It’s the helmets that are the giveaway. You can see them resting on the edges of bench seats, lying on the floor next to backpacks, slung wherever they can fit on tables already filled with wine glasses, cutlery and plates of food.
People didn’t drive here today, or take the bus. Plenty of the lunchtime diners taking up the seats here at Church Road Winery cycled, pedalling their way through the quiet streets of Napier to make it here for a bite to eat and a quick wine tasting before donning those helmets and heading off again.
It turns out this is part and parcel of the Hawke’s Bay experience: getting yourself around on two wheels, stopping off to sample the produce that the region is famed for, before getting back to exploring the purpose-built bike tracks that loop through the area. Those tracks stretch on for more than 200 kilometres, which means there’s no shortage of opportunity to work off the calories taken on at a place like Church Road Winery.
This winery is one of the most popular stop-offs on the “Water Ride”, one of three distinct loops in the Hawke’s Bay region on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. The Water Ride is mostly, obviously, about the water, about the wetlands to the north of the city of Napier that are home to a vast array of birdlife. However, once cyclists have completed the two-hour loop through the wetlands, they emerge on Church Road, home to the eponymous winery, as well as Mission Estate, another of Hawke’s Bay’s premier wine producers. Perfect timing: sample a few drops, eat a few small plates of food, and get back on the bike.
More wineries await afterwards. This is, after all, one of New Zealand’s oldest established wine regions, and a place that’s become well known for its high-quality Bordeaux blends, the mix of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, as well as chardonnay and syrah. Hawke’s Bay is pretty much flat, too, with most cycling on purpose-built paths away from the road, which makes it a very attractive proposition for riders whose main area of preparation for this trip has been in the food and drink department.
And there’s even better news: Hawke’s Bay isn’t the only region in New Zealand to combine pedalling with fine produce. There are a few tracks of varying lengths that not only make up part of the network of purpose-built paths known as the New Zealand Cycle Trail, or Nga Haerenga (The Journeys), but focus on those two great pleasures: food and wine.
HAWKE’S BAY TRAILS
There are three loops in Hawke’s Bay: the Water Ride, the Landscapes Ride, and the Wineries Ride.
The Water Ride
The Water Ride, as mentioned, isn’t limited to the wetlands, or even to the wineries on Church Road – it also encompasses the Puketapu Loop, popularly known as the “pub run” given its natural halfway point is the Puketapu pub, a beautiful little beer garden set among the Ruahine foothills. It’s the perfect opportunity to grab a beer and rest tired legs for an hour or so.
The Landscape Ride
Similarly, the Landscapes Ride offers ample opportunities to enjoy the good stuff while you’re out for a pedal. The track makes a long loop that follows a river up to TukiTuki, before winding back towards the ocean, where cyclists are deposited just near Elephant Hill Winery, a cellar door that also boasts one of New Zealand’s best winery restaurants. You could be dining on whitefish with parsnip, apple and fried fennel one minute, and then donning a helmet and getting back on the bike the next.
The track then leads all the way up towards Cape Kidnappers, one of the most spectacular locations in the area, so it’s well worth saving a little energy to make it up there before hugging the coast on the journey back to Napier.
The Wineries Ride
Finally, of course, there’s the Wineries Ride, which makes no pretense about its focus on that famous product. It begins around the town of Hastings, and takes riders on a six-hour round trip, which rolls past a golf course – where you can call in to the clubhouse for a little snack – before entering rows of grape vines in the famed Gimblett Gravels area.
Gimblett Gravels used to be relatively unloved – it’s a dry, gravely section of land to the east of Hawke’s Bay’s traditional grape-growing region, a place no one even thought to plant a vine until 1991. Now, the area produces some of New Zealand’s best red wine, in particular syrahs, and you can sample a good few of them by doing the Wineries Ride.
Call in first to Ngatarawa Wines, before rounding the corner to visit Trinity Hill, and then go straight across the road to Te Awa, where lunch is served in a beautiful courtyard setting. As with Church Road, you’ll notice plenty of bike helmets perched on seats or placed on the ground. The diners all arrive by pedal power. Cycling is clearly the way to get around in these parts.
Rich in breathtaking scenery and must-see attractions, cycling trails are an unforgettable way to explore New Zealand. Mostly off-road and traversing a remarkable range of landscapes, the Great Rides offer adventures for almost every age and ability.
Choose to explore a trail for an hour, a day or a week; whichever fits in with your itinerary. They are as diverse as they are beautiful, showcasing a satisfying blend of natural wonders, cultural sights, food and wine.
Spread throughout New Zealand from the Bay of Islands in the north to Queenstown in the south, the Great Rides are a memorable way to reach sights and attractions. Pedal between Napier’s art deco buildings on the Hawke’s Bay Trails, stargaze from an alfresco hot tub on the Alps 2 Ocean, and wind through Rotorua’s steamy geothermal wonderlands on Te Ara Ahi. Explore two contrasting national parks on the Mountains to Sea, and freewheel through golden high country of the Otago Central Rail Trail.
As locals will tell you, there really is something for everyone on the New Zealand Cycle Trail, even for beginners and rusty riders. Passionate tour companies offer advice, guiding, shuttles and luggage transfers, while welcoming accommodation, cafes and restaurants provide home comforts along the way.