I love a road trip. Perhaps the four-&-a-bit hours between Wellington & Napier doesn’t really count, but that’s been my road trip over this long weekend. One of the great things about driving in NZ is the varied nature of the landscape … from Wellington’s gorgeous harbour through the settled, suburban Hutt Valley to the blast of the winding Rimutaka Hill road; then the small towns of the southern Wairarapa, the closing in of the valley as you head north, the stunning sculptural impact of the windfarm on the hills near Woodville … but enough! … this isn’t a travelogue. Let’s just say that it’s not a boring drive.
But, I thought as I drove up on Friday, how disappointing it all is from a foodie perspective. If you’re after the local, the regional. Sure, there are the cafés and restaurants in the small towns of the southern Wairarapa, some of them very good, but no different really from what’s on offer in the cities. The market garden shops north of Greytown still sell some of their own produce but – or at least this is what I think – much of what’s for sale has been bought in, so what’s available is pretty much as in any decent green grocer’s. For properly local, the Greytown butcher is perhaps the best place to stop – sadly, however, closed today on my return, this being the public holiday.
Then, of course, there are the vineyards – SH2 is, after all, marketed as the wine route, dotted at the roadside with dinky bunch-of-grapes signs all the way from (or to) Wellington’s wind-swept airport. But visiting NZ vineyards is, I have to say, SO disappointing. Such commercial, commercialised experiences. Just another shopping expedition. Fine, of course, if the vineyard is the destination, if you’re heading there with friends for lunch & a bottle of wine, but as an unplanned halt on a road trip, no. Save that experience for France!
Years ago, I used to stay with a cousin in Provence. On occasion, we’d fill his old Renault with numerous glass flagons, some wicker bound, and drive them to a local vineyard where rosé was four francs a litre. Back home I’d decant from the flagons into an array of bottles, splashing not a little on the kitchen flagstones in the process, before roughly corking the bottles. At the rate we seemed to drink the wine, a rough corking was all that was required.
Maybe that sort of experience spoiled me for latter-day vineyard visits?