The Perfect Winter Escape: A Foodie Weekend in Hawke’s Bay  

It’s no secret that Hawke’s Bay has been through the absolute bloody wringer this year with Cyclone Gabrielle causing all kinds of havoc for the nation’s favourite foodie destination.

But with the clean-up complete for the majority of the region, Hawke’s Bay is truly open for business and the BEST way you can do your bit to help is to actually GO there and support the incredible people of HB as they keep calm and carry on.

So, after careful consideration, a few visits and many glasses of Hawke’s Bay red later (don’t worry I kept notes throughout so I actually remember what I’m talking about), I’ve come up with the BEST itinerary for your next weekend away that’s perfect for foodies, wine enthusiasts and anyone who just needs a god-damned break. (Oh ok, so everyone!?)

Some highlights:

Hastings is cool now

You heard it here first – Hastings really is cool. Seriously. Re-invigorated by millennials coming back to their hometown in the aftermath of Covid, there are incredible, new and exciting bars, restaurants and makers have flooded the small town. A little gritter than its big sister Napier perhaps, Hastings offers a cooler, edgier vibe that’s well worth checking out. A huge amount of new infrastructure has now been completed – check out the Municipal Building for cute shops and the Tribune Precinct for epic brewery Brave Brewing (get the burger, trust me) and my favourite shop of all-time, Kindred Road. Also a great shout-out to Funbuns in East Block for both their stunning name and stunning street food and cocktails.

The Tribune Precinct

Don’t be put off by the cyclone

Yup, it was absolutely devastating and there are some parts, like the Esk Valley, who were hit super-hard and are still feeling the effects. But the vast majority of Hawke’s Bay is back to pre-cyclone standard and are crying out for visitors once again. Getting the local economy going is crucial to the region’s recovery, so a message from the locals: please come back – we’re ready to host you!

The food, the glorious food

My god, there really is a reason why they call it food and wine country. Every meal we had deserved multiple chef’s kisses and trust me, for me that’s a big win (Ms Fussy Pants over here!). Here are the spots you have to go to:

Mister D: Go for the famous doughnuts, stay for the incredible mains. I had a fish dish here that was so good, I’m still dreaming about it a month on. Great vibes, awesome local wine selection and of course, the doughnuts that you inject with a filling of your choice (boozy or non-boozy!)  

Central Fire Station: How good is a booth in a restaurant? So underrated. Go here for a cosy dinner that’ll blow your little socks off. Their aim is to showcase the best local produce, so everything is seasonal and delicious. As the name suggests, the restaurant used to be a fire station, so take some time to appreciate the fit-out and the original bell tower and giant archways.

Hawke’s Bay Farmer’s Market: Is this is the best farmer’s market in the country?! Go for breakfast – but go on an empty tummy, and with an empty tote bag for all your purchases. Grab a coffee and a pastry and go for a wander, grabbing a locally-made chutney on your way.

The drinks!

Obviously a huge focal point for the trip because Hawke’s Bay IS wine. But while we went to some incredible wineries and cellars, Hawke’s Bay has also embraced all that is good about all of the other booze options – don’t miss:

Hastings Distillers: One of the coolest parts of now-cool Hastings, the distillers is NZ’s first producer of certified organic artisan spirits and liquors. With a background in winemaking, their gin is made from locally-grown botanicals and it’s truly something special to enjoy. Go for a gin tasting and some nibbled before dinner.

Cellar 495: The perfect place for both dinner and a wine experience you’ll remember for a long time. Cellar 495 is the brainchild of local Master of Wine, Michael Henley. The name comes from Michael’s Master of Wine number – he is the world’s 495th Master of Wine.
Envisioned as a boutique wine cellar and bar, Cellar 495 will offer its visitors a wine-focused hospitality experience. A tasting room and bottle shop by day, and a wine bar by night, Cellar 495 aims to demystify wine by offering access to the expertise of a Master of Wine – and he is VERY generous with his time, knowledge and of course, the wine! Go in with an open mind and you’ll get to try some different, daring and delicious drops.

Trinity Hill: If you’re wanting to stop by a cellar door with chilled out vibes, amazing wine, a delicious food truck and the world’s most comfortable bean bag thingies, you’ve come to the right place. Perch outside with a burger and a bottle and soak in the ambiance. But do allow lots of time for this because trust me, you won’t want to leave.

Smith & Sheth: Tucked away in Havelock North, Smith & Sheth is a must-do if you’re a serious wine enthusiast. Go in for a tasting of their exceptional wines, and if you’re feeling bougie, splurge on a Heretaunga Studio wine tasting experience – the theatre of the tasting experience is something special to behold.

Stay:

We enjoyed a couple of nights at the Scenic Hotel in Napier – the perfect base for all your adventures and with a gorgeous view out to the East Coast. If you’re more of an off-the-grid type, also check out Canopy Camping for cute glamping-style options across the region too.

The writer was hosted by Hawke’s Bay Tourism, but all opinions are her own.

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