While Melburnians were busy trying to convince themselves that the annual Taste Festival was living up to expectations (despite the over- the-top entrance fee and abhorrent cost of the catering-style dishes they were expected to buy) we were living it large at Toast Martinborough in New Zealand’s North Island last year. No creeping realisations that we had been ripped off here.
We were staying at the amazing Museum Hotel in Wellington, which faces right out onto the water and is a five-minute walk from the city centre and a 15-minute harbourside stroll to the train station. The place is filled with art – some awesome, most bizarre – a swimming pool and spa, and heaps of helpful staff to point a newbie like me in the right direction.
A word to the wise – Toast only happens one day a year so there is quite some demand for tickets and transport. Now in its 21st year, I don’t know why they don’t choose to run it for a long weekend. There are two different trains that will transport you to your destination – one is the Toast Train where you can book a seat but sell very quickly and the other is the one public train of the day from Wellington to Martinborough. This had us concerned so we turned up an hour early to buy a ticket and found that the line was huge. But they put on an extra few carriages so there was no issue.
The only similarities between Taste and Toast is that both rhyme with each other and they make you change your cash into pretend money.
Toast Martinborough should be on anyone’s radar if they consider themselves a fan of NZ wine. Martinborough is a quiet country town about an hour out of Wellington by train and surrounded by vineyards/ cellar doors that are very easy to walk around. But, if you feel the need after a few vinos, you also have the option of bus services arriving every two minutes to ferry you to your next destination – they service all wineries featured in the event and run in both clockwise and anti- clockwise directions. It is the place to experience outstanding wines from Martinborough’s award-winning vineyards and the owners partner with the region’s top restauranteurs to provide an array of decent grub.
Arriving in the centre of town, pick up a wristband and a wineglass to hang around your neck so as not to lose it, jump on one of the buses being driven by some of the funniest old people in NZ, and you are on your way.
We went the opposite way to the crowds and headed anti-clockwise (we are rebels like that) to Escarpment Winery. At each destination you are able to purchase Francs, which then helps you keep your glass full at all times. Each winery has a great selection of wines on offer to ‘Taste’ (almost the size of a normal glass in Oz) or to have a ‘Glass’ (a proper decent English 250ml pour). There are 10 participating vineyards and all have their own character and charm, which comes across in the food and entertainment they choose to put on.
Moving between vineyards couldn’t be easier with most a 3-5 minute stroll between each other. Most people grab a large glass to accompany them on their journey and the buses allow to you to swig as you ride so no one has to neck their glasses before they ride. But the weather was fantastic so we joined the jolly crowds streaming down the laneways onto the next vineyard.
The one thing that I kept realising was how friendly the New Zealand people are and if you had any sort of query about anything there was some local willing to walk up to you and ask you if any help was needed. It just topped off a fantastic day had by all. I cannot recommend a short hop over the pond to experience this wine festival highly enough. Grab your jandals, you will have a bloody good time.
Toast Martinborough, New Zealand’s Premier Wine, Food and Music Festival: SUNDAY 17 NOVEMBER 2013