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Travel: the ultimate New Zealand wine road trip

Take a 10-day road trip through five of New Zealand's best wine regions on the country's South Island, including Marlborough, Nelson and Central Otago – with travel tips on wineries to visit, places to stay and restaurants not to miss.

New Zealand road trip: South Island wine trail

New Zealand’s mountainous South Island is dramatic, wonderfully underpopulated and home to the country’s most famous region, Marlborough, as well as NelsonWaipara Valley, Central Otago and the lesser known Waitaki Valley

The intrepid traveller can soak up its flavours on a 10-day trip around the island, see below for the full travel guide, with extracts from Rebecca Gibb MW’s new book The Wines of New Zealand.


Home to three national parks, two of New Zealand’s great walks and a wine region, Nelson is the perfect place to relax and enjoy what nature has to offer.

You are never far from water in Nelson and locals spend their weekends on the beach, sailing, kayaking, diving or fishing. Artists and artisans thrive here and gallery goers will be spoilt for choice.

new zealand road trip

After wine-tasting explore the coastal wonders of Abel Tasman National Park. Credit: Andrea Schaffer/Creative Commons

Hops are as prolific as vines in Nelson meaning craft brewing sits alongside winemaking, while local produce including berries, kiwi fruit, nuts and cheese make the Wednesday farmers market a gourmet extravaganza.

In the village of Upper Moutere, you will find wineries including Neudorf Vineyards making superlative Chardonnay.

Plus this is home to New Zealand’s oldest pub, the Moutere Inn established 1850, a sheep’s cheese maker, olive grove, cider farm and a handful of galleries.

On the Waimea Plains, organic producer Greenhough Vineyards shows that Neudorf isn’t the only Nelson producer capable of Chardonnay greatness while Nelson’s oldest winery Seifried gets a big tick for its child-friendly cellar door. 

Spend the rest of your day on nearby Rabbit Island. The sandy beach and shallow water make this perfect for little ones; there is also a network of mountain bike trails.

Beyond the wineries of the Waimea Plains and Moutere Hills lies the Abel Tasman National Park. Kayak and walk the coastal track, mixing hiking with sunbathing on the golden beaches and swimming in the warm waters.


Drive eastward from Nelson across the Richmond Range to Blenheim, the capital of Marlborough.

Get your bearings by taking a hike — or bike — in the Wither Hills, giving you views out to Cloudy Bay and across the Wairau Valley.

new zealand road trip

Auntsfield’s cellar dates back to 1873, built with a Manuka log roof and earth floors. Credit: auntsfield.co.nz

Soak up the history of wine in Marlborough at the Marlborough Museum before paying a visit to Auntsfield Estate, where Scottish immigrant David Herd planted the first vines in Marlborough back in 1873.

It would be another century before locals took wine seriously but his original winery still stands and can be visited before tasting at the somewhat more modern cellar door.

A steam locomotive runs from Picton to Blenheim, and Blenheim railway station’s 1913 heritage building is now home to The Wine Station, a tasting centre and shop offering up to 80 different Marlborough wines by the glass via enomatic wine machines.

There are more than 30 cellar doors in Marlborough with favourites including Cloudy Bay, Fromm, Nautilus and Framingham.

Brancott Estate’s cellar door and restaurant is an impressive glass construction perched above the first block of Sauvignon Blanc vines planted in the region. It affords expansive views over the Brancott Valley and beyond.

In addition to the cellar door and restaurant, the winery has an ongoing partnership with Marlborough Heritage Falcon Trust and visitors can watch daily displays of native birds of prey in full flight.

Want to stay on a vineyard? The country casual Hans Herzog cottage is highly recommended. 

The Bell Tower offers luxury bed and breakfast accommodation at the Dog Point vineyard and St. Leonards offers a number of restored cottages with little extras including a swimming pool, grass tennis court, bicycles, and chickens laying fresh eggs for breakfast.

Waipara Valley

Drive south from Marlborough on State Highway 1 towards Christchurch. Marine lovers should extend their trip and stop in Kaikoura for a spot of whale and dolphin watching, followed by fish and chips, before continuing.

