If you feel that our area around Byron Bay is paradise, you can get fussy about your seaside holidays. Waiheke Island, a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland, has a natural beauty similar to the nearby Coromandel, plenty of beachhouses and a huge number of wineries, many of which don’t just serve excellent wine but also offer genuinely top-quality food.
Visting in February, we found a cheap beach house (amongst the very upmarket real estate) with its own path to Palm Beach, a sort of calm Wategos sprinkled with nudists. There’s no surf here, so swimming laps across the protected bay each morning was a delight, as was walking along the sand to yoga at the community hall.
Many of New Zealand’s best wines come from this island, including the Stonyridge cabernet blend Larose (at $250 a bottle, about the most expensive in the land). With a climate similar to the Northern Rhone’s, great soil structure and protective topography (it’s drier and warmer than Auckland) it’s great for reds (but not pinot noir) and we tried some excellent pinot gris (no sauvignon blanc grown here). Obsidian is another top-class winery.
In Cable Bay Winery’s top restaurant at sunset with a view across the straits to Auckland, wonderful Cable Bay Waiheke Island 2014 chardonnay ($45) in hand, looking at diners lazing in their beanbags on the lawn under the art installations, it seemed this was surely the best it could get.
By lunchtime the next day we were in Te Motu vineyard. This is a genuine, less-manufactured version of The Farm at Byron Bay – in an actual ‘rural shed’ but serving seriously good simple modern food from their own garden in a low-key, relaxed setting. The carafe wine of the day we visited was the incredibly good 2005 flagship Te Motu cabernet sauvignon-dominant blend with merlot and cabernet franc, hand harvested from low-yielding vines.
The island has a wonderful clifftop sculpture walk, as well as art galleries and what seems to be a commitment to a pure natural environment. I came away with the impression that New Zealanders often achieve what we aim for in combining wine, food and travel.
We weren’t able to bring back enough Te Motu wine (the best of which is around $125 a bottle), but from last month it is now available in Australia at NZ cellar-door prices by emailing [email protected] The next general release, due out in October 2015, is the 2008 vintage of this excellent Bordeaux-style wine.