Cycle the Vines

What better way to get out enjoying what New Zealand wine country has to offer this summer than by cycling through the vines? 

There is a variety of scenery, terrain, and routes to suit all abilities and bike hire is easy with plenty of options available - from self-guided cycling the vines to mountain biking in the capital or, for those seeking more adventure, riding the entire Wine Trail (but if you prefer to drive between the regions – that’s fine too!)

 

Cyclists biking up the road between the vineyard at Blackbarn, Hawke's Bay

On your bike

It makes sense to start in the Gisborne region - the first place in New Zealand to see the sunrise , and home to a mix of large producers, boutique wineries, and entrepreneurial growers. Then make your way to Hawke’s Bay, where you can join the official Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, which takes you to Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Wellington and Marlborough – a journey that takes you through regions accounting for more than 80% of New Zealand’s wine production. Wanting to go even further? Then head over to Nelson, a boutique wine region producing outstanding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and aromatics. Coming from the South Island? Do the trail in reverse, or if short on time, start in the middle!

 

Gisborne

Set in the remote eastern reaches of New Zealand and the first place in the world to see the sun each day, Gisborne rewards travellers with rich pickings.

Award-winning wineries, just minutes from the city centre and airport, are nestled in fertile valleys basking in year-round sunshine - each within close proximity and sharing a special community vibe.

Although recognised as the capital of Chardonnay, the region is also exciting wine critics with new varieties and vineyard sites. A mix of large producers, boutique wineries and entrepreneurial growers produce a diverse range of wines from full-flavoured and fruit-driven to critically claimed biodynamic classics.

Cycle through the vines and along Gisborne’s picturesque coastal cycle way, and most wineries have a café or restaurant and almost all have cellar door and tasting facilities.

 

Hawke’s Bay

A couple sitting on a grassy knoll drinking wine with a bowl of grapes next to two bikes.
Credit: Richard Brimmer

With buckets of sunshine and a fertile coastal landscape, Hawke’s Bay is not only New Zealand’s second largest wine producing region but it is also the oldest. They’ve been growing grapes here since 1851 and the abundance of quality wine that’s come from the region ever since has shaped the nature of tourism.

No visit is complete without a wine tour or tasting and with more than 30 vineyards offering cellar-door experiences, there are many opportunities to enjoy Hawke’s Bay highly prized wine in beautiful locations. The region is known as ‘The food bowl of New Zealand’ so as well as enjoying fine wines you will find the freshest local produce prepared by some of the country’s top chefs. Many wineries have restaurants or alfresco dining, and vineyard cycle tours take advantage of the relatively flat landscape and pleasant climate.  

 

Wairarapa

Martinborough bikes
Credit: Jeff McEwan

From the rugged wild coast to charming colonial settlements with a warm Kiwi welcome, the premium wine region of Wairarapa is a myriad of contrasts.

There’s much to discover from vineyard to village – all within a short, scenic drive or train ride from Wellington. The picturesque region offers a range of wine tourism activities, unique accommodation, and superb dining options making it a popular short break getaway destination.

Wairarapa’s wine country has three main sub-regions - Martinborough, Gladstone and Masterton – all sharing similar climate and soil structures, yet offering subtle differences in character. Masterton is Wairarapa’s largest town and was the first area in the region where grapes were planted, over a century ago. Neighbouring Greytown is a country village with metropolitan style, beautifully preserved Victorian wooden buildings house design and gift shops, an artisan French bakery and Schoc Chocolates, a gourmet chocolate studio serving up some sensational flavours including lime chilli and sea salt.

The charm of a wine tour in Wairarapa is the easy access of the many cellar doors. The little wine village of Martinborough is at the heart of any wine experience. More than 20 small wineries, most within walking or cycling distance of the quaint village square, make for a memorable walk- or cycle-the-vines experience.

 

 

 

Wellington

It’s a tough job being tucked between New Zealand’s finest wine regions, but some place has to do it. That place happens to be the coffee, craft beer and culinary capital of Wellington.

Wellington is known for its vibrant arts scene, world class café and restaurant culture, and active outdoor lifestyle. With an easily walkable downtown area, set around an attractive waterfront, Wellington's creative cosmopolitan city combines the sophistication of a capital with the charm of a village.

Wellington enjoys more cafes, bars and restaurants per capita than New York City, and its coffee and craft beer producers are internationally recognised. You’ll find quirky cafes, innovative menus and award-winning establishments catering for everything from quick bites to long nights.

 

Marlborough

Two cyclists biking on a path between vines in Marlborough.
Credit: MarlboroughNZ.com

Home to world famous Sauvignon Blanc with 150+ wineries, wine is serious business here. Year-round sunshine, easy access, an extensive coastline with sheltered waters, and bountiful harvest from land and sea make the region ripe for indulgence and adventure. 

Marlborough is New Zealand's largest wine region. It accounts for three quarters of the country's wine production, 70% of its vineyard area and 86% of its wine exports. Neat rows of thriving grape vines stretch as far as the eye can see through Marlborough’s fertile valleys and it is the ideal combination of climate and terrain that makes this such perfect wine-growing territory.

With more than 30 cellar doors located within a 10km radius of the main town centre of Blenheim, a ‘sip and cycle’ experience is the way to go.

 

Nelson

The boutique wine region of Nelson is a holiday haven with year-round sunshine, golden sand beaches, vast national parks and some of the best wine and food you’ll find anywhere in the world.

