IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Everything’s Vine in New Zealand

Not just "Middle Earth" territory, New Zealand is a top spot for oenophiles. Here are some great places to taste the grape and ways to save on airfare and hotels
Image: Grapes
Grapes on the vineGetty Images
/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

We all know New Zealanders speak English, but the entire population is also fast becoming fluent in another language, one with a deeply descriptive vocabulary: wine. Kiwis have been making the tipple since 1857, but over the past decade in particular vineyard culture (and its coverage in gourmet publications) has exploded. It’s almost as if the country’s collective conscious has had one gigantic epiphany; New Zealand’s unique climate is ideally suited for cultivating grapes.

Easily one of the world’s most revered wine industries today, awesomely scenic and sparsely populated New Zealand has several distinct regions devoted to this serious and gastronomically rewarding profession and pastime.

Sauvignon Blanc may be king, but there are many worthy subjects

Marlborough, where warm days and cool nights are the norm, is handily New Zealand most decorated and well-known wine-producing region. Known for its longer-than-usual growing season and award-winning sauvignon blancs, Marlborough is easily explored from the quiet town of Blenheim. To start your exploration of New Zealand’s second largest and most historical wine region you will have to head to Napier, a proud and Art Deco-accented city that unfurls into Hawke's Bay, an area that produces excellent floral chardonnays (as well as other varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and syrah, as well as pinot noir) and often goes head-to-head with Marlborough in international competitions. If it’s a peppery pinot noir you crave, then a driving tour through Martinborough, which boasts 32 wineries, is the answer. New Zealand is also home to the planet’s southern—most wine region—Central Otago, an alpine patch of land that yields some fine pinot noirs as well, in addition to pinot gris, is growing a steady clip. To learn more about New Zealand’s wine regions, go to: www.nzwine.com or www.tizwine.com.

Whether you decide to circle the North Island or South Island on a wine-tasting tour of New Zealand, you can’t go wrong no matter which direction you drive, and the lush rolling scenery should be enough to sustain you if you’re not a fan of wine-tasting. But, before you hop into your rental car with vineyard map in hand, you will first need to get there. Fortunately, there are some excellent airfares and vacation specials to New Zealand that allow you to do just that. Air New Zealand even pours its local wines for all its passengers, which is a big improvement over the screw-top varieties now popular onboard flights to the cradle of fine wine: France.

Travelers to New Zealand, your glass is half-full

In an outright attempt to appeal to American wine-lovers, Air New Zealand (www.airnzdeals.com) just announced a batch of attractive online airfares from Los Angeles to Kiwi Land. For $848 roundtrip (a nice price considering it’s the mid-summer in New Zealand), you fly from Los Angeles to Auckland, and for $100 additional you can go directly to Blenheim, Napier, Wellington and Queenstown. This fare, which is valid for travel between Mar. 1 and Jun. 4, 2004, also allows a stopover in Auckland. All tickets must be purchased online by Mar. 31, 2004. And, departures from Hawaii are even cheaper--$748.

Waiting to save: The best prices come to those who travel during NZ's fall season. A well-known Oceania specialist called Sunspots International is offering a seven-night vacation there for just $799 for travel between Apr. 21 and Jun. 24. The package includes:

  • Airfare from Los Angeles to Auckland (add-ons are available; the international flight leaves at 11 pm at night, making connections within the US highly doable). Carrier: Air New Zealand, Wednesday departures only.
  • One night "Go Kiwi" hotel pass, allowing the bearer to bunk at a decent airport hotel on the night of arrival.
  • Six night campervan rental. This is a four-wheel drive, Kiwi-version of an RV, big enough to sleep two and equipped with a full range of cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery; a two burner gas cook top; external hand-held shower; small fridge; sleeping bags, pillow and towels; and an outdoor table and chairs.

The package does not include taxes or airport security fees. Singles are $163 more; the extra day rate is $18 per person. To learn more, contact Sunspots International at 800/334-5623 (www.sunspotsintl.com).

Traveling now: Doing the same type of fly/RV vacation during NZ's glorious summer season costs exactly $200 more. The company with the lowest rates for this time period is Tahiti Vacations (800/553-3477, www.tahitivacations.net), and its $999 campervan package is identical to the one above, except for the dates which extend through Mar. 31 (singles pay $300 more) and the fact that you'll be flying Air Tahiti Nui. If you're planning to travel between Mar. 1 and Apr. 20, go with Sunspots (see above) as its rates during this period are $50/person less than Tahiti Vacation's.

For those who'd rather not drive in the same place they sleep, Tahiti Vacations offers a package combining a rental car with seven-days worth of passes for the Golden Chain for seven nights. The price for this variation is $999/person based on double occupancy, $1359 for singles. Now, you're not going to get Travelodges with these passes. Kiwi motels tend to be family-run, friendly little places, more like the B&B's of England than the cookie-cutter chains of the US.

For one final variation on the theme, Tahiti Vacations will throw in a four-night stay in Tahiti on the way back for just $390 more ($580 more for singles). You bunk one night at the Te Tiare on the island of Tahiti itself, and then spend three nights at the Hotel Kaveka on Moorea.

For young people only: If you're lucky enough to be under the age of 26, we have one more deal for you, and it's a doozy. For just $738 giant student travel agent STA Travel(www.statravel.com) will fly you on Air New Zealand from Los Angeles to Auckland, with departures now through Jun. 15. What makes this offer even more remarkable is that you have up to a year to return. STA can also throw in four nights hostel stays (or more) for an additional $61. You'll need an International Student Identity card (you don't need to be a student to get one, just young) to purchase the tickets. Conveniently, the ISIC can also be bought from STA.

Discounted airfares are available from all gateways, including:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth: $984
  • Phoenix: $838
  • Denver: $938
  • Atlanta: $1,040

{Editor's Note: Have you ever visited a vineyard in New Zealand? Do you have a money-saving hint, tip, or anecdote that would be helpful to other travelers? We'd love to hear it and possibly reprint it in our letters to the editor column. Simply to send a letter to our editors.}