We have had two excursions up the Waikato River this month and both times it’s been a delightful day, but for different reasons. The first trip was the happy result of a totally spontaneous brainwave courtesy of NIH one Sunday morning. He remembered that Vilagrad Winery does a Sunday Lunch – better yet, you could catch the Waikato River Explorer from Hamilton Gardens and get a wine tasting thrown in for good measure! This effectively killed two birds with one stone so we rang at 9am and found they could fit us in that day. Winning!
The Waikato Explorer has been cruising the river since 2012 and is such a great way to check out this fabulous waterway. Coming from outback Queensland, we are blown away by not only the clarity of the water but its incredible speed. It takes the boat 60 minutes to travel up the river to Mystery Creek and only 30 minutes to come back down!
Watching it turn around and shoot off back the way it came after dropping us at the wharf really showed the power of the water and explains just one of the reasons why the river is a great source of hydroelectric power, having eight dams located along its length.
While beautiful, it had been quite cold on the river so we were grateful to get into the minibus waiting to take us to Vilagrad and were looking forward to lunch – and wine.
The winery is a family owned and run business that’s been in the area since 1906 and has enjoyed five generations putting their two bobs’ worth into the mix. It was obvious from the moment we walked in that this place is a permanent fixture for families and large gatherings, with long tables set out with gorgeous yet simple decorations and reservation cards.
The main eating area is a temporary marquee, as the winery suffered a devastating fire in June 2015 – although as newbies to the area, we had no idea until told! They have done an amazing job of making the temporary seem part of the place but have plans to rebuild in years to come. They lost 50% of their wine stock and the 100 year old cask room in the fire but have done an amazing job of getting back up on their feet again, hosting Sunday lunches and special functions such as weddings and managing to win awards for the wines they did save!
New Zealand is predominantly a white wine producer so perhaps I shall have to adapt my red wine tastebuds. However, Vilagrad produce three red wine versions and I tried two, which were both tasty with the lamb roast we had for lunch. We had a tour afterwards and a tasting of some more product. Their Tawny Port was so amazing we bought a bottle (I see it’s sold out on their website – wish we’d bought more!) and the Vintage Port was nice as well. After lunch, it was back on the minibus and a quick 20 min trip back to town to the carpark. Fantastic day!
Our second trip on the river was for Fieldays 2016 (the Waikato region version of Emerald AgGrow). The annual event is absolutely massive, with preparations starting at the beginning of June for the opening days of 15-18 June. Because of its popularity and resultant headaches with traffic getting into and out of the Mystery Creek Event Centre, we opted to pay $30 return each to take the Waikato Explorer. Less drama and much better scenery.
We knew it was big – but had no idea it would take us four hours to walk up and down each ‘street’ to make sure we covered it all! The exercise app on my phone was very pleased with me for hitting over 12,000 steps for the day. After a late night the night before, we were totally stuffed by the early afternoon.
Heaps of food stalls, great demonstrations happening and lots of taste testing to be had. The crowd was pretty intense as well with what seemed to be everyone in the region out to check out all the goods and services on display. The weather even behaved itself and didn’t rain, even though the clouds hung around most of the day.
There’s so many events and things to do within close proximity to where we live. It gives you a much clearer perspective on the great vastness of Australia and especially where we lived before. We’d laugh and shrug nonchalantly when travellers commented on how far it is between places. We were used to it – it was nothing to travel six hours return just to go shopping for the day. I think I’m getting a clearer picture of just how unusual that is to most people!