North Island Gourmet Food and Wine Adventures

Northland
Northland is best known for its stunning beaches and historic townships, but it has recently developed a growing popularity with gourmet travellers. The Northland Wine & Food Trail takes you on an inside tour through Northland’s produce and wineries, with more than 70 stops from kumara farm tours and artisan growers to chocolate factories, winery restaurants and farmer’s markets. There are some great excursions and adventures to experience as well, or stop by the country’s largest farmer’s market, at Kerikeri (Hobson Ave). Held every Saturday, it features fresh regional vegetables and gourmet goods, including locally roasted coffee. Those with a sweet tooth can also visit Kerikeri's Makana Confections, where you can buy exquisite hand-dipped chocolates.

Auckland
New Zealand’s largest city is home to more than 50 vineyards, and a host of superb vineyard restaurants, so you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to wining and dining. The picturesque areas around Henderson Valley and Kumeu are well established favourites, while Matakana Coast, north of Auckland, has a fast-growing reputation for its quality wines. Check out the Matakana Farmers Market on Saturdays at 2 Matakana Valley Rd, where you can try the local wines and organic, produce including preserves, chutneys, pickles, olive oils, breads, meats, honey and flowers. To the south is the Villa Maria Winery & Vineyard Park at Mangere, or travel further afield to the wineries of the rustic Clevedon Valley.

Waiheke Island
If you’re in the CBD, be sure to catch the ferry from downtown Quay Street across to Waiheke Island. This popular beauty spot produces world-class reds, and is home to a host of acclaimed vineyards and some of Auckland’s best winery restaurants. Vineyard tour operators will meet you from the ferry, or hire a car, pick up a copy of the Waiheke Island of Wine map and go exploring under your own steam. The island's gourmet dining scene is also second to none, with acclaimed wineries such as Te Whau, Mudbrick, Stonyridge, Goldwaters, Te Motu and Cable Bay. At the other end of the scale, you can search for locally made gourmet delights at Saturday's Ostend Market, where you'll find chutneys, cheeses, jams, pickles, hand-stuffed feta olives, gourmet breads and even French crepes.

Coromandel
With its dramatic coastline and white sandy beaches, this favourite holiday region is also a great place to uncover local gourmet delights. There are handmade chocolates and old-fashioned 'lollies' to sample in Thames, while seafood lovers will find mussel and oyster farms scattered along the coast between Thames and Coromandel town. The Coromandel Oyster Company is located just before Coromandel town, with succulent fresh oysters, mussels, scallops and prawns, while over the Whangapoua hill is Catle Rock Fruit Winery, with delicious fruit wines and homemade jams and chutneys. You'll find plenty of fresh fruit and vege stalls along State Highway 25, or head to Whitianga and enjoy the stylish al fresco eateries dotted along the waterfront marina.

Bay of Plenty
The beautiful Bay of Plenty certainly lives up to its name, with a bountiful wealth of gourmet produce and two fine wineries - Morton Estate, just south of Katikati, and the deco-style Mills Reef at Bethlehem. You can sample the award-winning wines, or relax at the elegant fine-dining restaurant at Mills Reef. Tauranga's Fresh Fish Market, on Dive Crescent, is a local institution, with wooden barbecue tables set up on the old wharf, and a chance to try old-fashioned Kiwi fish 'n' chips. At Te Puke, you can sample fresh kiwfruit wines and liqueur at Kiwifruit 360, or head south and try the delicious native honeys at the Comvita Vsitor Centre. Tiny Maketu is also famous for its meat pies, made to an old-fashioned family recipe.

Hawke's Bay
Famous for its sunshine, fresh market produce and acclaimed wines, beautiful Hawke's Bay is an epicurean’s delight. Between them, Napier, Hastings and Havelock North boast more than 40 vineyards, producing almost every variety of wine. Go cycling among the vines, join a winery tour, relax over a vineyard lunch, or sample the region’s fresh local produce on the Hawke’s Bay Wine Country Food Trail. Depending on the season, you’ll find everything from sweetcorn, eggplant, cherries, apples, pears and citrus to avocados, walnuts and olives. You can download the map at www.hawkesbaynz.com. For more gourmet treats, check out the Saturday Hawke's Bay Farmers Markets on Napier's Tennyson Street, or head to the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds on Sunday mornings.

Gisborne
On the rugged coast of Eastland, Gisborne boasts fine surf beaches, award-winning wineries, and some great restaurants and cafés. Famous as the country's first city to see the sun, Gisborne is also honoured as the Chardonnay Capital of New Zealand. The dry sunny climate, mild winters and long growing season produce a rich, full bodied wine with plenty of flavour. The country's biggest-selling chardonnay producer, Montana Gisborne Chardonnay, is based here. There are several vineyards within easy driving distance of the city, but you may need to phone ahead to make appointments for tastings. You can pack a picnic and enjoy the ambience at lovely Milton Vineyard. For great alfresco dining, head down to the marina complex, where you'll find wonderful fresh seafood at the harbourside restaurants. Cider fans can also sample the honey mead wine at Bulmer Harvest Cidery beside the wharf on Customhouse Street - it's  New Zealand's largest cider maker. 

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Wairarapa
With its lush rolling hills, thriving vineyards and quaint townships, Wairarapa is best known for its powerful pinot noir. The historic wine village of Martinborough sits at the hearts of this prosperous wine-making region. Best of all, there are about 20 vineyards within easy walking distance of the town, and some great tours matching local produce and wines. For something a little different, visit the vineyards by mountainbike or enjoy the romance of a horse-drawn carriage. Foodies are well catered for with a huge range of fresh produce including vegetables, herbs, cheeses, flowers, olive oil, nuts, honey and locally brewed beer and cider. Swing by the farmers market at the Solway Show Grounds in Masterton’s York Street (Saturdays, 8.30am to 12.30pm) or browse the Sunday Market at the Martinborough Wine Centre. Wairarapa is also part of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail linking Hawke's Bay, Tararua, Wairarapa, Wellington and Marlborough.

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Images courtesy of Go Wairarapa