We've completed the 5-hour flight from Melbourne to Auckland, and as soon as we are out of the airport, it's obvious that New Zealand is quite different than it's huge neighbor 5 hours away. This city is fairly good size, with a population of approximately 1.5 million. Nevertheless, we're about to find out that outside of Auckland, the North and South Islands are quite rural. Our first taste of the bucolic nature of this island-country will happen today, as we head by ferry to Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf to take in some rugged coastline vistas, and to hit a few well-known vineyards.
As the ferry pulls out of the harbor, I'm really impressed with the metropolitan skyline. Most notable is the Sky Tower, standing tall amongst its neighboring structures. I can also identify the Town Hall, Auckland Harbor Bridge, and the Ferry Building.
Auckland is home to the largest Polynesian population in the world. The Maori people of Eastern Polynesian descent comprise a very distinctive part of New Zealand culture. The Maori name for Auckland is Tamki-makau-rau, which means "Tamaki with a hundred lovers," referring to its fertile land and waterways.
We finish cruising the 12.4 miles from Auckland to Waiheke, the second-largest and most populated island in the Hauraki Gulf. The rest of the world is well aware of this place ever since Lonely Planet rated it the fifth-best destination in the world to visit in 2016. Conde Nast Traveler also described it as the fourth best island in the world in its 30 Best Islands in the World list.
We land at the ferry terminal in Matiatia Bay on the western end of the island and start motoring toward the vineyards. The visuals are spectacular along the way! I'm able to grab a photo of the jagged coastline, with the zoned-in Surfdale Beach separated from the Blackpool Beach by one of numerous, small peninsulas.
Back in the van, we arrive at the Stonyridge Vineyard, one of the numerous wine estates on this island. This vineyard is gorgeous, with beautiful roses interspersed with the grape vines that are used to make its signature Larose Bordeaux style red wine.
The history of wine making in New Zealand is very interesting. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, young New Zealanders began traveling overseas, predominantly in Europe. Made possible by easy access to passenger jets, a Kiwi identity evolved based on their first-hand experience with the premium wine cultures of the European continent.
By the 1980s, New Zealand was solidly on the international radar screen for producing what many wine critics consider the best Sauvignon blanc in the world. Wineries began generating this varietal that compared favorably with France's Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. Taber, a wine critic, said that "drinking one's first New Zealand Sauvignon blanc was like having sex for the first time."
The wine tour ends, and we sit on a porch overlooking the Stonyridge vineyard with its rolling hills in the background. Glasses of several varietals are in front of us, and I'm having trouble figuring out which one I like best. This is a tough one! I guess Sauvignon Blanc gets the nod, but honestly, after the third glass, who can tell?