Life & Style Editor Nicky Park shares her insider tips for making the most of Toast Martinborough ahead of ticket sales for this year's food and wine festival.

When you arrive at Martinborough for Toast weekend there's a buzz in the crisp Wairarapa air. The locals are full of chipper cheer, ready and raring to greet the hoards of visitors who've driven to the coast for the sell-out annual event.

We started to sense the excitement as we cruised through the gorgeous Greytown, driving from Wellington, stopping on the way to sample the local food and wine.

Read more: Three foodie stops to make in Greytown

We eventually arrive in the centre of town, pulling up at the majestic Martinborough Hotel. The streets are closed, the sun is shining and once the great barrel race kicks off around the town square on Saturday afternoon, you know the festivities have begun.

It's hard trying to keep things causal the night before the main event with all the contagious carry on about town - but with 11 local wineries on offer at Toast, you have to play it cool. We visit the local (and delicious) Micro Bar and chat to a couple of experienced locals who give us the low-down on how to tackle Toast.

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Here are some of their top tips:

Begin the day on the bus

Once you've picked up your wrist band and wine glass, buses are free for you to board, circulating all day from the centre of town out to the wineries and back again. You can walk between most vineyards, but you won't want to leg it to your first destination. You might have to line up for five minutes, but there's coffee and baps to line your belly and jovial banter to keep you entertained. This is a good chance to slap on your sunscreen, sus out the map and tackle the next tip.


The barrel race signals the start of Toast weekend. Photo / Nicky Park
Pick a handful of locations

As we mentioned, there are nine participating vineyards on the Toast agenda, but there's no way you would be able to tick them all off and enjoy yourself at each one. It's hard, but you'll have to pick. We decided we wanted to visit a handful of great locations, sit down and soak up the food, wine and musical specialties at each one - not be rushed around. We would hopefully bump in to a few familiar faces along the way - and that would be a bonus.

We began our festivities at the well-known and somewhat exclusive Dry River Wines - most of their vino is only available online. Sipping their Gewürztraminer, matched with Thai vegetable spring rolls, sitting on the lawn surrounded by a mixed crowd all jamming to the jubilant beats of Dr Walcott's Cold Feet Elixir (playing from the carriage of a massive truck) got us in the mood for a ripper day.

After an hour or so we were keen to get stuck in to some more hearty tucker and had heard great things about the pies baked fresh at Ata Rangi vineyard by Ruth Pretty Catering.

We found a table bathed in dappled sunlight amongst the leafy grounds, and also spotted some friends - a pleasant surprise. We picked a steak and kidney pie with mushy peas and pea shoot salad. (My plus one and I shared all our food in a bid to fit more in.)

The feel-good Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir we chose to drink donated funds to Project Crimson, helping with the restoration of Rata trees. So, we had a couple of glasses each to give back.

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Photos: Toast Martinborough

Ata Rangi gathered the biggest crowd we were to see that day. We reckon the jazz band, featuring brass from Fat Freddy's Drop, had a bit to do with that - the happy patrons were on their feet. It was hard to move on.

Next up we headed to the grounds at the beautiful Vynfields - the restored historic homestead on site had been hauled all the way from Wellington to sit here amongst the all-organic grapevines. These guys boast the only certified organic and biodynamic wines in the region and the rose was just want we craved as the hottest part of the day took hold.

We picked seasonal snacks from the Cafe Medici menu on offer - a food highlight of the day for us. Salt and pepper squid with Asian slaw and a chilli lime dressing; spicy duck spring roll cigars with a tamarind chutney and the asparagus; broad bean and pea bruschetta garnished with goat's feta and lemon - shared amongst friends, third fine wine of the day and spirits were high.


Pick a perfect last location

Time was ticking (things start to wrap up around 6pm) and our fourth and final location had to be chosen. Most people will urge you to head to Palliser Estate for the biggest party of Toast, the high energy Beat Girls. However, we were now back on a bus, and as we drove past Palliser we knew the jam-packed vibe wasn't for us (oldies).

Instead we opted to wind down on the grassy knoll at Escarpment. Set up here was a Stewart Island seafood bar where we admired the experts shucking the oysters and chose to end with a Hinemoa Riesling. Perfection (despite the passionate PDA that was going on around us - but that's a sign of a successful festival, right?!).


Beautiful Stewart Island oysters. Photo / Mike Heydon
End the day with quiet a toast to Toast

While youngsters ran around in the main square trying to cash in their unused francs (you can't) and others hustled for buses back to their rental baches we felt so lucky to have snagged a spot in the luxurious Garden Suite at The Martinborough Hotel. Our room, nestled beyond the blooming white rose bushes down the back of the historical boutique accommodation, was a haven.

We retired to our wooden upper deck as the sun set on Sunday, with a few festival francs still in our pockets, feeling gloriously gushy after our day of wondering the wineries and soaking up the Wairarapa rays.

We snacked on local seafood and raised a glass of sparkling wine: To Toast. We want to make this our own annual event.

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Further information: Tickets to this year's Toast Martinborough held on Sunday November 16, go on sale at 9am on October 1 and are available from Ticketek. Organisers have lined up new additions to the programme like masterclasses and exclusive tastings. All 10,000 tickets sell out in a matter of days so get in quick.

The writer was a guest of Toast Martinborough and Wairarapa Tourism.