Sunny and sheltered with ideal soil qualities means almost anything will grow here and grapes positively thrive – as German settlers discovered in the mid-1800s. Today Nelson produces outstanding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and aromatics, along with an impressive array of emerging varieties.

Many wineries also reflect Nelson’s vibrant artistic and café culture and both are additional drawcards at their cellar doors. The region’s compact size means visitors can get around most wineries in a day by bicycle. But there’s so much to do in this relatively off-the-beaten track destination that you’ll want to explore beyond the obvious and savour the relaxed vibe.

 


Please note – it is compulsory to wear a helmet in NZ when you're biking.  You'll be supplied with one when you hire your bike so be sure to wear it.  Whether you're exploring each region on foot, on a bike or in a car, please share the road and driveways to cellar doors respectfully. 

Plan your journey  

How many days?

Approximately a week is recommended so you can visit each region, and you only have to drive for around three hours a day between. You could easily spend longer though - if you don’t want to rush good food and wine try and give yourself a minimum of two days in each region.

Allow plenty of time for tastings, picnics and soaking up the scenery. Along this route traffic is generally light, and the roads and highways are high quality so driving is stress free.

 

The journey

Driving from north to south

From Auckland, you can either take a one-hour flight to Gisborne, or drive the Pacific Coast Highway to Gisborne (6.5 hours)

 

Starting in the South Island

From Christchurch, you can take a 55 minute flight or five-hour drive to Nelson, or jump on the Coastal Pacific scenic rail journey which links to Blenheim.

 

Travelling between the North and South Islands

Interislander ferries travel between the North and South Islands of New Zealand and the trip is one of the most spectacular cruises in the world. With 92 km of breathtaking views, the three-hour journey between Wellington and Picton really is one of New Zealand's most iconic tourism activities.

Taking a vehicle on the Interislander is as easy as parking in a building - simply drive on and drive off. Travel in style and upgrade to the Premium Plus lounges on-board which include free wifi, a hot meal, and beverages.

Alternatively, fly 30 minutes between Wellington and Blenheim, or 45 minutes between Wellington and Nelson. 

 

Distances between key towns

  • Gisborne to Napier – 3 hours – 215 km
  • Napier (Hawke’s Bay) to Masterton (Wairarapa) – 2 hours 45 minutes – 233 km
  • Masterton to Martinborough (Wairarapa) – 40 minutes – 45 km
  • Martinborough to Wellington – 1 hour 15 minutes – 82 km
  • Wellington to Picton (ferry) – 3 hours 15 minutes – 92 km
  • Picton to Nelson – 1 hour 45 minutes – 135 km
  • Wellington to Blenheim (plane) – 30 minutes – 127km
  • Wellington to Nelson (plane) – 45 minutes – 205 km
  • Nelson to Blenheim – 1 hour 30 minutes – 115 km

Travel time and distance calculator

Driving in New Zealand

Whether you’ve been driving in New Zealand for a year or for fifty, it’s always a good idea to brush up on road safety – especially in the holiday season.

 

Road rules and safety tips

Be aware of the road conditions

Before leaving home, check the NZTA journey planner(opens in new window) to avoid roadworks and congestion. Summer holidays mean more traffic on the road, and more people driving in unfamiliar environments, so you need to drive with increased caution and care.

Check the weather forecast and be aware of conditions – you may experience four seasons in one day if travelling a long distance, and weather-related hazards can occur on the road at any time.

New Zealand’s diverse terrain means roads are often narrow, hilly and windy with plenty of sharp corners. Outside of the main cities, there are very few motorways. Most of our roads are single lane in each direction without barriers in between, and gravel roads are more common in remote areas.

It’s important to allow plenty of time, go slow, and pull over in a safe place if traffic wants to pass from behind you.

 

Take regular breaks

It is critical to stay alert while you are driving. Take advantage of rest area signs across the roads where you can stop. It is recommended to never drive when you are tired, and take regular breaks. It doesn’t matter where in New Zealand you are driving; it is extremely dangerous to drive when you are tired.

In summer, hot days and long-distance driving can make you especially tired, as well as early starts and late nights, or because you had a long day driving the day before. So make sure to stop for regular breaks when required.

 

Make the journey part of the holiday

It’s easy to underestimate drive times when looking at a map.

Maps don’t show how narrow and windy roads can be. What might look like a short trip can take a long time. For example: Hokitika to the town of Haast, a popular drive for visitors stopping to see New Zealand’s glaciers, is 278 kilometres on the map and may look like a short three-hour drive. However, drivers should allow for up to four hours of driving time because of the windy road. This is common all over New Zealand.

Take your time, allow for more time than you think you’ll need, and make the journey a part of your holiday.

Check out our time and distance calculator to estimate your driving time. 

 

Keep your cool

Holiday driving can be frustrating, with busy roads, stifling heat, and everyone out enjoying Doing Something New – so make sure you are being courteous and patient to others.

Trucks and towing vehicles have lower speed limits, so make sure you are passing safely in a passing lane or when you can see enough clear road ahead to overtake carefully.

Watch out for cyclists, and horses on backcountry roads.

 

Don’t drink and drive

Drink driving is dangerous and there are strict penalties for driving when under the influence. In New Zealand, the legal drink drive limits for drivers 20 years and over are a breath alcohol limit of 250 micrograms (mcg) of alcohol per litre of breath and a blood alcohol limit of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.  If you’re under 20 there is a zero alcohol limit.

Know your road rules.

Take a few minutes to visit drive.govt.nz and refresh your knowledge on how to be a safe and legal driver on the roads.

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