“The town centre is shaped like the Union Jack,” a friendly local exclaims as my sister Elsie and I fasten our helmets.
“With streets made up of long, straight lines, it’s impossible to get lost.”
The image I had of a cycle trail with winding twists and turns down bumpy gravel tracks shrouded by bush dissolves as we pedal down Kitchener Street, a stretch of tar seal a few kilometres out of Martinborough’s town centre appropriately labelled ‘The Square.’
In the height of summer, the region is alive with tourists atop quaint bicycles; wicker baskets between their handlebars laden with fresh produce purchased from the 20-odd vineyards, all within cooee of one another. Although we’re not visiting during peak season, there’s still an abundance to discover cycling Martinborough’s renowned Wine Trail.
Rain threatens to spill from the grey plumes swirling across the autumn sky. My iPhone says there’s a 40% chance of thunder and lightning by afternoon.
Through a gap in the clouds, the sun ignites the surrounds with a golden glow. Trees shimmer along the roadside in contrasting patches of colour; deep burgundy hues, like a healthy merlot, stand out against burnt-orange leaves, similar tones to a buttery chardonnay.
It’s the warm days and cool nights together with hot summers, dry autumns and just the right amount of rain that makes the Wairarapa region famous for producing wine.
I hope it’s one of those iconic dry autumn days today.
The crisp air bites my cheeks despite having worked up a slight sweat. We find refuge in the warmth of Palliser Estate Winery and enjoy a tasting menu, including sips of a delicious pinot noir, which the area is best known for.
Back on our bikes, we link onto Huangarua Road, home to a handful more wineries. While the trail at first seems straightforward and simple in structure, we quickly discover it has rich gems to discover along the way. The roadside is dotted with fresh produce; not just grapes from the vineyards boasting organic statuses, but trees dripping with olives, figs and apples. We pluck some of the succulent fruit delighted to have the sweet and juicy flesh to boost our energy levels.
We exchange smiles with couples and groups of friends pedalling past. They become familiar faces encountered at multiple stops along the way.
Rumbling stomachs lead us to Margrain Vineyard’s café for lunch. We choose a table out on the deck and graze on a delicious shared platter while overlooking a golden sea of grapevines. We can make out pops of deep purple from bunches that didn’t make the recent picking.
I say it’s the chance to winery-hop that overrides the cycling, but as we make our way back toward The Square I realise I’m having serious fun. I’m not a natural cyclist and I wasn’t sure how much I would like this but it’s been a highly enjoyable day. We made it work for us. Elsie and I set our own pace; slow and steady while chatting, and picking up speed to get the heartrate up. “Race ya to the next winery!”
Back in the village square, we buy fresh food and wine to take back to our villa, affectionately named ‘Sauvignon’, at The Claremont Motel and Apartments and sit reminiscing about the day’s activities in front of the fireplace.
Later, outside, we look up at a carpet of stars brightening; we’d heard of plans to have the Wairarapa region certified a dark sky reserve. Then the sky changes and rain threatens and we smile, grateful.
Those clouds had parted just long enough for us to enjoy a perfect autumnal day.
Although cycling on open roads can be dangerous, we felt safe; drivers were respectful of sharing the road with cyclists. It is important to stick to the road rules, to wear a helmet and to drink responsibly.
The trail is best completed during summer and early autumn due to weather and winery opening hours. While you’re here Wine is the focus in the warmer months, particularly at November’s food, wine and music festival, Toast Martinborough. Come spring, the area is filled with sultry sounds during the annual Jazz in Martinborough festival. See wairarapanz.com for more.
Enjoy the country charm. About a 20-minute drive out of Martinborough you’ll find Greytown, a quaint village home to beautiful homeware and gift shops, boutique clothing and shoe stores, opshops and antiques, as well as cafés.
The nearby Remutaka Cycle Trail begins in Wellington and winds through the Remutaka Ranges to the Wairarapa Valley and the mouth of the Orongorongo River. The 115km trail takes about three days to complete in full. Pick up a NZ Cycle Trail guide from an AA Centre or see NZ Cycle Trail for more.
A word of thanks
The writer stayed courtesy of The Claremont Motel and Apartments. Adventure Capital supplied bikes and Thrifty provided a rental car.
Grab AA Travel Insurance to make sure you’re covered before setting off.
Reported by Monica Tischler for our AA Directions Autumn 2020 issue