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Exploring New Zealand Wine Regions

10 min read
Exploring New Zealand Wine Regions

Come along for a scenic journey through New Zealand’s 12 wine regions. Discover wineries, towns, restaurants, and attractions as you explore New Zealand wine regions.

From the almost tropical north to the chilly south, New Zealand’s wine regions stretch nearly 700 miles. To get perspective, California is about 770 miles long. Within the 700 miles of wine lovers’ dreamland are 12 areas worthy of exploration by the intrepid wine enthusiast.

I’ve been fortunate to have visited eight of these 12 wine regions, some multiple times. I’m pleased to take you on a scenic and tasty journey to my favorite wineries, towns, restaurants, and other attractions in the New Zealand wine country.

I love the vineyard view at Hans Herzog winery, which makes a fabulous New Zealand wine.

I love the vineyard view at Hans Herzog winery in the Marlborough wine region. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

New Zealand Wine Region: Auckland

Starting from Auckland, I love the ferry ride to Waiheke Island and watching the city’s skyline fade. Waiheke is part of the Auckland Wine Region and is popular with locals and international visitors. I visit for the wine, hiking, amazing restaurants, and beaches.

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One of many beaches and trails to attract visitors to Waiheke Island.

One of many beaches and trails to attract visitors to Waiheke Island. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Since none of the Waiheke wines make it to Maryland, I either have to go there or pay around $200 for shipping a case to my home. I’d much rather go in person and visit wineries like Mudbrick, Stonyridge, Batch, Cable Bay, Te Motu, and Tantalus Estate. If I buy wines, I usually haul them back in a special wine suitcase instead of paying to ship my liquid treasures home.

A note to those going to New Zealand in search of wine, look for a winery with a cellar door (tasting room); otherwise, you’ll need to arrange a tasting with the winery in advance.

For excellent views and, of course, the wine, I like Batch, Mudbrick, Cable Bay, and Stonyridge. I’ve only had the chance to dine at one of these Waiheke Island wineries, Mudbrick, and the meal and wine were fantastic. Wines of note were their rosé, Oscar, and Velvet.

New Zealand wine

Wine tasting at Stoney Ridge is a treat! Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Where to Stay and Dine Near Auckland

For lodging, we chose a vacation rental home near Oneroa, as there aren’t many hotels on the island. Lunch at Fenice was fabulous. This Italian eatery wowed us with its wines and food, especially the ravioli and the duck risotto. For high-end dining on the beach at Onetangi, our guide Tim at Waiheke Executive Transport said, “Ki Māha is one of the best restaurants on the island.” Mudbrick Winery has a restaurant with fabulous views, wine, and food, but it is a bit pricey.

Other Auckland Sub-regions

There are three other wine sub-regions in the Auckland area. I’ve had wines from several smaller regions but have not visited the wineries. Kumeu River makes an excellent chardonnay I occasionally see in US wine shops. Babich was one of the early visionaries and planted vines in West Auckland in 1912. Try the organic offerings of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and red blends if you can find Babich wines in your local bottle shops.

A Hidden Gem

Gisborne is happy to point out that they are the first city to see the sun each day, and they have fantastic chardonnay! This city of about 44,000 is notable for the three rivers that flow through the city, Waikanae Beach, and its wonderful Mediterranean-like climate.

Sunrise on two of Gisborne's three rivers.

Sunrise on two of Gisborne’s three rivers. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Although I could try other wine varietals like pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer, and merlot, I usually stick with chardonnay. My family and I loved the tasting experience at Matawhero Wines and Bushmere Estate on my most recent trip. Co-owner Kirsten Searle at Matewhero guided us through several of her white wines. We left with smiles and bottles of Churchouse barrel fermented chardonnay, Irwin Chardonnay (a nod to the founders of Matawhero), and a single vineyard gewürztraminer for good measure.

The view from one of the cottages.

The view from one of the cottages at Matawhero. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Other wineries I’d recommend are Bushmere Estate for chardonnay and their fabulous vineyard platter, Milton Vineyards, Spade Oak, Wrights Vineyard, and Hihi Wines. Check out Experience Gisborne for a wine tour either by van or bicycle. Katrina was our guide and knew the town, wineries, bike trails, and restaurants well. We enjoyed restaurants like Zest for breakfast, Sunshine Thai for casual dinner, lunch at Bushmere Arms—not to be confused with Bushmere Estate, and The Globe—formerly the Marina, for dinner and wine.

