The rock of the bay

The Gimblett Gravels region of Hawke's Bay was once a commercial and cultural wasteland but today, adorned by grape vines, it’s a prize attraction and the perfect place for a long weekend

In the 1970s and early 1980s, town planners despaired over Gimblett Gravels. This rocky, seemingly unfertile land was worthless. As pasture, you needed about three acres to feed one sheep, and the only companies that wanted to be based there were warehouse owners looking for somewhere cheap. It was a stark contrast to the rest of produce-laden Hawke's Bay.

A handful of visionaries, however, could see the land might work for grapes. The area was basically a prehistoric river bed and the layers of sediment with the gravel surface could provide great nutrients and drainage for the right crops. By the early 1990s many of the larger producers in New Zealand, such as Villa Maria and Trinity Hill, had caught on – leading to the bustling and beautiful region we have today.                           

Where to stay?

Beach House Wines has been around since 1996, and owns 4 hectares in Gimblett Gravels growing cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, syrah and montepulciano. It’s a family affair, with husband-and-wife team Ralph and Philipa offering a homestay at their Clifton Road based vineyard in Te Awanga.

What to do?

There are some very famous vineyards in Gimblett Gravels, many with a cellar door. Crossroads, Coopers Creek, Elephant Hill, Esk Valley and Craggy Range are all household names you can visit. It’s a bit like driving around Los Angeles with a map of the stars’ homes.

Why not hire a bike from Ash Ridge Winery, in the adjoining Bridge Pa triangle. From there you can take an easy amble on a limestone path up to Trinity Hill, who sell a variety of interesting products from the cellar you can’t buy in the supermarket, such as their Toruga fortified wine. From there head to Stonecroft, the first winery established in Gimblett Gravels, known for its syrah.

Double back to Te Awa, where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch on the lawn from chef Stephen Tindall who uses local produce to create dishes to match the wine – the carrots literally come from the farm over the fence.

Head on to Ngatarawa and Alpha Domus, both firmly in the Bridge Pa triangle but great vineyards to finish your ride.

For a relaxed Sunday, Te Awanga Estate have live music and platters each month, or see what events are on at Black Estate, who have their own amphitheatre.

Where to eat?

If you like gourmet food with a view, then Craggy Range’s Giants Winery is a good stop. It’s quite a formal dining experience, different to the relaxed lunch at Te Awa, but the sunbathed terrace of the Terroir restaurant offers views of the imposing Te Mata Peak. Enjoy wines from their Gimblett Gravels vineyard alongside some of their award-winning food, such as the woodfired chicken, or fresh market fish of the day. 

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