There’s a reason why otherwise level-headed people queue for hours to ride one of the plethora of giant fixed Ferris Wheels now dotted around the world. Despite the often glacial speed of these enormous things (Yes, I mean you London Eye) they’re among the most popular attractions because the views of the cities they’re in are unparalleled.

There’s really nothing like seeing a place from above for getting a unique feeling of context and an understanding how different aspects of a place relate to each other. The concept of the ‘birds-eye view’ is hard to beat.

And the same applies outside the cities as well. So when the opportunity came up recently to take a scenic flight across the glorious Hawke’s Bay – and as part of a wine tour no less – naturally, I jumped at the chance.

The celebration of a semi-significant anniversary with a weekend in Hawke’s Bay was actually an ‘any excuse’ thing really. And now that there’s some competition of airlines into Hawke’s Bay and airfares have become way more realistic, we’d been wanting to get to ‘the Bay’ for a while.

His Lordship decided we should make full use of the time we had down there and booked us onto a tour called Wineries & Wings offered by Bay Tours. This involved the combination of visits to a few wineries with a 30 minute scenic flight across Hawke’s Bay. As it turned out there was so much more to our experience.

Our guide, Callum, was waiting for us at the airport when we arrived a little after midday on a Friday. Outside the terminal our chariot awaited us, and what a beast it was. We settled into the back of a huge former ministerial BMW limousine as Callum whisked us through the beautiful green countryside between the towns of Napier and Hastings. The opulent comfort somehow added to the views of orchards and vineyards as we made our way to the first winery of our afternoon.

Vidal Estate is one of the older wineries in Hawke’s Bay, having been established in 1905. The old stables Anthony Vidal originally set up in was well outside the town of Hastings back then. But over the decades since, the town has expanded and the winery now finds itself surrounded by residential suburb. The vineyards originally planted next to the winery have long since been relocated. Our host at the cellar door, Doug, enthusiastically poured wine after wine as he gradually took us through the range. Each wine was impressive in its own right……but the heavy hitters towards the end made the greatest impression. Both the Vidal ‘Legacy’ Chardonnay and Syrah were amazing wines that are surely amongst the best Hawke’s Bay has to offer. After a few purchases we were off towards Bridge Pa and our much anticipated scenic flight.

aerial-of-marine-paradeAfter a short safety briefing from our pilot at Air Hawke’s Bay we were promptly hurtling down the runway and up into the ‘wide, blue yonder’. As we climbed to our cruising altitude of 1000ft we banked to the east and headed towards the coast. Our pilot pointed out the village of Havelock North and as we flew over the summit of Te Mata Peak and on towards Cape Kidnappers the amazing vistas came one-after-another. After flying over the gannet colony out at the Cape we turned to the north and followed the coast line past Haumoana and Clive and on towards the glorious line of Norfolk Pines along Napier’s Marine Parade. The views of Napier from above, and just off the beach, were incredible. We swung westward over the port and Bluff Hill and began heading south towards the rivers, orchards and vineyards of the Heretaunga Plains. The sight of 800 hectares of vineyard on the Gimblett Gravels with the braided rivers alongside really added perspective to the day’s visits to the wineries. What an incredible 30 minute flight it was. It encapsulated all the iconic sights of Hawke’s Bay from a unique viewpoint. We were buzzing as we landed and taxied back to the terminal and the waiting Callum.

We could hardly contain our excitement and it seemed hard to get used to being back on the ground as we left the Hastings Aerodrome and headed into the Gimblett Gravels and our next winery visit.

winerytour-9Trinity Hill has received much acclaim since its beginnings in the 1990’s. Their flagship ‘Homage’ wines are sought after worldwide and their Gimblett Gravels range are superb benchmark wines made from grapes right outside their modernist cellar door. Our host, Cara, was very welcoming and guided us through the Trinity Hill range. An amazing breadth of varieties and styles.

Next Callum stopped in the middle of the Gimblett Gravels appellation and took us actually into the middle of one of the vineyards and explained why the former riverbed was such a good grape growing area and how they look after the vines. Very interesting, a lot of questions answered.

Then it was off to our last winery of the afternoon. We headed away from the Gravels area and into the Dartmoor Valley and Moana Park winery. This boutique producer of wines free of allergy-inducing additives has also made quite a splash on the world stage. As they say themselves; “The only chemistry going on is on the vine.” The superb wines were complimented by a delicious gourmet platter showcasing local artisan food producers and a behind-the-scenes tour of the winery as well.

This was a wonderful afternoon spent indulging in fine wine, delicious local food and the most astonishing 30 minute scenic flight which seemed to take in the whole of Hawke’s Bay.

Bravo to Callum for all his entertaining local knowledge, attention to detail and enthusiasm. And bravo to Bay Tours and their Wineries & Wings tour. A true tour-de-force.

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