New Zealand wine

Katrina from Experience Gisborne on our tour of Gisborne. My brother and sister are behind Katrina. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Exploring New Zealand Wine Regions Further South

A scenic drive some three hours south of Gisborne takes you to Napier and the Hawkes Bay wine region. Like Gisborne, chardonnay is the main grape varietal in Hawkes Bay. My wife and I explored Napier years ago on our first trip to New Zealand. We loved the Napier downtown and its art deco-style architecture. We didn’t visit the wineries, but we’ve tried Hawke’s Bay wines from William Murdoch, Villa Maria, Esk Valley, and Craggy Range over the years. I still have fond memories of visiting the Kennedy Rose Gardens and walking the downtown Napier area.


Continuing south to Martinborough, the wine trail hits a great pinot noir region called the Wairarapa. On our recent trip, we confirmed that the Wairarapa is our favorite wine destination. Blessed with several excellent wineries producing world-class pinot noir, decent sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, and rosé makes this wine region a must-visit.

Martinborough Palliser Estate.

Martinborough Palliser Estate is among my favorite winery stops in the Wairarapa wine region. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

The Wairarapa was once primarily a farming region producing livestock and produce, but the land wasn’t good enough to sustain such agriculture. However, it turned out to be excellent for growing grapes. My favorite wineries are Poppies Martinborough, Ata Rangi, Nga Waka, Margrain Vineyard, Palliser Estate, and TK Wines.

Poppies is One of My Favorite Places

For a fabulous vineyard platter and wines, Poppies is our favorite in all of New Zealand. Part of that rating concerns Poppy—the winemaker who co-owns Poppies with her husband, Shayne. On our recent visit, we devoured the tasting platter of cheese, pork loin, olives, veggies, and dips with a glass of Poppy’s delicious rosé. We’d have stayed longer, but Matthew, our guide from Martinborough Wine Tours, wanted to show us the new tasting rooms at Nga Waka and Ata Rangi. Both were gorgeous and had excellent pinot noir!

A tub of Poppie's best wines.

A tub of Poppie’s best wines on display at the tasting room. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Martinborough has several popular restaurants I’d recommend. For a good selection of wine and food, Circus is a good bet, and you can take in a movie while you’re there. Union Station at the Martinborough Hotel serves dinner in the dining room, or you can grab pub fare in the bar. Breakfast or lunch at Café Medici on their patio is delicious and memorable. Don’t miss the extensive breakfast menu with items like smoked salmon eggs Benedict, breakfast quesadilla, baked treats, and a flat white or two.

I’d recommend Parehua Resort, Margrain Village Villas, and Aylestone Boutique Retreat for lodging. On our recent trip, we stayed at the Claremont Motel and Apartments. We don’t recommend it because of the rude manager experience during check-in.

Margrin Vineyard.

Margrain Vineyard and villas offer classy lodging within walking distance of several wineries. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

South Island Splendor

New Zealand is blessed with two fabulous Islands that offer diverse environments. Parts of the Central Otago wine region remind me of eastern Oregon and Washington, with desert-like landscapes. Along the Gibbston Valley, find a greener band of land that produces some of New Zealand’s best pinot noir. Staying in Queenstown puts wine lovers in easy reach of the Gibbston Valley for day trips or wine touring. I had a fantastic meal and wine at Amisfield, and I highly recommend this stop.

On my most recent trip, a waitress recommended Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir, which was a big hit. I found Mt Difficulty in a Maryland wine shop shortly after returning from New Zealand. At $40 per bottle, this is a wine for a special occasion in my home.

Mt. Difficulty pinot noir.

Mt. Difficulty pinot noir from the Otago wine region was a favorite on our recent New Zealand wine country trip. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

With more than 30 wineries in Central Otago, it would take some time to visit even a handful. You should plan on spending at least two to five days to get the most out of your stay. Twice we’ve stayed at the Creeksyde Holiday Park and love its proximity to downtown Queenstown. This is a winner with campervan parking, affordable motel rooms, self-contained units, and a creek-side location.

