If you love food, wine, and unique travel experiences then put New Zealand on your bucket list. You can get many New Zealand wines at your local restaurant or supermarket, but you will have memorable experiences if you visit the remote corners of the Auckland wine region. You can personally meet the winemakers, taste their amazing wine, pair them with tasty down under food.
New Zealand winemaking
This winery guide for travelers contains the suggestions of experienced tour guides who’ve been running small group tours around New Zealand since the 1970s. They know where the best wines and wineries are. If you are planning a trip to New Zealand’s Auckland and Waiheke Island wine regions you’ll want to bookmark their recommendations.
New Zealand is one of a group of ‘new world’ wine-growing countries changing the global wine landscape – and while its viticulture history doesn’t go as far back as the traditional wine-growing areas of Europe and the Middle East, it hasn’t taken long for New Zealand wines to gain a fantastic international reputation.
As the youngest country on earth, the winemaking history there is relatively short. The first grapes were introduced by missionary Samuel Marsden in 1819 who remarked: “New Zealand promises to be very favorable to the vine”.
Wineries in Auckland
The first large-scale wineries were established by Croatian immigrants in Auckland at the end of the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that the industry really started to develop. Ironically it was the relaxation of import controls on foreign wines coming into New Zealand in 1985 which lead to local producers going on an export drive with stunning success. From that time the New Zealand wine industry has expanded, with new regions, wines, and individual wineries cropping up all over the country.
It might surprise visitors to Auckland that the city has so many wonderful wine producers and culinary experiences. You can easily combine these experiences with visits to the scenic areas of Hauraki Gulf and Waitakere Ranges.
The Auckland Geographical Indication (GI) is small but it’s also the best geographical area to make wine in New Zealand. It’s made up of three sub-regions: Waiheke Island, Kumeu, and Matakana.
The region of Huapai and Kumeu, as far west as Waimauku and east to the southern edge of the town of Riverhead includes many of the founding vineyards of the New Zealand wine industry. Some of the country’s oldest wineries such as Montana Wines (now Brancott Estate), Babich, Nobilo, and Cooper’s Creek are here, established in the late 1800s by Croatian settlers working the Kauri gum fields. The area is most notable for its excellent Chardonnay, which makes up 85% of the vines.
Waiheke Island is a short 30-minute ferry ride east from downtown Auckland. It has approximately 30 wineries across 92 square kilometers (36 sq mi) to choose from and is perfect for a day trip from the city. Its dry and warm mesoclimate suits Bordeaux-type grapes that are ripe and full-bodied. While the vines are primarily French red grape varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc; its white grape varietals also have a good reputation.
Just an hour or so north of Auckland is the Matakana region – home to rolling hills, green valleys, and pretty beach towns. Wine began to be made there in the sixties but the oldest current vineyards, Heron’s Flight, Providence Wines, and Ransom Wines, were established in the late eighties and early nineties. Protected from the prevailing wind by hills, the area also has a warm mesoclimate. The many boutique wineries there produce Pinot Gris, Syrah, and Bordeaux Reds.
Down-to-earth, warm, and friendly, Matakana New Zealanders are known for their hospitality. Relax in beautiful sunny settings and enjoy gourmet spreads as you sample their outstanding wines.
A day out to Waiheke on the ferry from the center of Auckland is one of the most popular day trips you can take from the city. A visit to the West Coast beaches and Waitakere Ranges is another great full-day option that will give you the chance to visit the Kumeu wineries on the way out or back.
Auckland wineries you should visit:
- Kumeu River
- Soljans Estate Winery
- Tantalus Estate
- Man O’ War Vineyards
- Mudbrick Vineyard
- Plume Matakana
Special mention goes to Villa Maria Winery in Mangere, a tranquil oasis close to Auckland International Airport. If you have a flight to catch and would love to fit in one last tasting and lunch, don’t miss this winery.
What to eat:
With farming making up the backbone of the New Zealand economy, it’s no wonder it’s a country that is passionate about its meat. Succulent beef eye fillet or scotch – lightly cooked to perfection – is a specialty, as is roast lamb rump. One of the best red meats money can buy, the lean, flavorsome taste of venison is best served with Kumara (sweet potato) and a glass of full-bodied merlot. Also, strawberries grown just out of Auckland during summer are delicious – a punnet or two is the perfect accompaniment to any picnic lunch.
Best restaurants in Auckland:
As the biggest city in New Zealand and the first stop for many people on their trip, there are so many great restaurants, cafes, and food trucks to discover. Many are within walking distance of the center of town. Particular areas to try are Viaduct Harbour, the newer Wynard Quarter, and Ponsonby Road, just to name a few.
- Best Overall – Soul Bar – Food lovers in Auckland adore this waterfront spot, serving up locally sourced dishes in a stunning setting.
- Best International – Ebisu – The best of ancient Japanese traditions and fresh Kiwi fare, in the trendy Britomart precinct.
- Best Value – Sri Pinang – A BYO spot with a laidback atmosphere and affordable prices, Sri Pinang is located on K Road and is known as one of the best Malaysian restaurants in town.
- Best Takeaway – Petra Shawarma – This family-run business in Kingsland is your best bet for hearty, tasty and generous portions of authentic Middle Eastern food.
- Best Variety – Elliott Stables – Located in the heart of the city, Elliott Stables is an enchanting dining village where you can browse the menus of 12 international restaurants with ethnic and local fare.