A Wine Lover's Tour of New Zealand

New Zealand has come of age as a producer of internationally acclaimed wines, and the great thing about the country's six major grape-growing regions is that they're packed into some of the most stunning landscapes. They're often close to gourmet food producers, many have terrific restaurants, some offer boutique lodgings, and impressive architecture is to the fore. In an ideal world, you could easily spend 2 to 3 weeks "soaking" in a New Zealand wine tour because it offers so much more than just wine and vineyards, but the following itinerary outlines a more realistic (for most travelers) 10-day tour of highlights.

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

The greater Auckland region (including Waiheke Island) has over 100 vineyards and wineries. In the interest of early research, head for Glengarry Wines in Central City to sample your first New Zealand wines and to pick up information about the country's wine tourism. Have dinner at Vinnies Restaurant.

Day 2: Henderson Valley

Drive 30 minutes from the city to New Zealand's oldest grape-growing region, where there are a bundle of wineries along Henderson Valley Road and Lincoln Road. Seek out Soljans Estate's winery and cafe for lunch and then drive on to Constellation New Zealand. If you don't want to drive yourself, take one of the wine tours available to get a comprehensive overview in a short time. Stay at Bethells Beach Cottages, which are set among sculptured gardens with views of the Tasman Sea. If you return to the city, dine at the French Café.

Day 3: Waiheke Island

Catch the ferry to Waiheke Island. Pick up a rental and visit some of the 45 vineyards on the island. Fullers and Ananda Tours both offer wine tours. If you'd rather be independent, make sure you visit Te Whau Vineyard, which has more than 500 cellared wines. It's highly rated by Wine Spectator and has an impressive menu. You can't really get lost on this little paradise, and if you did, would you care? Splurge on a stay at Te Whau Lodge, where you'll wine and dine in style overlooking vineyards.

Day 4: Fly to Hawke's Bay

Head back to the mainland (reluctantly, I'd guess) and fly to Napier - a twin heaven of endless grapes and oh-so-pretty Art Deco architecture, not to mention gorgeous boutique vineyard accommodations, a dazzling array of restaurants, and some of the best wines in the country. Spend the afternoon at the National Aquarium of New Zealand for a change of pace and drink afternoon champagne at the County Hotel's bar.

Day 5: The Wine Trail

Do a fun bicycle tour of a handful of vineyards with On Yer Bike Winery Tours, passing olive groves, orchards, wineries, and ostrich farms. Take your camera, as well as bottled water, a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses to protect against the hot sun. Switch back to your car in the evening and splash out on dinner at the unforgettable Terroir at Craggy Range Winery in the Havelock North area. Get there in daylight so you can look through the fabulous winery and tasting gallery. Try their classy vineyard stay, or plant yourself at nearby Millar Road.

Day 6: More Tasting at Maraekakaho Road

If you haven't been there yet, head for the vineyards in the Maraekakaho Road area, finishing up at Sileni Estates Winery & Epicurean Centre in time for a drawn-out lunch at their classy restaurant. Head back into Napier for a 2-hour, self-guided afternoon Art Deco Walk. Make sure you stop at Ujazi for coffee and cake, and right next door, loosen your purse strings on fabulous New Zealand arts and crafts at Statements Gallery.

Day 7: The Marlborough Wine Region

Rise early and drive the 4 hours to Wellington, where you'll catch the Interislander to Picton. You'll find world-class vineyards here as far as the eye can see. Bring your camera and stamina, along with a wine map from the visitor center, which lists all the wineries open for meals and tastings, plus the wines they produce. There are about 40 cellar doors open to you, so make a day of it. Splurge on dinner at Herzog, an epicurean and wine lovers' heaven with top European chefs, and stay in the heart of the Renwick wine area at Vintners Retreat.

Day 8: Waipara Valley

Hire a car and drive the 4 hours south to Waipara Valley. Call in at Waipara Springs Winery for coffee and save yourself for lunch at award-winning Pegasus Bay just down the road. Visit other local wineries and stop by Athena Olive Groves for a different taste sensation. Drive 45 minutes south to Christchurch and catch a flight to Queenstown.

Day 9: Queenstown

Hire a car, pick up a wine map from the visitor center, and head out to Amisfield Winery overlooking Lake Hayes. Be impressed by Peregrine unique architecture and make an extended stop at GVW Winery. Explore their wine tunnel, the great gift shop, and the cheesery. When you get back, hunt down the Bunker for perfectly matched wine and gourmet food.

Day 10: Cromwell & Bannockburn

Take a scenic drive through Kawarau Gorge. Near Cromwell stop at fruit stalls and the Big Picture for an excellent film, a tasting auditorium, a selection of wines and gourmet foods, and a cafe. Set your sights on Felton Road, the Mt. Difficulty Wines cafe, and Olssens Garden Vineyard. If you'd rather take a tour of this area, contact Queenstown Wine Trail or Appellation Central Wine Tours. Try the degustation menu at the Rees True South for dinner if you have time, or catch a late flight to Christchurch to meet your international connection.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.