New Zealand’s Wairarapa region is probably best described as Wellington’s pretty and bountiful back garden, growing much of the food and wine found on the menus of the hottest restaurants in the capital. What once was sheep country is now home to award-winning wineries, commercial olive groves, chocolate makers, cheesemongers and brewers and all just an hour north east of the capital.
In 24 hours you will only scratch the surface of the region’s best. Historic Martinborough has its own craft brewery in the centre of town and over 20 outstanding cellar doors are just a bike ride away. The elegant Martinborough Hotel is not merely the place to rest your head but the food and excellent wine offering are a Martinborough must do.
Greytown’s completely Victorian main street means hours of window shopping, eating and drinking. Although it looks like it has been there forever, the White Swan, a very fetching timber country pub, nearly wasn’t. Once a Lower Hutt railway building it was transported to the current site in 6 sections, one of which nearly ended up at the bottom of the Rimutaka Gorge.
Greytown is home to both Schocs Chocolate Studio and the more virtuous Forest Food Organics. 95% of the produce at Food Forest Organics is sourced from the sometime home and farm of honorary New Zealander James Cameron’s family property. The Avatar and Titanic Director lives in the southern Wairarapa a few months each year.
Featherston is the gateway to the wild heart and wildlife of the region and also home to the southern hemisphere’s tastiest cheese shop – C’est Cheese.
When Wellingtonians I met found out I was visiting the Wairarapa, they all told me one thing: go to Poppies and C’est Cheese. Luckily, I did both.
Paul Broughton is another of those low-key movers and shakers that is so very good at what they do. Call his circa 1875 shop a fromagerie or cheesemongery or even deli – it’s all about championing local cheese and producers.
C’est Cheese is often touted as New Zealand’s best cheese shop. The range of cheese is astonishing. Like Schocs Chocolates it is an Aladdin’s cave of earthly delights. Make sure to taste otherworldly garlic infused Moliterno Al Tartufo and ethereal local goat’s cheese.
Artisanal, blue, goat’s, sheep, washed rind, triple cream, truffle infused, hard and hard to find cheeses and everything to enjoy with them.
Surrounded by truckles of world award-winning local Cwmglyn Farmhouse raw cows milk cheese, Paul shares some secrets and the news he’s soon to make his own range of cheese on the premises. https://www.facebook.com/Cest-Cheese
The sign outside Schoc Chocolate Studio reads ‘real chocolate for real people’. As you enter the warm, sweet, aroma can make you slightly heady. The display is dazzling with truffles and bars of all colours and flavours. Normally a 70% cocoa bean to bar girl myself I was quickly sold on the concept of handmade flavoured chocolate.
Murray Langham has worn many hats from chef’s toque at London’s Harrods to studying alternative therapies, author and now chocolatier. Sourcing fair-trade beans from across the world he and his small team produce around 200 kilos of devilish delights per week in a sweet little Greytown studio/shop.
He reckons you can tell a lot about people from the chocolate they like and Schoc Chocolate currently produces a gobsmacking 85 different flavours. There’s weird and wonderful curry and pappadams (I promise you it is delicious) to creative takes on the more conventional like lavender and salted caramel.
The lemon white chocolate is delicate and unlike any white chocolate you’ve ever devoured. Apple and fennel, honey cumin, cherry basil, passionfruit and considering where we’re located – Pinot Noir should all end up in your shopping basket. http://www.schoc.co.nz/
In the Montgomerie family for three generations Kahikatea Gardens is the epitome of a New Zealand country garden bursting with colour and scents of flowers, fruits and nuts. When you go on a tour of the property with Neil and Greg you know this garden is a labour of love.
Neil and pet sheep Tongariro (who’s more a people kind of sheep) will greet you on arrival. Some of the Kahikatea (or New Zealand white pine trees) have been slowly growing for close to 1,000 years.
Neil and Greg’s little piece of paradise is now also home to friendly Gotland sheep, alpacas, miniature horses and Labradors. Chutneys, jams and preserves are made from the surplus hazelnuts, walnuts and fruits grown in the bountiful gardens.
Tours are available by appointment. Neil reckons the best time of year to visit is ‘when you’re here’. www.kahikateagardens.co.nz
At Olivo it’s Sophie the sprightly 14 year-old Beagle who greets you with olive grower Helen Meehan bringing up the rear. The spring in Sophie’s step is all due to the little disposable olive oil cups she finishes up after the tastings.
It really was the ultimate tree change for Helen and husband John who after corporate careers learnt on the job how to become olive growers. Where you grow beautiful wine you grow spectacular olive oil. The oldest of 8 olive groves in the Wairarapa, Olivo has been a consistent award winner.
Tasting here is an absolute treat with flavoured olive including porcini, lemon, rosy smoked paprika, fennel and vanilla all a consideration for serious cooks. The grove and the Tasting Room are open on weekends, public holidays and by appointment: https://www.olivo.co.nz/
There is an overwhelming sense of sharing in the Wairarapa, from the co-operative olive press to the winemakers who impart knowledge and wisdom with their fellow vignerons. The artisans, winemakers, brewers and small businesses all sing from the same songbook. They love what they do, they love where they live and they all want the world to know about their special corner of the world. Slice of heaven indeed. http://wairarapanz.com/
This Magnificent Life was a guest of Destination Wairarapa and Tourism Wellington https://www.wellingtonnz.com/