Friday, 5 April 2013

New Zealand

 Waiheke Island: day one

After a 14-hour flight from Mumbai India via Singapore, I finally arrived at Auckland airport, New Zealand, just after midnight. I made straight for the hotel to get some sleep and beat the jet lag.

I ventured out into Auckland around 9am feeling fully refreshed and I couldn’t believe how quiet, unpopulated and clean it was. I think New Zealand is the exact opposite of India!

I was lucky enough to be here whilst the England cricketers were taking on the Black Caps at Eden Park, so I took the uncongested and very safe train out to the stadium to watch. It’s a wonderful stadium and the glorious weather was perfect to wind down after the madness and hectic week in India!

Although the food in India was superb, a seafood dinner of local scallops and beautiful fillet of local hapuku (a firm white fish) was a welcome change. A glass of 2010 Dog Point Pinot Noir was a perfect complement.

The following morning I headed early to Queens Wharf to take the ferry out across the beautiful Waitemata Harbour. We stopped at Devenport, then passed Rangitoto Island on the left and Mutukores (Browns Island) on the right, before reaching the final destination of Matiatia Wharf on Waiheke Island after a ride of about 45 minutes.

Waiheke has a big buzz in the wine world right now due to its unique climate and I was here to find out just what it’s all about.  As soon as you step foot on the 93sq km island the pace of life slows down; being an islander myself I slipped easily into their way of life!

I hired a car and set off towards my first visit in the far north-east corner of the island; Man O’ War Vineyards. No map needed: there's only one road that soon turned from tarmac to dirt. This estate is a huge 4000 acres; mostly sheep farming, but they have carefully selected the best sites for their vineyards.  I soon began to learn that it is not so much the soil type – which is a fairly uniform clay base across the island – but the site and aspect of the vineyard that is important. The winery is off the beaten track and although they have a beautiful cellar door, they don't do tours. However Denise, who looks after things there, kindly took me for a bumpy tour around some of the estate to look at the vineyards. Everywhere you look there are secluded bays of deserted golden beaches.

Waiheke, like many other regions in NZ, is in a drought period and the harvest is panning out to one of the greatest ever seen. Lack of water also means no wild fruits so birds have been flocking to the vineyards for their lunch, meaning sturdy nets have had to be put up over all the vineyard blocks.

The whites were picked a couple weeks ago, but the reds are still out there getting that final crucial ripening. The Malbec tasted wonderful in the vineyard and I am sure will make an amazing wine.

Denise took me back to the beachside cellar door to taste the range looking out onto the Man O’ War Bay, so named by Captain James cook in 1769 during his first voyage around New Zealand.  When Cook stopped and anchored here, he spotted the tall Kauiri trees noting in his journals they’d make ideal masts for the Royal Navy warships. The names of the wine continue in this seafaring theme and I really liked the mineral 2010 Dreadnought Syrah and the 2010 Iron Clad Cabernet Franc/Merlot.

My accommodation was at Watermark Studios ran by English lady Jo who sensibly moved out here some years ago before property prices went through the roof. Her three studios are stunning and I recommend a stay here!  From the garden you look out onto Little Oneroa beach and into the Hauraki Gulf with the Coromandel Penisula in the distance: truly stunning setting.

They have got the food here so right: bar food, takeaway or a full sit-down meal can be had in the little town, all made with top-quality ingredients. I made the most of my view by getting fish and chips: no ordinary fish and chips mind you! On the counter there are fillets of various fish. You make your choice which they lightly batter and cook for you. I chose local-speciality snapper and the little bottle shop selling “the biggest range of Waiheke wines in the world” topped it off. I watched the sunset with a Man O’ War Chardonnay!

More island exploration tomorrow.    

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