Kidnappers and Kiwis
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by Sally Hammond
 
Wind gusts buffeted the building and lightning slashed the clouds as we arrived at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. The weather was spookily matching the name, but we could not have been more comfortable.

Seated at a table in the main lodge, tucking into chef Dale Gartland's roasted guinea fowl with a glass of fine Hawke's Bay shiraz, nature's shenanigans meant nothing. We were in hog heaven.

This place has a way of doing that to people. Lulled by the warmth of our welcome and fine food and wine, that night we slept like babes in our luxury cottage. In the morning, a washed-clean view awaited. Golf greens stretching to the horizon, folded hillsides, the inevitable sheep (did I mention we were in New Zealand?) and the crescent of the bay with snow-capped mountains beyond. And even more food awaited us.

After a sunny conservatory breakfast, on a 4WD tour of the property we soon learned the name is not as sinister as it sounds. In 1769, Captain Cook's manservant, apparently sick of sailing, jumped ship. Cook feared he had been kidnapped and no doubt felt the least he could do was to name this impressive headland with its razor-sharp limestone cliffs plunging 250 metres straight into the sea in his memory.

Today a 2500-hectare working sheep and cattle farm spreads along the cliff top. A Tom Doak-designed golf course (with one hole to be played across a ravine!) has been added, and several cottages built on the hillside with a combination of stone and weathered wood exteriors and up-to-the-minute comfort inside. The Hamptons meets the antipodes, perhaps.

The Hawkes Bay area is a scenic bite out of the landmass that is the eastern side of New Zealand's north island. The Maori people and early settlers knew the rich volcanic soil was ideal for all sorts of crops and gardens. A vineyard was established in 1851 making this the country's oldest winemaking region, but it wasn't until the 1920s that the wine industry really took off. Now its wineries produce some of New Zealand's best reds.

Yet this land is more than just the soil and water. On a frosty morning we climb to Te Mata Peak overlooking a wide green blanket of farmland and forest and listen as a Maori chief welcomes us, exhorting us to respect the land. His spiritual connection with the air and atmosphere as well as the ground and all it grows is inspiring. As we touch noses with him at the end of the Powhiri welcoming ceremony, we feel humbly delighted to be included now as 'members' of his tribe.

Later that day we savour cappuccinos at Bolderson's Urban Food Store, a rustic-chic provedore and cafe, and slip cultures again. On first glance, Napier, the main town of the area, appears to be locked into an Art Deco time warp. That's because, after a massive earthquake all but flattened the town in 1931, the immediate response was to rebuild in the prevailing architecture of the time. Although there are popular guided tours of the main city blocks, and its easy to feel you could be an extra in The Great Gatsby, you'd be crazy to think this was all.

Napier may have hit the history books in 1931, but today its food and wine scene is making even more of an impact. After a day of travelling around this area, dining and wine-tasting at the forty or so cellar doors, sampling olives and fine cheeses, boutique shopping and slipping in yet another coffee or decadent ice cream, most visitors realise they have only just scratched the surface.

Somehow I can't really blame that 18th-century seaman for abandoning his career. This lush and lovely corner is enough to make anyone want to jump ship and stay on.

 

FACTFILE

Getting there:
Emirates flies daily from Melbourne to Auckland. Air New Zealand has frequent flights from Auckland to Napier.

Best time to go: On a similar latitude to Melbourne, Napier's weather is temperate and sunny.

Things to do:

The Big Picture - The Wine Story, a multimedia experience in Napier

Take the food trail to self-drive the area.

A winter wine event

Accommodation:

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, 448 Clifton Road, Te Awanga

More information:

Tourism Hawkes Bay.

Food, travel, food and travel, world, destinations, writing, magazines, articles, Sally, Hammond, Sally Hammond, photography, dining, books, Australia,

 

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