Take a day to flee winter

As winter continues its grip on Yorkshire with cold grey mornings and gales, it is worth remembering that the southern hemisphere is basking in sunshine right now. If you put your mind to it, you could pack a suitcase and be on a plane to New Zealand, Australia or South Africa tomorrow, returning when the daffodils are over and spring is well underway.

You might think these countries are a long way away, but it only takes a day to get to New Zealand or Australia while South Africa is even easier. It is straight down the time-line so you won’t even get jet-lag. Regard the journey as a chance to catch up on sleep, movies and a good book and the time will just melt away.

When the plane touches down and the doors open, the waft of heat that greets you is wonderful and you won’t even think about the grey skies at home during your stay. Your vitamin D levels will be boosted, you will avoid the usual winter snuffles and you will be able to walk about without a coat, hat and gloves – bliss. And while we are in the midst of economic gloom, the money you will save on heating will go a long way towards your flight costs.

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And this is a great time to visit vineyards. All these countries have well-established tourist routes with wineries strung along them like pearls, taking you around the best sights and in most cases they have restaurants and even cottages to stay in so you can use wineries as a focus for tourism, taking in other sights on the way. Here are a few suggestions.

New Zealand

You will probably fly into Auckland, so take a day or so to recover from jet-lag then head down to the harbour and take the 40 minute ferry-ride to Waiheke Island. This is a wild, beautiful place, with a brisk breeze that keeps temperatures down. There are several wineries to visit including Man o’ War, so named by Captain Cook in 1769 because of the tall Kauri trees which grow there. Their trunks made excellent masts for sailing ships, but now the property makes excellent wines. Move on to Mudbrick Vineyard where there is a restaurant and even luxury accommodation, (www.mudbrick.co.nz). A frequent bus service can get you around the island if you don’t have a car. Once back in Auckland, and if you have enough time, drive to Hawkes Bay, via the lovely Lake Taupo, and visit Mission Estate, New Zealand’s oldest winery. Craggy Range is also well worth a visit, for its wines, restaurant and cottages www.craggyrange.com. Make sure you visit Napier with all its Art Deco buildings which look like a movie set from the 1930s. From there you can fly down to Marlborough or continue your drive via Martinborough where there are some terrific Pinot Noirs to taste and then head to Wellington and the fascinating Te Papa museum.

The ferry ride from Wellington on North Island to Picton on South Island takes you through breathtakingly beautiful scenery and then it is just a short drive to Marlborough and the endless range of vineyards open to visitors.

My favourites include Cloudy Bay, on the grounds that everyone should see where New Zealand’s wine renaissance started. But Hunters, Highfield, Wairau River and Whitehaven are all worth a visit. From there head towards the coast and Kaikoura where you can watch whales and eat enormous crayfish, although probably not at the same time. From there it is a gentle drive towards Christchurch although you may prefer to avoid the post-earthquake city and just explore some of the vineyards in Waipara region, just north of the city, such as Pegasus Bay.

One of my favourite regions in New Zealand is Central Otago which you can reach by plane from Marlborough or Christchurch. There are organised tours from Queenstown, but it is much better to hire a car and make your own way via Amisfield, Carrick, Mount Difficulty and Quartz Reef. On the way back to Queenstown you can try out the original AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge bungy jump if you dare.

Take at least two weeks for a trip like this. Three weeks would be better.

Australia

Australian vineyards are so spread out that you really have to tackle them one at a time. My favourite region is South Australia and the Barossa, Adelaide Hills and McLaren vale are all within easy reach of this small, delightful city. If you manage to arrange your dates between February 24 and 26 then you can catch the cellar door wine festival in central Adelaide where all the wineries come to one place to show their wines. Otherwise, you will need to head off to the regions and explore.

Head first for the wonderful, sun-baked Barossa Valley where most wineries offer a hearty welcome and a good glass of wine. You will need a car to reach the area but then you could hire bikes to get from one winery to another. Try Jacob’s Creek, Peter Lehmann, Yalumba and St Hallett for starters. Then set out for the picturesque McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, where my favourite visit is to D’Arenberg for the terrific wines and excellent restaurant.

South Africa

Travel to South Africa is so easy you could get on a plane this evening and be eating a late breakfast in front of Table Mountain tomorrow. The Stellenbosch area is the most compact, easy wine region to visit, with many vineyards offering tasting rooms, accommodation and quality restaurants. My favourite visits include Warwick for its fabulous picnics which can be eaten in the garden or taken up the mountain where you can enjoy the view. The wine is excellent too. Try Beyerskloof for its scrubbed tables, bistro food and fabulous Pinotage or head to Tokara for sheer breathtaking views and exquisite, elegant food. An excursion to Jordan estate will take you towards the mountains and some stunning scenery. After Stellenbosch head to Franschhoek for visits to La Motte, Boekenhoutskloof and some of the best restaurants in the world.

If you plan to getaway this winter and need some help in deciding where to go, let me know and I’ll try to help.