During our vacation in New Zealand, we were sure to reserve time for an Auckland wine day trip. Before we left the country we had managed to double that, embarking on two unique day trips to try a few local varietals. Each day trip started the exact same way: under cloudy, gray skies and with a frantic rush to find breakfast before embarking on a little day drinking.
If you have been following our adventures at Road Unraveled, you know that Adam and I are not novices when it comes to wine tasting. In addition to extensively exploring wineries near our home in Virginia, we have sipped wine throughout the USA in states from Delaware to New Mexico to Washington, and we have dedicated plenty of time to learning about wine regions around the world in countries like Uruguay, Italy, and Portugal. Although we’re flexible about almost every aspect of wine tasting (including getting an early start—that’s how we discovered sauvignon blanc and oysters are delicious at 10:00 AM!), we do have a few rules we universally follow. We sip slowly. We stay hydrated. And we always start the day with a good, carb-laden foundation. Somehow, we almost broke that rule twice in as many days before our Auckland wine day trips; vacation mode caught up with us, and a leisurely morning of sleeping in and getting ready ended with a crazed dash to find something to eat. If there was ever a time to be grateful for the Auckland food scene, it was in those moments: fueled by piping hot coffee and bagels (really good bagels!), we were ready to learn about and try some Auckland wine.
Whether your Auckland wine day trip takes you into your own backyard or, like us, halfway around the world, there are plenty of exceptional wineries to choose from and delicious wines to try. We incorporated two wine tours into our vacation schedule: one that took us toward New Zealand’s west coast and another that took us to Waiheke Island. We quickly discovered what we know you will realize as well: New Zealand wine has a well-earned reputation for excellence, and no wine-lover’s vacation is complete without an Auckland wine day trip. Here are some of the wineries we loved and the tours that will take you on an Auckland wine day trip you won’t forget!
What wines to try in Auckland?
Wine flows through New Zealand like the water flows around it. Our New Zealand wine education started several days before we arrived in Auckland; we took a wine day trip from Sydney to the Hunter Valley, a region established by James Busby. As it turns out, Busby is also the father of the New Zealand wine tradition. In fact, the vines he planted were productive before those planted in Australia. Historically, wine struggled for a long time within New Zealand’s culture. Plagued by political issues like prohibition and the public’s preference for beer and liquor, it wasn’t until the 1980s that New Zealand wine began to enjoy true international recognition.
When you think about wine in New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc universally comes to mind. New Zealand’s moderate climate and rocky soil lends itself well to growing Sauvignon Blanc, a bright and fruit-forward grape that lends itself to vibrant wines. As we found out—and as has been the case in so many grape-growing regions we have visited—talented winemakers can produce exceptional wines even from grapes that aren’t purported to grow as well in a region, and New Zealand’s less famous varietals shine just as brightly as the famous Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay, Pinos Gris, and even Albariño and Gewürztraminer popped up on tasting menus during our visit. Red wine is also popular, and Adam was excited to see the focus on Pinot Noir (a favorite of his as well as a connection to Oregon, where he grew up and one of the most famous Pinot Noir regions in the world). Combined with the prevalence of Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, we didn’t have a hard time finding wines we loved as well as wines that perfectly paired with meals we ate in Auckland.
Auckland Wine Day Trip: Self-Driving and Tours
When planning an Auckland wine day trip, you’ll have two primary choices regarding your transportation: you can plan a day trip on your own, or you can take a guided tour.
Self-driving has some definite benefits, especially when it comes to which wineries you will visit and how much time you will have to spend at each one. If planning your schedule and having complete control over your itinerary is important to you, a self-driving Auckland wine day trip may be a great idea. You will be able to select the wineries you want to visit, and if you happen to find one you love you can easily extend your time there to incorporate a relaxing glass overlooking the vineyards. There are drawbacks; you will need a designated driver to avoid drinking and driving, and you will be responsible for all of your own research—including looking into special hours of operation due to local events and choosing the wineries you want to visit.
Tours often have more pros than cons for us, and when we planned our Auckland wine day trip, we decided a tour was the right choice. Although we did not have a say about which wineries we would visit, we were very happy to relax and enjoy the day without worrying about skipping a tasting so one of us could safely drive home. We also appreciated the chance to let the experts tell us which wineries we should try. Our tour guides were New Zealand wine experts, which meant we had a chance to benefit from their recommendations and knowledge about which wineries would provide a great experience.
