Kerikeri: the birthplace of New Zealand wine

By: Heather Whelan, Photography by: Heather Whelan


The quest to uncover the history of winemaking in New Zealand leads Heather Whelan to Kerikeri where the country’s first vines were planted

When Samuel Marsden planted the country’s first vines at Kerikeri 200 ago, he prophesied that winemaking would become important in the area. His prediction was certainly correct; the Kerikeri area is home to several great vineyards.

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New Zealand’s first vineyards

Samuel, New Zealand’s first missionary, established a vineyard with more than 100 varieties of grapes at the mission settlement he founded at Kerikeri. He wrote in his journal of 1819 that he thought New Zealand’s climate and soils should be ‘favourable to the vine’.

British Consul, James Busby, arrived in the Bay of Islands in the 1830s. James was a wine expert, having trained in viticulture in France. His skills had already started the Australian wine growing industry. He had published books outlining directions for planting vineyards and making wine.

James lost no time in following in Samuel’s footsteps and was soon producing vintages at Waitangi. The French explorer Dumont d’Urville described one of James’ wines as ‘a light white wine... sparkling and delicious’. It has been suggested that this was chardonnay, James’ favourite tipple.

Kerikeri’s motorhome-friendly vineyard

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Wine barrels outside the restaurant at Ake Ake

I had the same sort of thoughts while tasting some of Ake Ake Vineyard’s white wines at their cellar door. Tucked off the road to Waimate North (where Charles Darwin saw vines growing at the mission back in 1835), Ake Ake Vineyard and restaurant is well worth seeking out.

After sampling the chardonnay and pinot gris, I tried the pinot grigio, and decided that was the one for me. Meanwhile, Malcolm was trying the reds, finally choosing a bottle of chambourcin, made from red grapes that grow well in Northland. Then we were tempted by the port, which tasted like liquid Christmas cake—perfect for winter nights.

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New vines growing at Ake Ake Vineyard

Hosts John and Aynsley Quenault purchased Ake Ake in 2004 and since then have been developing the boutique winery. John hails from the Channel Islands where his family had been wine merchants for five generations, while Aynsley is a New Zealander who spent a lot of time travelling by campervan on her OE.

The couple knew little about running a vineyard back in 2004 but researched winemaking at their local library and were soon winning medals with their vintages.

A few years ago, John and Aynsley decided to convert the vineyard to organic grape growing. They no longer use sprays, which means it is perfectly safe to immerse yourself among the vines on the vineyard trail.

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Special deals at the Kerikeri Old Packhouse Market

This is a self-guided walk that meanders along the rows of grapes, with signboards giving information along the way. We learned about the grape varieties, the winemaking process, and about all the creatures that call the vineyard home.

Ake Ake also has a restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, and locally sourced vegetables, meat, and seafood. During summer, meals are served on the deck outside, while in winter, diners can be eaten inside the cosy bistro.

The best thing of all, though, is that motorhomes are welcome overnight. Diners, or those purchasing wine from the vineyard, can stay in the parking area or make their way to a grassy paddock, where parking comes with views across rows of vines and nothing but rabbits, quail, pheasants, and the odd hedgehog for company.

Where else to find wine in Kerikeri

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Wine for sale at the Old Packhouse Market

There are several other vineyards in the Kerikeri area, though none of the others offer overnight parking. However, Cottle Hill Vineyard is within easy walking distance of the Wagon Train RV Park. Cottle Hill is situated on the highest point in the area, so visitors can sit on the deck and admire beautiful views while enjoying their wine.

Another great wine tasting experience is at Kerikeri’s Old Packhouse Market, held every Saturday. Several local vineyards sell their produce here, and it’s an excellent place to sample wine as well as cheeses, bread, and pastries.

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The view from Cottle Hill Winery

We are always tempted by something when we visit here and often end up grabbing coffee and cake while listening to live music before heading back to the motorhome with our purchases. The NZMCA park at Rainbow Falls is a convenient place to stay.

Further information

  • Ake Ake Vineyard is at 165 Waimate North Road, Kerikeri. Motorhomes staying overnight must be self-contained as no facilities are provided. Full details can be found on akeakevineyard.co.nz
  • Cottle Hill Winery is at 28 Cottle Hill Drive, Kerikeri
  • Wagon Train RV Tourist Park is at 1265 Bulls Road, Kerikeri
  • The Old Packhouse Market can be found on Kerikeri Road, between the town centre and State Highway 10, and is open between 8am and 1.30pm every Saturday

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