Our lives are pretty great, but on days when we get to ride bikes and drink wine, life is pretty much perfect. New Zealand has some picturesque places with delicious wines, notably Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay, that beg to be explored via a do-it-yourself (DIY) bike and wine tour. Unlike other US West Coast wine regions we’ve visited, like Napa, Sonoma and Willamette, both of these towns have reasonably downtown priced accommodations within a short bike ride of many wineries.
Biking is my ideal mode of transportation for sightseeing. I find myself more engaged with the scenery plus I’m able to cover a good amount of distance without too much effort. It’s always nice to be active, too. In New Zealand, we were lucky that a few of our AirBNBs had free bikes available for us to borrow. When that wasn’t available, we rented bikes for around $25-35 each for a half day (technically about four hours).
Keep in mind that many wineries are only open from about 10-4, though some restaurants and cafes in the area are open a bit longer. There are useful free maps available everywhere, like the ones linked below, that include hours and amenities for each of the places. Tastings were very reasonably priced, ranging from free to $10 a person, with refunds for purchases of wine or lunch. Don’t forget to bring a backpack if you want to be able to carry some wine home with you.
We are frequent bikers, and we usually travel casually at about 10 miles per hour on flat terrain. If it’s your first time on a bike in a while, or if you get an uncomfortable rental bike, an hour’s ride may start to feel uncomfortable on your seat. I would recommend starting with 5-7 miles out, adding a few miles in the middle, and then looping back from there for no more than about 15 – 18 miles on your first day.
Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blancs put New Zealand on the wine map. In 2015, Marlborough accounted for 75% of New Zealand’s total wine production and 80% of wine exports. 85% of wine produced there is Sauvignon Blanc.
More relevantly for us, Cloudy Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc, from Marlborough, was the first wine that really piqued Adam’s interest. This varietal is also our favorite drinking wine. I used to buy them by the case from Costco, and anyone who came to our house for dinner has likely enjoyed a bottle with us.
For having such a big reputation, I expected Marlborough to be more developed. Blenheim is the largest town there and it only has about 30,000 people. Adam and I walked around downtown on a warm Saturday night and were shocked at how few people we saw. The place was looked borderline post-apocalyptic. There’s only one bar downtown, called Scotch, that carries more than a few local wines by the glass.
On our adventure, we rented bikes from Bikefit in downtown Blenheim. The people there gave us the map, helmets, and a few recommendations. Cloudy Bay was our first stop. It’s one of the medium close places at about 6 miles from Blenheim. Getting out to the furthest places is about 10 miles. From Cloudy Bay, we also visited Saint Clair and then stopped at a nearby chocolate factory for dessert.
I can’t stress enough that Marlborough is the perfect place for a DIY biking winery tour, especially if you like Sauvignon Blanc. Most of the roads are two lane and relatively slow so you can enjoy the scenery, their summer weather is moderate but slightly on the chilly side so you won’t get too sweaty, and there are many different wine options within a moderately-sized area so you can chose your route and distance to your liking.
Hawke’s Bay is best known for Chardonnay and Bordeaux reds. For this portion of our trip, we were very lucky to have my sister Sarah and her boyfriend Dylan join us. Wine tours are better with more people!
In addition to the wine, Hawke’s Bay also has a ton of fantastic cycling trails and even has a mountain biking area nearby. We grabbed this free map from the visitor center in downtown Napier, an Art Deco style beach town.
In addition to the trail map, we picked up this fantastic winery guide to the area.
This map is not to scale, which may be why it doesn’t show distances. From Napier, it was about five miles over to the closest wineries to the west and fifteen total miles to the Fernhill area. Heading north, it’s about seven miles to the closest ones to the north.
So we had our maps, and then we just needed bikes. We were lucky to borrow two from our airbnb and rent two more at Pandora Kayaks for $25 each for four hours. This was consistent pricing with what we’d found in other NZ locations and the place just happened to be within walking distance.
Once we had our maps and our wheels, we were off!
We visited Church Road, which had really fantastic wines, and then swung by Mission Estate, where we had an amazing lunch on the patio. One bonus was that there was a great bike path that covered most of the route from downtown to these wineries, so we didn’t need to ride on the road for most of the time.
Hawke’s Bay has many of the same key advantages as Marlborough, like weather and winery density. You miss the really famous Sauvignon Blancs but there are more spread out wineries and therefore more available routes, plus there are more dedicated bike paths.
In both of these New Zealand wine regions, Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay, we only did one day of wine tasting, though I think we easily could’ve done a few more. If there’s a next time, I’d love to stay longer!