Spring has sprung, the grass has ris, I wonder where the wine is?

The answer to that is easy. Gisborne.

This small city on the east coast is surrounded by some the country's best wine country, yet it's often overlooked by the scores of wine tourists in their frenzied search for Marlborough sav or Otago pinot.

But the winds of change are blowing through Gisborne wine country and the results will be available for sampling at next month's revitalised Gisborne Food and Wine Festival.


Where once the region may have been known largely for chardonnay, or as a supplier of grapes to other regions, now the number of boutique wineries is on the rise; wineries which are experimenting with new, unusual varieties and which are much more keen on opening their cellar doors to the public.

And where previously the Gisborne festival consisted of busloads of wine-tasters being ferried from one winery to another, this year, on Labour Weekend Sunday (October 24), some 30-plus wine and food producers will gather in a large paddock about 15 minutes west of the city, behind the Gray's Bush scenic reserve.

Festival-goers will take a five-minute stroll through the cool, dappled light of the native bush before it opens out on to the bustle of the festival. There they will find all exhibitors, both food and wine, are from the Gisborne region - or making wine with grapes from the region.

And although wine is rapidly being added to the area's previously known assets of sun, sand and surf, there is a vast range of attractions here to keep visitors entertained once the surf's dropped and the festival's over for another year.

Here's a wrap-up of how to spend the rest of your Labour Weekend in Gizzy:

What to do


Gisborne Farmer's Market: This thriving market is held every Saturday at the Army Hall car park on the corner of Fitzherbert and Stout streets. Arrive early and have a grazing breakfast of fresh bread from Morell's bakery, fresh produce, pickles, jams and oils, Waimata Valley cheese, Hika coffee, Torere macadamia nuts and sublime venison salami from Knapdale Eco-lodge. It's also a great place for an entree into Gisborne wine, with stands from several wineries including Millton, Wrights and Hihi. www.gisbornefarmersmarket.co.nz



Eastwoodhill Arboretum: For a shady change of pace from the beach head inland to this 100-year-old park 24km west of the city.

Covering 350ha, with 25km of walking tracks, Eastwoodhill Arboretum is regarded as the largest collection of Northern Hemisphere trees south of the equator. Autumn is its peak season as the trees explode in a riot of colour, but spring is pretty nice, too - all blossoms and new growth scattered among daffodils. Pack a picnic and buy a bottle of wine from one of the many cellar doors en route and find a spot to chill out, or take a guided jeep tour. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and free for children.


Rere Falls and Rock Slide: A short drive up the valley from Eastwoodhill, you'll find the pretty Rere Falls - a broad cascade on the Wharekopae River that you can actually walk behind. Then there's the Rere rock slide up the road. Come summer, you can grab an inner tube or rent a board and slide down this natural waterslide.


Feed the stingrays: Dive Tatapouri, about 10 minutes' drive up the east coast from Gisborne, offers the chance to hand-feed wild stingrays at low tide. There's nothing quite like the feeling of a stingray slurping raw fish out of the palm of your hand. If that doesn't sound like your thing, you can still get close enough to feel the smooth skin of these sleek and surprisingly friendly creatures.


Head up the coast: It's worth taking a day trip to Tolaga Bay - about a 40-minute drive from Gisborne. Here you can stroll the photogenice and historic Tolaga Bay wharf (New Zealand's longest at 600m), swim in the sheltered bay, take cliff-top walks to historic sites related to Captain Cook's landing here, or relax in a cafe.

Try a tour with Anne McGuire of Tipuna Tours. What she doesn't know about the landscape and history of the area, both Maori and Pakeha, isn't worth knowing - and she can take you into the stunning settlement of Whangara, location for Whale Rider, off-limits to other tours and independent travellers.

Where to eat

Gisborne has an ever-expanding menu of top-quality restaurants, many of them found on the river-front. Try Ussco Bar and Bistro or Soho for relaxed but sophisticated dining. For something a little more formal, try The Marina, housed in an historic former ballroom right on the river.

For breakfast or lunch, try Zest in Peel St near the farmers' market, Ruba in Childers St, or The Wharf - a Gisborne waterfront icon. At the beach hit the Wainui Store for pizza.

Where to taste

Bushmere Estate has one of the most established cellar doors in the region, with a full restaurant menu and lots of events over summer.

Elsewhere, one of the region's oldest labels - Matawhero - is under new ownership and has opened its doors for wine-tastings and food platters. Millton doesn't do food but has a beautiful garden, perfect for lounging in with a picnic.

Your best bet, though, is to keep an eye on the Gisborne Wine Centre, expected to open in town in November. It will be a one-stop shop for information, tasting and tours. In the meantime, visit

Where to stay

Portside Hotel, is right on the water's edge on the inner harbour near the beach. It has 64 modern, comfortable rooms all with full kitchens Suites also have an extra bedroom, spacious living area, balcony and full laundry. Rates from $130 per night.