastline. Hawke’s Bay’s high sunshine count and extensive network of flat, off-road bike trails make for easy cycling. To help with planning a trip, a map of the pathway system is available on the www.hbtrails.nz website.
A great spot for a break from cycling or walking the Ahuriri foreshore and Napier inner harbour route can be found among former warehouses, bond stores and wool stores that are now largely converted into offices, indie shops and trendy apartments. You would scarcely know they are there, but three foodie outlets clustered around a courtyard off Mahia Street are an oasis screened off from the bypass taken by trucks to the port. Here you can linger under a vine-festooned pergola, nestled in among citrus and olive trees grouped around a European-style tiered fountain. Picnic does delicious baked goods so indulge in a treat to accompany your coffee – a savoury galette, perhaps, or a chocolate lamington, coated in coconut threat and filled with raspberry jam. Vetro specialises in Mediterranean dry and chilled foodstuffs and Italian wines while Gourmet Direct is a speciality butcher, so there is ample to choose from if you’re cooking dinner that night.
Just around the corner in Ossian Street, The Urban Winery is housed in one of Napier’s tourism drawcards – the much-photographed National Tobacco Company building. The handsomely decorated main entrance is a showstopper designed by local architect J A Louis Hay following the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. Bedazzled visitors shouldn’t overlook the more modest approach to winemaker Tony Bish’s venture next door.
The Urban Winery interior conjures up all the visual theatricality of a temple dedicated to Bacchus, the Greek god of wine. A Hawke’s Bay speciality, Chardonnay begins its journey here, transforming from grape juice to beguiling wine in an atmospheric barrel hall furnished with egg-shaped concrete and French oak fermenters. There are tours and wine tastings, and tapas and platters are available from the wine bar. Regular music events are staged at night.
Down a rather lengthy stretch of unsealed drive (you may want to add the cost of a car wash to your day’s outing!), Te Awanga Estate is accessed off the scenic coastal road between Haumoana and Clifton. Turn right onto the drive as you approach the eponymous settlement of Te Awanga.
This cellar door – it’s not a working winery – offers a fair range of wines in the tasting line-up. The winemaker is the well-respected Rod McDonald, who sources the grapes from throughout Hawke’s Bay. Encompassing the region’s varietal strengths, these small blocks are progressively transitioning to organic.
“All day grazing” – seven days a week over summer – consists of tasty platters, pizzas, cheese boards and a sweet. Whether eating inside or outside on the deck and terracing, guests can soak up the sense of remove, taking in a tree-framed elevated view over a grassed bank to stocking-stitched rows of vines to the sea.
Mary Shanahan, a Hawkes Bay local will be back tomorrow morning with “The Road Less Travelled” Part 2.