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Cycling through wine country
We all wake much later than expected following our evening at Craggy Range. I blame the exhausting bike-ride. The others blame the three bottles of wine we had at dinner.
We turn off Waimarama Road and cycle towards the large, caramel-coloured concrete dome that is Craggy Range’s restaurant. Floor to ceiling windows, a wide-open floor plan and a stone fireplace greet us as we enter the main space of the restaurant. Our view for tonight: the Tukituki River, tinged pink under the setting sun. Most of the items on the menu are produced locally and the wine list is a diverse, people-pleasing mix.
The air is still warm as we cycle back along the night-fallen Waimarama road and mosquitoes ravage our bare legs. We are staying with friends, at their lodge overlooking the Tukituki. Hawkes Bay’s vineyards are spread far and wide across the region, but if you want great expanses of grassy plains, jagged mountains, sea, sand and the river then you can’t go past Havelock North when considering a place to stay. Or so our hosts, residents of Havelock North for over a decade, tell us. We have rented our bikes from Hastings Bicycle Hire for $50 a week – a bargain considering many of the local bike hires charge a similar amount for a one-day rental.
We all wake much later than expected following our evening at Craggy Range. I blame the exhausting bike-ride. The others blame the three bottles of wine we had at dinner. The sun sits high in the sky as we clip our helmets on and pedal our bikes out to Te Mata Road, towards Elephant Hill Estate and Winery. The Tukituki River runs along beside us as we cycle past misshapen hills dotted with sheep.
Surrounded by neat rows of vines, the copper walled Elephant Hill Estate and Winery is smaller than Craggy Range, with a flat roof and simple, square frame. In the dining room we sink lazily back into leather chairs. The winery’s large windows offer us a view overlooking the vineyard and, in the distance, the sprawling Pacific Ocean. We order Syrah, again, but only because the waiter informs us that it is their award winning wine.
The Havelock North Farmer’s Market, located on the Black Barn winery estate, is a pretty decent inducement to get you out of a bed on a Sunday morning. Quaint little stalls sitting on a clearing surrounded by grapevines. Picking up picnic goodies we down the last of freshly squeezed juices and amble away from the growers market towards the Black Barn winery. The hum of cicadas grows louder as we walk through the vineyard. Settling down on the veranda overlooking the vineyards below, we go about ordering a selection of cheeses and a bottle of chardonnay. The wine is light and the sun heavy – the perfect blend.
Leaving Black Barn feeling well-fed and relaxed, we head out on our final journey - biking up the 399 metre Te Mata Peak. It’s tough going. I watch my companions speed ahead as I force the burning muscles in my legs to keep peddling. The Black Barn brunch, couple with a glass of wine, aren’t helping. I had been warned that Te Mata would be a slog, but I had underestimated the mountain (and overestimated my bicycle-riding abilities).
Half an hour into the grueling bike ride I do something I’m not proud of. I get off the bike and walk it up the rest of the mountain. Trying to ignore smirks from passers by, I finally get myself and the bike to the top of Te Mata. Waiting for me are 360 degree views of the whole of Hawkes Bay, and, in the distance, the volcanic Mount Ruapehu. We unpack the picnic supplies and settle down on a spot looking out to the winding Tukituki River. Life is good.
Author - Frances McHardy
Recently relocated from New Zealand to the UK, Frances McHardy is a freelance writer and travel enthusiast.
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