For spectacular luxury lodging, my wife and I loved Matakauri Lodge on the outskirts of Queenstown. The views, accommodations, meals, and wine are top shelf.

The New Zealand Wine Region of Marlborough

No doubt about it, the most famous New Zealand wine region is Marlborough. Sauvignon blanc put them on the world’s wine map, and the area continues to produce many of my favorites. You should plan ahead for lunch or wine tasting by contacting the winery and getting reservations if required. We missed out on a couple of my favorites by not planning. However, we did discover Saint Clair Family Estate because our first choice for lunch was booked. I’d also recommend Hans Herzog for lunch and wine.

The Marlborough lends itself to bike touring the vineyards. Most of the area’s wineries are on relatively flat ground. I’ve always traveled the region in a rental car or campervan, but someday I’ll try a guided wine tour to avoid being the designated driver.

Savignon blanc and chardonnay.

We tasted the sauvignon blanc and chardonnay on a recent trip to the Marlborough wine region. Both were excellent wines! Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Many of the Marlborough region’s wines make it to the US and other countries. My favorites include Villa Maria, Kim Crawford, Whitehaven, Cloudy Bay, and Allan Scott. I’ve rarely stayed in the Blenheim/Marlborough region, opting for Nelson lodging. That being said, dozens of hotels or alternative lodging choices in the Blenheim/Picton area, and gobs of dining options exist. Don’t miss Mahkana Chocolates near Saint Clair Family Estate.

Makana Chocolates.

No visit to the Marlborough is complete without a stop at Makana Chocolates. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Nelson, New Zealand

The waters around Nelson are such an otherworldly aquamarine color it seems almost intoxicating to gaze upon the bay and ocean. I was smitten at first sight. The town of Nelson is one of the most pedestrian-friendly in the country and has numerous culinary delights.

Abel Tasman.

Abel Tasman view from the trail we hiked. With vineyards nearby, it’s worth visiting Abel Tasman Park as a wine trip add-on. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Wineries are located on the edge of town and miles away near Motueka. Stop in at the Motueka iSite visitor center for a list of nearby wineries. Some of my favorite wines of the Nelson region are Seifried Estates, Kina Cliffs, and Neudorf Vineyards. Most of these wineries are boutique-size and require booking ahead of your expected visit.

Motueka iSite visitor's center.

We stopped in at the Motueka iSite visitor’s center for local information. With the Nelson iSite closed indefinitely, Motueka is filling the gap. Photo by Kurt Jacobson


The Canterbury Wine Region is in the Christchurch area and is spread out to the north (Waipara), to the south (Burnham) to the east (Banks Peninsula). All of these sub-regions can be reached easily by car. Christchurch is New Zealand’s second-largest city, with ample restaurants, lodging, attractions, and wineries.

On a previous trip to Christchurch, I took a wine tour to the Waipara and hit three wineries. My favorite winery on tour was Pegasus Bay for its lovely outdoor tasting area, its riesling, and pinot noir. I can usually find some Waipara wines in my local wine superstore, and I have tried a few pinot noir, riesling, and red blends over the years.

Pegasus Bay Winery.

Pegasus Bay Winery in the Waipara wine region has good red and white wines. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Sadly, I haven’t been to the other Canterbury wineries on three previous trips to Christchurch, but with so many to choose from, I have it on my list for my next trip. For lodging, try Hambledon B&B for a historic and luxurious stay. I’ve also stayed at Top Ten’s Christchurch location in a motel room on my 2015 trip. The room had a full kitchen, parking out front, and was close to everything I wanted to see.

Articles Related to Exploring New Zealand Wine Regions

Last Sip While Exploring New Zealand Wine Regions

To do them justice, it would take at least two weeks to visit these New Zealand wine regions. In some regions like Waiheke and Martinborough, wine shops specialize in selling local New Zealand wines.

Waiheke wine shop,

Waiheke wine shop in Oneroa. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

We stopped at Martinborough Wine Merchants and Waiheke Wine Center for hard-to-find boutique wines to bring home.

If you visit New Zealand wine country, please comment on which regions and wineries are your favorites. Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your trip to New Zealand or any other fabulous wine country.

Come along for a scenic journey through New Zealand's 12 wine regions. Discover wineries, towns, restaurants, and attractions as you explore New Zealand wine regions.


Exploring New Zealand Wine Regions

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