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  • Mei Anne Foo

Life In NZ: Farmstay And Wine Tastings Around Hawke's Bay

Wine down sessions were in order, as we celebrated our fifth year wedding anniversary.

Exactly five years ago, my husband and I honeymooned in New Zealand. We landed in windy Wellington, took a ferry to South Island, donned three drysuits to swim with seals in the freezing sea near Kaikoura, cycled around Christchurch, stayed at a secluded glass house overlooking a private bay, photographed the Milky Way from Lake Tekapo, hiked Hooker Valley, jumped off a bridge, had our first heli-ride, and spent 10 hours on the road driving back to Picton from Queenstown.

It was a whirlwind of two weeks. We fell madly in love with the country, its glorious nature, the people, the bird, and the fruit—each so sweet! All in their own special way.

And if you were to tell me I’d be living in New Zealand five years from then, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Interestingly, this country has always captivated me, even as a child. My dad used to sell books and I remember constantly turning to the pages featuring the green pastures of New Zealand attached to this gigantically heavy world travel guide. I still pinch myself some days, knowing that my ultimate bookmarked place is where I’ve actually ended up in.

And a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our fifth-year wedding anniversary. We drove for about four hours from Hamilton to Hawke's Bay, a region on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island famed for wine and dine. Here’s what we did.

Stayed at The Hutch, Havelock North

the hutch Havelock North bathtub

I was instantly sold when I laid eyes on images of the outdoor clawfoot bathtub. Perched on a private hill, soaks here overlook farmland and its four-legged grazers, including skunk-coloured cows and horses (or as the husband calls them: Tall and skinny cows). But by far, the best four-legged creature that visited us everytime we turned the tap on was Hazel, the property owners’ friendly and slightly chonky Jack Russell Terrier.

Hazel even accompanied us for our dinner the first night we were there, practically begging for a piece of lamb chop using only her eyes. And oh, I only just realise why she’s called Hazel! All I can see now are her big, brown eyes! I miss them.

We were also hoping to meet the other critters as advertised on the Airbnb listing. A certain hedgehog (named Harry) apparently appears sometimes but although we left a piece of banana out all night, no banana bites were taken. Ah well. Next time then!

the hutch Havelock North

The Hutch itself is a self-contained tiny house that includes a bed, ensuite with shower, a tiny but fully stocked kitchen (pots, pans, toaster, you name it; there’s even breakfast essentials like eggs in the mini fridge!), and a small dining table for two (which we didn't use cause we were eating at the elevated bathtub area, dubbed “Anywhere”, which has a nifty one-piece wooden lounge-chairs-table combo). All these wonderful fixtures are found right next to the dwelling place of Margo and her husband, Richard, who are incredible hosts! Margo provided such sage tips on what to do and where to go. All her recommendations were spot on; we’re so glad we listened to her and took our car up Te Mata Peak as well as had brunch at Birdwoods, a fun-filled, family-friendly spot that delighted both our eyes and tummy! The sweet scones here were to-die-for.

Hawke's Bay Lunch & Wine Experience Tour

To be honest, I booked this tour hoping we’d be the only ones on it but just a week before our scheduled date, five others also secured a booking of the Hawke's Bay Lunch & Wine Experience Tour, offered by Winery Tours Hawke’s Bay Limited. But I’m so glad we got to spend it with five other Kiwis, who I must say are one of the friendliest nationalities in the world. So, there we were, celebrating five years of marriage, with five other people (okay, if you include our tour driver, Clarence, it’s six), visiting five wineries. It was very relaxed and after the second stop, I think everyone (except Clarence) was too tipsy to care for PC conversations.

The wineries we visited were all in the boutique range. All very quaint. The owners of Brookfields and Hawkes Ridge personally greeted us and conducted the wine tastings: We went through a long list of varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot, Syrah, etc. I think we had at least 15 glasses of wine before midday.

We had lunch at Oak Estate, where the food was divine. Can’t remember the wines though. Sorry, tipsy.

The other two wineries we went to were somewhat more commercialised, though still small in size. Moana Park made me want to burst out in “How Far I’ll Go”; their 2020 Sparkling Rose definitely called me but I think it called out this other guy even more since he tipped a glass of the pink sparkly liquid over someone’s white dress. See, tipsy.

Ash Ridge, which prides itself on having its winemaker Lauren Swift bag New Zealand’s Young Winemaker of the Year five years ago, was more touch-and-go in terms of service, probably due to its popularity. It was quite a busy day for them when we visited.

But overall, it was so good. And we will be back to visit the bigger wineries in the future.

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