Sipping Wine on Auckland’s West CoastBefore arriving in New Zealand, we knew we wanted to devote a full day to wine tasting. We booked a tour with Auckland Wine Trail Tours, which is owned and run by knowledgeable John Meadows. John has crafted several wine-focused excursions that connect travelers to not just wineries but local sites as well, and we couldn’t resist booking the curiosity- inspiring Waterfalls and Wine tour. Billed as a chance to explore New Zealand’s west coast while trying some fantastic wines, we were barely back from breakfast when John arrived to collect us from our hotel. Tours that begin early are not the norm in our world, and we were thrilled to be starting off on the right foot.
After a few other tourists joined us, it wasn’t long before we arrived at the Arataki Visitor Centre for a brief introduction to local culture. From there, it was on to the first of two major attractions: Karekare, home to the eponymous beach and waterfall. We parked along the side of the road and began a trek toward the beach, where a winding trail eventually emptied onto the famous black volcanic sand. Under gray skies threatening to open at any moment the beach looked brooding and pensive as waves thundered toward us and crashed along the shore. Our group was all but alone that morning; with most locals avoiding the incoming rain and because Karekare enjoys a bit of isolation from most tourists, there wasn’t a lot of competition for open space on the beach. We had plenty of time to explore and even dip our toes into the chilly Tasman Sea, marveling at the depth of the blue surf before us and the dark sand below us. From there we walked back inland toward the Karekare waterfalls, past native flora and fauna that punctuated each turn as the sound of the falls grew closer. Not far from the road we reached them, and our whole group paused for photos and, eventually, to simply appreciate how calming and lovely nature can be.
Our Post: 10 Things to Do in Auckland, New Zealand
► Soljans Estate WineryAfter a morning of hiking, climbing, and trekking, we were ready to begin the second—and perhaps most important—part of our Auckland wine day trip: wine tasting. John selected four different wineries for us to enjoy, and our first stop was Soljans Estate Winery. Before sitting down for lunch we had the chance to sample of a few of the wines they pour. The first wine we tried, a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, was a true standout. With overtones of tropical fruits and an undeniable crispness, it was both celebratory and comfortable, the kind of wine you could just as easily drink to toast to a special event or sip at the end of a typical day. While we primarily tasted white wines, the Hawke’s Bay blend of Cabernet, Merlot, and Malbec was equally appealing to us, and the richness of the red fruit flavors and the softness of the tannins was well-balanced. We lingered at Soljans Estate after our tasting to enjoy a relaxed lunch. Adam and I shared the massive Vintner’s Platter, a combination of cured meats, cheeses, breads, olives, and dips that we simply couldn’t finish. It was the kind of experience we wished could have lasted all day—but our Auckland wine day trip was still young, and there were still more wineries to visit!
More Information: Soljans.co.nz
► Westbrook WineryWe arrived at Westbrook Winery a short time later and seemingly with the rest of Greater Auckland; it was busy when we arrived as several large groups pressed into the small tasting room at the same time. After a brief pause while the staff nimbly settled groups in various areas, we had the chance to try the wines on the tasting menu. Sure enough, New Zealand’s famous Sauvignon Blanc reigned supreme for both of us. Crisp and just a bit floral, with lots of citrus notes, the wine was light and easy to drink. I also enjoyed the Chardonnay, which had the creaminess of butter without the heaviness of that defining characteristic. Adam also loved the Malbec, a favorite of his since we visited Argentina, and Westbrook’s was fruity and rich with a layer of chocolate that made it a great winter wine. Speaking of chocolate—we couldn’t leave without buying some chocolate made with Westbrook’s own port-style wine, and when we opened it after returning home it immediately took us back to one of our favorite Auckland wine day trip memories.