Less than an hour’s drive north of Christchurch lies the Waipara Valley, which forms the heart – and soul – of the North Canterbury wine region.  It is a compact region that time-poor visitors can cover in a day.

new zealand road trip

See the Milky Way as never before, through the glass roof of one of the Greystone vineyard’s PurePod. Credit: purepods.com

Waipara Valley offers two of the finest winery restaurants in the land: Black Estate and Pegasus Bay – both winners of the annual winery restaurant of the year award.

Note that they’re open for lunch only, you’ll have to travel to the small town of Amberley if you want to eat after dark.

A vineyard cycle trail, which can also be undertaken on foot, connects a number the region’s cellar doors. The trail is unsealed and mountain bikes are recommended.

Stay the night at Greystone PurePod a glass eco-cabin set above the vineyard.

Black Estate also offers a modern apartment at the top of its home block while The Old Glenmark Vicarage offers self-contained accommodation as well as bed and breakfast in their historic home, a former vicarage built in 1907.

Waitaki Valley

If you’d like a break from driving at this point, drop the car at Christchurch airport and jump on a domestic flight to Queenstown, Central Otago.

It takes six hours to reach Queenstown by car, but if you’re happy to drive then head towards North Otago and seek out the lesser known wines of the Waitaki Valley, aka North Otago.

new zealand road trip

Ostler Wines’ lush and green Waitaki Valley estate with a beautiful mountain backdrop. Credit: ostlerwine.co.nz

On the main street of the tiny rural town of Kurow lies the 1930s post office building, now home to Ostler Wine’s cellar door – The Vintners Drop.

Here you’ll find the winery’s finest drop – Caroline’s Pinot Noir – an alluring, pure and fragrant Pinot Noir grown on limestone. Stay overnight at Waitaki Braids Lodge.

Central Otago

Central Otago is the adventure capital of New Zealand and between winery visits, you can throw yourself off a bridge, preferably with a bungee rope attached, or jet boat down an impossibly narrow gorge.

Cellar doors pepper the region’s landscapes. There are more than 30 to choose from offering a variety of experiences.

new zealand road trip

It’s easy to see why Rippon’s vineyards are some of the most photographed in the world… Credit: Jan Zwerrenz

Amisfield and Gibbston Valley Winery are two of the closest cellars doors to Queenstown and both offer fine dining.

Gibbston Valley also offers tours of its wine cellar hewn from the mountainside, bike hire and a cheesery.

The 4 Barrels Walking Trail is an 8 kilometre circular stroll connecting Misha’s Vineyard, Aurum Wines, Scott Base and Wooing Tree Vineyard in Cromwell.

The route takes you through orchards, around Lake Dunstan and to cellar doors. Maps can be collected form the Cromwell I-site and participating wineries.

Vines cascade to the water’s edge at Rippon making it the most photographed vineyard in the country, if not the world.

But there’s more to Rippon than meets the eye – its mature vine Pinot Noirs are as impressive as the view.

Wineries in Alexandra welcome riders on the Otago Rail Trail cycle: after a day in the saddle, a glass of Pinot Noir is just the ticket. Hawkdun Rise Vineyard and Judge Rock also offer vineyard accommodation. 

Former sea urchin diver, Quintin Quider is the man behind Wild Earth. Located at the Goldfields Mining Centre close to Cromwell, it serves wild food sourced locally, cooked in ‘retired’ wine barrels, and served on former barrel staves.

As well as being a who’s who of Central Otago wineries, Felton Road is also the site of the Bannockburn Sluicings, a strange moonscape that has been carved by miners hunting for gold.

A loop track can be accessed from a car park on Felton Road and provides a slice of history between glasses of Pinot Noir.

Enjoy these extracts? Author Rebecca Gibb is a Master of Wine and Decanter World Wine Awards judge who specialises in New Zealand wine. Her latest book The Wines of New Zealand is on sale now.

new zealand road trip

Where to buy the book

UK Amazon £30

US Amazon $39.94

UK-based Decanter readers can buy a signed copy for £27.50, including free shipping. Visit rebeccagibb.com/buy-my-book for more information.

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