Welcome to day one of our Tour de Vineyards or The Big New Zealand Food and Wine Virtual Tour. We’re starting right up here in Northland in the historic town of KeriKeri. KeriKeri is the largest Northland town where the sunshine is endless and the area is rich in history and culture.
Our tour starts at the The Old Pack House Farmers Market run by Warwick and Judy Hyland who have dedicated the last few years turning an old fruit pack house into the thriving market hub it is today. Everytime we visit the farmers market there is something new and exciting happening. The onsite bakery pumps out breads, cakes, pastries and delicious delicious pies. To be honest I'm not the biggest pie person, but there is no way I am going to miss out on the beef and oyster Pie, made using oysters from Warwick's farm. On Saturday mornings it is full farmers market day with produce so local and so fresh it's very easy to fill shopping baskets to the brim.
You can find excellent olive oil, beers from a local brewery, honey, eggs, some glorious crafts and weaving. One of the stalls makes delicious fritters! I love a good mussel fritter and theirs is one of the best I have found in New Zealand. Make sure you take away some of the local sausages and keep an eye out for all the seasonal goodies too. I love the Macadamias when they are super fresh and very creamy. We bring bags of the shells home for the fire places at Vineyard Cottages.
Just across the road from the Old Pack House market is the Makana Chocolate Factory. The company has three branches in Blenheim, Auckland and Kerikeri. There are big windows into the factory so you can see the chocolate being made right in front of you and generous samples are handed out when you walk through the front door.
I'm totally partial to the macadamia crunch. It's not often I managed to get away from the Chocolate Factory without at least two or three boxes - obviously to share with friends and family!
If you're going to stay the night in Kerikeri, The Kerikeri Park Lodge is right across the road from the farmers market and only a 10 minute walk into the main town. it's clean spacious rooms are much more than your average motel room and it is tucked down the driveway away from the road creating a very peaceful and tranquil location to stay. In Kerikeri town a favourite place to eat is the Jerusalem Cafe. It's off the main road down an alleyway and can always be found full of happy diners. The best thing about the menu is you can pretty much try everything with their generous portions and combinations of mezze options. Whatever you do, try the aubergine dip and the Israeli wines
Follow the road out of the town and down the hill to the Stone Store. A favourite stop on the tourist route, it was built beside the river in 1832 by the missionaries as a warehouse. Today it is a wonderful shop full of all kinds of knick-knacks souvenirs and artefacts of a bygone era.
One of our favourite wineries in Northland is the Marsden estate. It is a family run Vineyard set on 10 acres growing varietals are not often found in New Zealand including pinotage, a hybrid grape originally from South Africa. With fellow hybrid Chambourcin (say what?) grown in the vineyard, a trip to Marsden is a must if you are looking for the unusual. You can enjoy breakfast or lunch and there beautiful restaurant or down by the lake looking out over the vineyard.
Now if you're going to head all the way up to Northland you really can't leave without a bottle of the local limoncello from the team at Sovrano. It is liquid gold or liquid antidepressant if you need to put a smile on your dial. It has long been one of my favourite drinks morning noon or night! The Limoncello cream comes with a highly addictive health warning and we're very partial to the chocolate and coffee liqueur as well. Many of our guests have looked at me oddly over the years when I have told them it is a compulsory tasting, with many declaring “But we have been to Italy and had the real thing.” or “Oh but, I make Limoncello at home and my friends say it’s amazing.” I refrain from saying what I want to say and smile when they all drop to their knees in love with Sovrano’s bottles of joy!
You can find them at the Old Pack House farmers market on a Saturday that rumour has it they are opening a new factory very soon! If you’re only visiting Auckland, Parnell Market and La Cigale are your places to head to at the weekends to stock up.
So we're off on the bike heading south and within 10 minutes were at the Mahoe cheese factory. owned and run by a Dutch family making some of the most extraordinary cheeses in the country, Mahoe produces the crack cocaine of cheese AKA The Very Old Edam. It’s a story we tell every day that out of all the thousands of people who have done our Tastebud Tours over the years, only two didn’t fall in love with the cheese and were instantly banned from New Zealand.
Mahoe is down a tree lined driveway and if you’re in the know ask them if they have any camembert out the back. It is delicious! The cooking cheese is fab for pizzas, grilled cheese and mac n cheese!
I can highly recommend taking the detour around to Paihia to jump on the ferry over to the beautiful town of Russell to watch the sunset outside the Duke of Marlborough with a glass of wine in hand and dinner on the deck at the Historic Hotel. But for now, we head South!