More Information: Westbrook.co.nz
► Hunting Lodge Winery
Our Auckland wine day trip journey next took us to Hunting Lodge Winery, where we sat down to sample six different wines. With enough extra space in our luggage we would have taken home a bottle of anything we tried—maybe even everything we tried! The Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay were lovely, and the Pinot Gris with notes of vanilla and pear was one of our favorite wines of the day. We ended up buying a bottle of the final wine we tried, a complex and flavorful Pinot Noir, that had lots of cherry notes and was almost too easy to drink. The tasting experience itself was just as nice as the wines we tried. Comfortably settled at tables against a stunning backdrop of rolling vineyards, our group was pleasantly relaxed as we sipped and compared notes.
More Information: TheHuntingLodge.com
► Coopers Creek WineryCoopers Creek Winery was the final stop on our Auckland wine day trip, a perfect place to end our journey. Our group was treated to a great experience as we sampled many of the wines available. We especially enjoyed the Merlot, a deep, fruity wine that would perfectly pair with cheese and crackers. The light, crisp Riesling was a crowd favorite within our group; the brightness and sweetness of honeysuckle was a huge hit for white wine fans, and even those of us more partial to red wines thought it would be a great wine to sip on a warm, sunny day. We enjoyed spending time talking with Coopers Creek’s delightful team as well; Stu was especially helpful as he helped us decide which bottle we would take home with us—and, more importantly, how we could order more once we left New Zealand!
More Information: CoopersCreek.co.nz
As our Auckland wine day trip came to a close and John brought us safely back to our hotel, we agreed that we could have used even more time to taste our way through the picturesque vineyards that are so prevalent throughout the country. Realizing we had one entire unscheduled day in our itinerary before we were due to head back to the United States, we eagerly booked one more Auckland wine day trip—this time to Waiheke Island!
Wine Tour on Waiheke Island
Known by many as “the wine island,” Waiheke Island is just 15 miles off the coast of New Zealand and easily accessible from Auckland’s ferry terminal. Like our Auckland wine day trip with John to the country’s west coast, our trip to Waiheke Island took place under dark clouds and with the threat of rain around every turn. While many visitors enjoy renting bikes or taking local transportation as they create a wine tasting itinerary, we decided to book a last-minute tour that included ferry tickets and tastings at three different wineries. After a rushed hunt for breakfast just in case we didn’t have a chance to eat during the tour, we were more than ready for a scenic boat ride. The ferry, which leaves regularly, comfortably shuttled us from the mainland to Waiheke Island, where we boarded a waiting bus to begin our island wine adventure.
► Mudbrick VineyardWe started our wine tasting experience at Mudbrick Vineyard, where we were greeted with a glass of Pinot Gris as we stood outside and took in the scenery. Despite the threatening clouds rolling in toward us, we thought Waiheke Island was stunning. Our guide shared the story of Mudbrick’s owners, a couple who left mundane work in the city to pursue a different kind of career and, ultimately, a passion for making excellent wine. We also heard a nice overview of the winemaking process, one we have become accustomed to hearing during our travels but still appreciate when it reflects local styles and innovations. As we toured the vineyard our glasses were refilled twice more, once with a bright rosé and again with a peppery Syrah. Of the wines we tried, the Pinot Gris was the most memorable, perhaps because it was a great wine to enjoy outside on a warm day.
More Information: Mudbrick.co.nz
► Cable Bay Vineyards
Our second tasting of our second Auckland wine day trip took us to Cable Bay, where we were served four different wines. We started with Rosé, a dry wine that wasn’t too heavy with strawberry notes and instead maintained a balanced, fruity finish. From there we were offered a citrusy, ever-so-slightly oaky Chardonnay before enjoying two red wines: a Syrah and a Malbec. I really liked the Syrah, which had lots of blackberry and cherry; the Malbec offered deeper notes of red fruits and chocolate that made it more complex but still approachable. We would have enjoyed more time to relax and appreciate the wines, but our large group was already growing rowdy, and the noise and the crowds had us returning our glasses and seeking the comparative solace of the back patio shortly after the tasting was finished.
