Wine Tasting in Martinborough, New Zealand

Since wedding plans have sidetracked any major travel plans for the rest of the year (at least until our honeymoon), Pete and I have been more focused on exploring new places around New Zealand. Thankfully, like I mentioned in one of my recent posts, Jetstar offers some pretty affordable domestic travel around New Zealand.

Originally we were thinking of flying up to Auckland to check out the Coromandel but ultimately decided we couldn’t pass up the chance to surprise Pete’s mom, Helen, in Wellington for her 65th birthday. We flew up on Friday afternoon just in time for her birthday dinner in the CBD. The look on her face when she walked into the restaurant and saw us was priceless. There happened to be three recent birthdays in the family (including Pete’s!) so it was the perfect opportunity to get together and celebrate with family.


Helen was scheduled to work the rest for the weekend so we decided that a few nights in Martinborough were just what the doctor ordered. Martinborough is known for its vineyards and small-town charm. Just an hours drive Northeast from Wellington, it’s an easy weekend destination if you’re looking to escape the city grind.


We invited a few of Pete’s friends who live in Wellington to join us. It wasn’t so hard to convince them of the benefits of a weekend in wine country and so, arriving around midday, we dropped bags off at our accommodation and hit the road in search of pinot.

Our first stop took us to Tiwaiwaka Wines, a boutique winery along Kitchener Street. A small outfit, this winery offered yummy nibbles alongside its pinot noirs. While we were trying two of their signature reds we were visited by the winery’s namesake, an energetic tiwaiwaka, also known as a fantail bird. According to Maori culture, these birds can be interpreted as a symbol of death or a sign that you are being visited by loved ones who have passed on. For peace of mind, I’m going to stick with the latter.


With our palette’s primed, we walked over to Palliser Estate Vinyard where they offer a gorgeous selection of wines. We took advantage of the sunny day and after finishing the tasting, borrowed their pétanque set for a few high-stakes games on the sand court. Sadly, I will not be making the pétanque Olympic team anytime soon but I can’t remember the last time I was so relaxed, soaking up the sun and playing lawn games with friends. If you find yourself at Pallisar, try their Reisling. I often find rieslings too sweet but this one was so good that I’m thinking about buying a few cases for our wedding.


By now we’d worked up an appetite so we headed back to town in search of sustenance. We decided to give Cafe Medici a go and it did not disappoint; my shrimp and sausage pasta was packed with flavor. As an added bonus, there was no shortage of adorable pups keeping us company on the back patio while we ate.


 In my experience, the best way to recover from a food coma is to walk it off and what better destination than another winery? Muirlea Rise offers more unique wines that clearly aren’t trying to appease the masses but are more interested in developing unique blends and standout flavors. My highlight was their Après Wine Liqueur, but the star of the show was the winemaker pouring the tastings. He’s a character and his passion for winemaking is obvious to anyone who takes the time to listen to him talk about his craft.


Deciding to take advantage of the full kitchen at our accommodation instead of eating out, we went back to the house and cooked up some dinner and spent the rest of the night drinking wine and catching up.

In search of fresh air the next morning, we drove over to Greytown to look around. Greytown is the perfect town to shop for artisan-made home furnishings and boutique clothes sewn from natural fabrics that cost half your rent. Despite leaning towards the high-end crowd, it’s a cute town and worth a wander up the main drag.


By mid-day, our friends had to head back to Wellington but Pete and I still had another day to explore Martinborough. We’d recovered enough from the previous night’s festivities enough to walk to Margrain Vineyard for one last tasting. Pinot Noir seems to be the bread and butter of this region and I was impressed by their selection. The experience was only enhanced by the stunning views from the tasting room.


It was getting late in the day and all the wineries were closing, so we walked back to town for a drink. Things escalated quickly and we ended up on a mini bar crawl through town. Highlights included wine at Cool Change Bar & Eatery and cocktails at the Martinborough Hotel.


Ending the night on a more low-key note, we ordered a pizza from Little Square Pizza and headed home to watch a movie.

The next day we needed to be back to Wellington by 6:00pm to catch our flight home. Since our friends had already left the day before, taking their car with them, our plan was to catch a bus to Fetherston and then a train to Wellington. Traveling by train is seriously underrated, the views were stunning.


Key takeaways from our trip:

  1. Martinborough is a great place to go for a low-key weekend getaway. Thanks to it’s more inland location, it’s easy to avoid the cruise ship crowd that can sometimes take over Marlborough.
  2. Wine tasting prices are reasonable; most wineries charge $5 to sample 5-7 different wines.
  3. Plan a trip here when you’re looking for some home design inspiration, there are a million cute shops selling beautiful art and antiques but budget ahead of time because most will set you back a few denaros.
  4. Despite its upscale boutique feel, accommodation in the area is extremely reasonable, especially if sharing a house with a few friends.


I’m still on the hunt for wedding wines, got any NZ wines you recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

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