Why every foodie should book a trip to Wairarapa

This article was published on Scout and is republished with permission.

Sharon Stephenson loosens her belt on a tantalizing tour of a gourmet mecca just an hour from Wellington.

I just invented a new medical condition known as “You can’t pick just one flavor when there is so much to choose from.” “

Okay, so I’m exaggerating the state of health, but it’s really difficult to make a decision at Schoc Chocolates.

* Greytown, Wairarapa: The New Zealand town that celebrates Christmas in July
* Secrets of the Wairarapa: a spectacular road trip full of hidden treasures
* Whet your appetite at Wairarapa

Schoc and admiration for Greytown.


Schoc and admiration for Greytown.

This Willy Wonka’s Wonderland on Greytown’s Main Street is guaranteed to confuse and delight with its roughly 60 artisanal flavors, many of which sound so bad but are actually so good. (Curry and chocolate poppadom anyone?)

After dealing with the Friday afternoon exodus from Wellington, my husband and I arrive in Greytown in need of some heat relief. This little dot on the map is made up of pretty wooden cottages, white palisades, and the kind of housewares stores that make you wish you had paid more attention to The block.

What's your flavor?


What’s your flavor?

But this is not our first rodeo. We visit the Wairarapa frequently and the first thing we do when we get to Remutaka Hill is stock up on Schoc’s sweet treats. It usually takes years due to the large variety on offer.

Owner Murray Langham was once a chef and then a therapist, but in 2002 he found a way to combine the two professions with ‘chocology’. “It’s a bit of fun deciphering people’s personalities from their favorite chocolate flavor,” says Murray, who pays homage to the sweet sweetness from a charming 1920s cottage.

He asks us to choose our favorite flavors and as we let chocolate chips melt on the roof of our mouths – the better to unleash the flavor – he tells us what our choices say about us. “The almond tells you that you are quick-witted, while the hazelnut indicates that you are a homebody,” he says of my choices. “And your love of peppermint means you believe you can do it all.”

Some delicacies on offer.


Some delicacies on offer.

He’s on the spot – but then he advised everyone from the BBC and Martha Stewart to British author Joanne Harris, when she was writing her famous 1999 novel, Chocolate.

We turn around and head for Martinborough, where our pants are about to tighten even more. Last year, clinical psychologist Dr Jane Freeman decided to satisfy her fondness for sweets by opening The Martinborough Sweet Shop.

Your inner child (and your actual children) will go wild in this art gallery-turned-candy store, where Jane specializes in treats from around the world, including American Jelly Beans, British Candy, and Dutch Licorice.

If you haven’t had your fill of chocolate yet, there’s an entire room dedicated to it, filled with around 150 flavors, including chocolate made from Greytown honey and Martinborough pinot noir.

Ah, wine, you had to get there sooner or later. Martinborough, a town of around 1,400 permanent inhabitants, is home to more than 40 winegrowers, half of whom have cellars.

“Martinborough represents around 10% of wine producers, but only produces around 1% of New Zealand’s total wine production,” says Nicola Belsham, who leads our Martinborough Wine Walks tour. “We’re a little splash in a little puddle.”

There is probably no one better to lead the walks. With a history as a winemaker and seller, there’s little this self-confessed “wine geek” doesn’t know about fermented grapes. We signed up for a half day excursion, which we spend walking around various wineries, meeting the producers and tasting their produce. (Martinborough is one of the few places in the world where you can walk between vineyards.)

One of these wineries is Devotus, a short distance from Martinborough’s central square. Don McConachy has been producing highly coveted Pinot Noir since 2014, although this is not a traditional route to winemaking. He worked first as an engineer, then in French and Italian wineries before finally finding his way to this 2.5 ha vineyard in Regent Street.

Don McConachy, I hope devoted.


Don McConachy, I hope devoted.

Don tells us about his organically grown methods and demonstrates the kind of passion that turns grapes into award-winning wine, before tasting three of his “raw” wines at different stages of fermentation.

While Martinborough will always be the poster child for wine, it’s not the only game in town. Reid + Reid is an artisanal gin distillery founded in 2015 by brothers Stew and Chris Reid in the shadow of their parents’ big old house.

Chris Reid.


Chris Reid.

Chris knows a thing or two about the beverage industry, having been a winemaker at a nearby vineyard for several years. But what started as a hobby turned into a full-time business of 15,000 bottles a year when he discovered how New Zealand’s natural flora – kawakawa, mānuka and horopito – can give gin a unique Kiwi touch.

On the weekend of our visit, the affable brothers just removed the bubble wrap from their custom built distillery, where you can sit among the vines and congratulate yourself on finding such an epic place.

Now we need to stretch out a bit, so we head to the White Swan Hotel, the graceful old building on the main street of Greytown.

Exit the tracks gracefully at the White Swan Hotel.


Exit the tracks gracefully at the White Swan Hotel.

If you like a side of history with your drink, you’ve come to the right place. This iconic hotel, restaurant and bar began life as the administrative block of the Lower Hutt Railways before being carved up and driven up Remutaka Hill in 2002.

We settle into the elegant accommodation, then descend to the bar, where we soak up the sun on the generous veranda (in winter, punters head for the log fire). Forget about simple pub food – this menu sins on the gourmet pub side, with offerings like paprika and herb pork belly, and mushroom and leek dumplings that spoiled me for every other dumpling.

When the bed is so comfortable and the room is so beautiful, you have the right to sleep. The sun is therefore already high in the sky when we stroll through The Offering for brunch. This 80 seat cafe run by Bevan and Jacqui Morland is famous for sourcing produce within a 200 mile radius and turning it into what turns out to be one of the best brunches I’ve ever had.

We start with the pulled jackfruit fries and move on to Funky Dogs – pork, lamb and venison sausages that come from the butcher next door and are tucked into pretzel buns with coleslaw, kūmara chips and even popcorn, if that prompts you to eat pimples (no judgment).

The hottest dog around.


The hottest dog around.

We spend a pleasant few hours wandering through vintage stores in cute little towns like a button of Wairarapa – Featherston, Martinborough, Greytown and Carterton – before returning to Greytown for a late lunch.

“Go to Brasserie 74,” said almost everyone we met.

So we do.

Like many young Kiwis, Chef Russell Cameron set out to explore the world. But his OE has transformed in nearly three decades, during which he rose through the ranks of British restaurants, including running his own French restaurant in Mayfair, London. Four years ago, Russell and his British partner, Louise Ballinger, bought this cafe – which was once a garage and then a grocery store – and filled the menu with dishes that you’ll still be talking about weeks later. For example, Russell’s twice-baked goat soufflé will make it all the better, while duck confit with herbed potatoes is the kind of thing you should really eat in a brasserie on the banks of the Seine.

Far too soon, it’s time to drive the car home. We leave the Wairarapa well fed and watered, and with at least a few extra pounds.

What to do

  • Martinborough Wine Tours
  • Reid + Reid cellar door
  • Fossick in vintage stores

Where to eat

  • Brewery 74
  • Martinborough Candy Shop
  • Schoc chocolates
  • The offering

Where to stay

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Jamie Collins

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