More Information: Cablebay.nz
► Te Motu VineyardOur final stop of the day took us to Te Motu, where we again started with a glass of Rosé—and a side of torrential downpour that had us scurrying from the umbrella-covered tables where we hoped to enjoy our tasting and into the winery itself. By the time we were settled inside I was dismayed to find the Rosé in my glass was watered down and barely drinkable. Fortunately, the Cabernet Merlot blend we were next served made up for it. With lots of cherry and raspberry and a hint of smokiness, the blend was delicious and would have been worthy of a full glass if we had more time. Still, it was the 2009 Te Motu that earned the distinction as our favorite wine of the day. An exceptionally crafted wine, with notes of dark red fruits and a hint of smoke and leather, it reminded us of our experience drinking Silver Oak during our California wine road trip. The wines themselves are not comparable, but there is something wonderful about tasting an expensive wine and closing your eyes, identifying the flavors and making note of the complexity, balance, and smoothness of the sipping experience. The Te Motu vintage is the vineyard’s cornerstone, with older bottles selling for more than 1,000 USD. We were happy to wrap up our second Auckland wine day trip with Te Motu.
More Information: TeMotu.co.nz
Which Auckland Wine Tour to Choose
Like with any destination you may visit, there are numerous types of tours and experiences available to you. Here are a few tips that may help you select the experience that will be a perfect fit for your vacation.
Think about timing. How long do you have to spend during your Auckland wine day trip? With a full day, you can venture away from Auckland to see stunning sights and try some off-the-beaten-path wineries. With a shorter amount of time you will be more restricted by geography, although destinations like Waiheke Island can be enjoyed in just half a day. Consider how much of your itinerary you want to dedicate to wine tasting to identify the experience that will work best for you.Consider the crowds. There is a big difference between a private tour, a small group tour, and a large tour, and it makes sense to put some real thought into how crowds might impact your Auckland wine day trip. A private tour is as close to a self-driving tour as you will find without renting a car and hitting the road. A guide will likely help you select the wineries you want to visit, and you will have some added flexibility in your schedule to accommodate longer visits and specific stops. A small group tour won’t offer as much flexibility, but you will most likely receive similar personal attention with the added opportunity to make new friends and chat with people from around the world. Large group tours are usually the most inexpensive, but with many people involved they can be derailed by late passengers or poorly behaved travelers. On our small group Auckland wine day trip to New Zealand’s west coast we had a great time getting to know John and our fellow travelers, all of whom had great stories to share as we sipped wine during the day. Our large group tour of Waiheke Island was complicated by people who arrived late to the bus, were pushy in lines to get wine, and ate all of the snacks served at the tastings- often leaving more than half the group without a bite or two to pair with a wine pour. We often preference small group tours, but your budget and goals for your experience will guide you to make the right choice.
Look at what is included. While most Auckland wine day trip tours will include transportation and wine tastings, know what else is included—or excluded—before you book. Our small group tour to the waterfalls and wineries included a full lunch and a stop at the Arataki Visitor Centre, but our trip to Waiheke Island only included transportation and the tastings—we didn’t receive any food or the opportunity to purchase food while we were on the island. Be sure you know what to expect so you budget for additional expenses.
Where to Stay in Auckland
We stayed at the Grand Mercure Auckland Hotel our home base during our visit, and if you are looking for a conveniently-located place near many key sightseeing attractions it may be a great place for you to stay, too. The Mercure is within walking distance of many of our favorite places, including our favorite Auckland restaurants, and it’s also close to the harbour for easy access to the ferry terminal! The Mercure offered well-sized, clean rooms with comfortable beds and free WiFi—we are planning to stay there again the next time our travels take us to Auckland.
More Information: Booking.com/Grand-Mercure-Auckland-Hotel
We found the best hotel rates on Booking.com; you may find a great deal for the Mercure or other properties on Booking.com as well. Here are a few deals to consider.
Enjoy Your Auckland Wine Day Trip!
We have had the chance to try wine around the world, but there is a good reason why we booked an Auckland wine day trip before arriving in New Zealand—and why we booked a second one before we left to return home. New Zealand has some exceptional wineries that produce some world-class wines, and we know you will have a fantastic time exploring and sipping during your vacation. If the skies look a bit gray, don’t worry—the wine tastes just as good between rain drops as it does under sunny skies.
Just be sure you leave enough time for breakfast.
Looking for more fun places to visit near Auckland? Here are a few more posts for inspiration!
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we visited multiple locations as part of a tour with Auckland Wine Trail Tours, and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected Auckland Wine Trail Tours and other locations based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.