Smile and say cheese, welcome to Featherston!
Wairarapa's gateway town, steeped in rail heritage, has been refreshed with a creative wave of entrepreneurial verve in recent years.
The headliner is C'est Cheese, Paul Broughton's wildly successful venture, where fromage fans flock to from far and wide.
The store has dramatically expanded since I was last in town several years ago, a veritable emporium of picnic basket and platter delights running the gamut from chutneys and salamis to local olive oils and speciality goods.
But it's the staggering range of New Zealand made cheeses that you'll swoon over, from French-style blues to cumin-flecked gouda.
Ten per cent of the cheeses are made on-site under the label of Remutaka Pass creamery, while a range of local artisan creations from Kingsmeade and Drunken Nanny are also worth tasting.
It's also a great coffee stop where Paul's own brand, Remutaka Pass Coffee, is locally roasted. Surrender to the Cheese Bar where you can tuck into some fiendishly delicious cheesy delights, whether you want to sample a cheese flight or something more substantial like Mac 'n Cheese, Mushroom and Gruyere Soup or Mushroom on Cheese Toast.
Right next door, Paul's wife Sue runs the most whimsical, eclectic giftwares store brimming with oddities and curiosities. Mr Feather's Den is a hive of discovery — don't miss it. Highly artistic taxidermy, anyone?
Suitably fortified on fromage, it's a short hop to the bucolic magnificence of Martinborough's intimate, wrapround patchwork of vineyards. With over 20 boutique wineries within easy reach of stately Memorial Square, I made my way to Te Kairanga Cellar Door, which is home to two of Martinborough's pioneering wineries; Te Kairanga and Martinborough Vineyard, as well as local favourite Lighthouse Gin.
The Cellar Door is lovingly situated in the 130-year old cottage formerly owned by Martinborough namesake, John Martin, bracketed by a shaded Oak Tree garden, pitch-perfect for a platter of local goodies and some wine tastings.
Te Kairanga's runholder Pinot Noir is particularly impressive for its velvety texture and rich flavours of dark cherries and spice. You can choose five tastings for just $10 — what a steal.
Just a stone's throw from the heart of town, I also popped in to On Giant's Shoulders, a four hectare block of prime vines, that Barden and Gabrielle Crosby in 2015.
With a stellar background as a winemaker, Braden is now also a wine grower, tending to a vineyard that was first planted in 1982. The couple deliver a personable and highly illuminating vineyard tour by appointment, before introducing you to the fruits of their labour, beautifully textured Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, alongside the region's flagship Pinot Noir.
If your palette needs a grape break, how about savouring some mighty fine craft beer?
Drop-dead gorgeous Greytown enjoys the distinction of being the only New Zealand town with a fully complete main street of original Victorian buildings, while the characterful homes are suitably edged by a forest of white-picket fences. As dusk descended, I made my way to the creamy-coloured beacon, holding court in the heart of town,
The White Swan Hotel. Beginning life in the Hutt Valley as a railway admin block, the building became surplus to requirements and was teleported to Greytown in 2002.
This main street landmark boasts a range of stylish and spacious guestrooms and suites, thoughtfully furnished in period themes. Boasting a vivacious restaurant and bar spilling out onto the street-front verandah, the hotel is now under the sparkling command of Nick and Rosie Rogers. You'll know Nick from his marketing prowess with the Tui Brewery.
In a major score, Marc Soper was head-hunted as Head Chef, prised away from the luxuriance of Wharekauhau Estate, in February. Having fed a roll-call of royalty and film stars, the highly-decorated recruit has amassed an arsenal of awards in recent years, including Chef of the Nation and Wellington Chef of the Year. Revving up The White Swan's culinary credentials, small plates include Salt 'N Pepper Squid with pickled cucumber and honey mustard aioli; Spiced Pork Steamed Buns with hoisin, pickled slaw and peanut sauce. Being prime mushroom season, I plumped for a Fungi Pizza, lustily slathered in Parkvale mushrooms, peanut sauce, roasted pumpkin, caramelised onion, fresh pear, walnuts, basil and parmesan.
How's that for a supremely hearty seasonal pizza! It was stupendous.