New Zealand wines have long claimed awards, charming visitors with the flavour of their landscapes: rocky central Otago, rolling Marlborough, the varied terroir of Hawke’s Bay. Local artisan beers celebrate regionally-grown ingredients and water with brew bars, tasting sheds and festivals. But in the past decade, Kiwi distillers have been creating interesting flavours in spirits that reflect local character. Here’s how to enjoy some of the best at their source.
Greytown: Salute’s Lighthouse Gin Elderflower G & T
The Wairarapa is known for its wines, but the region’s Lighthouse Gin has also garnered international awards (including the Outstanding Silver Award Winner in this year’s International Wine & Spirit Competition) for its complex peppery notes of native botanicals, mountain spring water and hand-zested citrus. Try it at Salute - a garden restaurant and bar in Greytown, just a few kilometres from the distillery - where mixologist Kirstin Addis creates the signature elderflower twist on the classic Gin and Tonic. She makes the cordial from elderflower trees on the Salute property, with organic limes from a customer’s garden and Bootleggers tonic that comes from over the hills in Wellington. If you’re liking the local tastes, Kirstin will pop olives from one of the many local plantations into your martini, or mix you the Mela mocktail of spiced apple juice from the nearby orchards.
A spectacular 90-minute drive over the Rimutaka Ranges from Wellington (there are also train and bus connections) the Wairarapa towns of Greytown and Martinborough have old-school main streets with great restaurants, smart shopping and wineries. Visit Cape Palliser Lighthouse at the southernmost tip of the of the North Island, cycle the vineyards and olive groves, buy organic treats from local artisans or horse trek through country stations.
Wanaka: The Cardrona Distillery – Vesper
New Zealand’s first purpose-built distillery has concocted a cocktail worthy of James Bond himself. The Cardrona Distillery’s in-house barman Theo Arndt has managed to create a drink which includes all three of their signature spirits - The Reid Single Malt Vodka, The Source Gin and a Rose Rabbit Glass Rinse. Dubbed the Vesper, a nod to Ian Fleming’s 1953 Bond novel Casino Royale, where the Vesper first appeared, this powerful blend of flavours is served in Mr Bond’s favoured martini glass. Taking the chilled glass, Theo adds a drop of Rose Rabbit Orange Liqueur to begin. The Reid Single Malt Vodka and The Source Cardrona Gin are combined then strained into the waiting cocktail glass with a piece of orange peel. Hidden in the Cardrona Valley just outside of Wanaka, the distillery offers tastings, tours and even a cocktail master class where visitors can learn the intricacies of creating classic and contemporary cocktails like The Vesper.
Wanaka is a lakeside town is just over an hour’s drive from Queenstown and just over three hours from Invercargill and Dunedin. Gateway to some of the country’s most famous ski-fields, Wanaka comes alive during the winter months (June-August), when hordes of snow-bunnies and seasonaires descend to make the most of the world-class slopes. The warmer months are no less inviting, however, as visitors can indulge in lakeside picnics, stunning hiking trails and thrilling aquatic activities.
Queenstown: The Lodge Bar’s Blue Duck vodka Vod & Gunner
Fiordland, deep in the southwest of New Zealand, is probably as far from the world capitals of taste as you can get. But it is home to some of the world’s purest water, key to the handcrafted, batch-distilled Blue Duck premium vodka. Named after a rare endangered bird of the region, the vodka has been listed as one of the world’s top ten. You won’t find a bar in Fiordland, so head to neighbouring Queenstown, where men’s outfitters Rodd & Gun have opened The Lodge Bar. Celebrating the best of back country style, the signature Vod and Gunner cocktail pairs Blue Duck vodka with East Imperial ginger ale, ginger beer, and topped with Angostura bitters and fresh citrus. The food is ingenious takes on the best local ingredients by Monique Fiso (her CV includes New York’s Musket Room), there’s one of the country’s top wine lists, and a lakeside view of Lake Wakatipu - Queenstown at its best.
With a six-hour drive south from Christchurch taking in some of the country’s best alpine, river and lake scenery, wineries, hiking and cycling trails, Queenstown is New Zealand’s yea- round holiday mecca (there are direct flights from main Australian and New Zealand cities for faster access). The centre of the winter ski-scene, the mountains are also terrific for summer and autumn adventure, from hard-core adrenalin to easy hikes and bikes. Add wineries and restaurants, terrific shopping and activities for every budget.
Christchurch: The Poplar Social Club’s Rogue Gin Clover Club
Dux Central has reenergised Christchurch’s inner city with a cluster of themed restaurants and bars, cool reincarnations of the legendary Dux de Lux in the Arts Centre, lost to the earthquake. The newest baby on the block, Poplar Social Club is a modern twist on the old speakeasy, dedicated to the craft of the cocktail. Sit in a leather booth and sup on Charles Gillet’s Rogue Gin White Lady cocktail. The winning barman likes to riff on a theme, but pairing Rogue’s intriguing botanicals, with lemon juice, Grenadine, egg whites, garnished with local raspberries is Christchurch in a glass. Watch out for his favourite edible flowers, foraged from his favourite gardens.
The gateway to the South Island’s outdoors, and an international airport hub, Christchurch city itself is welcoming a new energy with the Re:START container mall in the heart of the city, stylish New Regent Street, the stunning art gallery, cardboard cathedral and lively eating and bar scene. The historic French settlement of Akaroa, alpine hot springs at Hanmer and Mt Hutt skiing are easy drives away.
Wellington: CoCo at the Roxy’s Oamaruvian Whisky Old Fashioned
A cinema with a bar that boasts one of New Zealand’s best bartenders, CoCo in Wellington’s coolest wee suburb of Miramar (yes, home of Weta studios and all things Rings) has helped establish the city’s food scene. Bartender Ray Letoa specialises in everything crazy (starting with his own outfits) and loves to talk cocktails with the punters, not just serve them. He’s found the country’s best whisky, matured by Oamaru whisky evangelists from Dunedin-distilled single grain whisky. The Oamaruvian, with rich toffee, floral nose and creaming soda mouth-feel with a hint of Oamaru sea spray to finish needs only a stir of castor sugar, angostura and orange bitters to open up the palate. To blur the lines? Try the Roxy’s Oamaruvian icecream: vanilla, honey, pear and definitely adults only.
Walkable and vibrant Wellington, an hour’s flight from Auckland or Christchurch, is New Zealand’s craft beer capital, with some of the best food festivals, markets and food lanes in the country (try Wellington on a Plate or Beervana). September’s World of Wearable Arts show is world class, there’s theatre, gallery and museums to keep the arts buff happy.