Waipara, a riverside town in North Canterbury, rewards the discerning traveller prepared to explore a little a deeper.
Almost without anyone but the locals noticing, the Waipara Valley is becoming one of New Zealand’s leading wine and food regions.
Just off the main road north between Christchurch (the South Island’s main city) and Kaikoura (and just a little bit south of Marlborough - New Zealand’s biggest wine producing region), you could easily miss the Waipara region and the beautiful produce of its fertile lands.
Waipara – Māori for “muddy waters” – once formed part of an ancient seabed. This unique landscape blessed with an agreeable microclimate and a bunch of clever and creative locals is behind a growing reputation for award-winning wines and a flourishing organic food movement.
Let us introduce you to a foodie paradise that remains relatively undiscovered, yet had plenty to keep you happy.
Greystone & Muddy Water
General manager of Greystone and Muddy Water Wines, Nik Mavromatis, is enthusiastic about the geology of the region, and believes grapes grown here can produce some of the best wines in the world. As well as pinot noir and riesling, the two wineries produce sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, chardonnay and syrah – all grown organically.
Belinda Gould worked as a winemaker before setting up Brew Moon craft brewery in 2002. The taproom and restaurant features street art by local graffiti artist Wongi Wilson and has a passion for sustainability. Belinda and son, brewer Toby McCauley, produce full-flavoured delicious brews including Hop Over Vine, a combination of riesling and pale ale; Blood Moon, inspired by a lunar eclipse; and Olé Molé, with a spicy Mexican flair. Wood-fired pizzas and delicious ciabatta bread, by local baker Rachel Scott, make the perfect accompaniment.
Established 30 years ago by Ivan Donaldson and his family, Pegasus Bay winery and restaurant features gorgeous landscaped gardens, and an eye-catching restaurant. Riesling and pinot noir are the main wines, while others include sauvignon blanc and semillon, chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. North-facing slopes, warm days and cool nights, and protection from the easterly winds contribute to the quality of the vintage. Awarded Cuisine magazine’s Best Winery Restaurant six times, Pegasus Bay concentrates on high-quality ingredients.
With panoramic views westward over the valley, Black Estate winery, tasting room, and restaurant are housed in a distinctive contemporary black “shed”. The winery produces pinot noir, cabernet franc, and chenin blanc grapes, and has been especially recognised for its chardonnay. Owners Penny Naish and Nicholas Brown produce entirely organic wines and food – “good for the body and good for the Earth,” says Penny.
Food Farm tours
Energetic farmers and winemakers, Angela Clifford and her South Australian husband Nick Gill share a passion for organic farming and permaculture. Their property, known as The Food Farm, includes chickens, ducks, pigs and a milking cow, as well as abundant fruit and vegetable crops – “the food forest”. Food Farm Tours include some wild food collecting, optional truffle hunting, lunch at a winery restaurant and a chance to get beyond the cellar doors of the region. Food Farm Tours run from October to May.
Angela also founded Tongue in Groove wines with business partner Lynnette Hudson.
Wild Food Challenge
The Waipara region's natural resources are celebrated each year with two unique 'wild food' events that bring locals and hospitality professionals together for feasting and competitions. The Local Wild Food Challenge takes place in late summer (held next on February 18, 2018). This food festival for local hunter-gatherers and creative cooks celebrates nature's bounties with a cooking competition based on the ingredients they can source in the days leading up to the challenge. Meanwhile, Forage North Canterbury brings some of New Zealand's best culinary minds together for a day of hunting, fishing, foraging and gathering before creating a feast from the goods. This year, they hauled in a wild boar, a deer, all kinds of seafood – including a shark – rabbits, hares, eels, truffles, mushrooms and wild fruit and greens. This big day out attracts a bunch of top chefs from around the country for a day of collaboration and celebration of the best of nature's resources.
Limestone Hills truffles
Meet Rosie the truffle hound beagle, whose super-sensitive nose can sniff out a prize delicacy buried in the earth. Limestone Hills truffle farmer Gareth Renowden and wife Camille have planted oaks and hazelnuts inoculated with truffle spores. Despite a tiny yield, truffles command huge prices. Varieties include Périgord black, Bianchetto, and the Burgundy truffle. Their intense flavour makes them highly sought after. He also set up a vineyard, The Hermit Ram, producing pinot noir and syrah. Visitors can go truffle hunting by arrangement.
Visit a local food festival
The Waipara Valley Wine & Food Festival is held in March at the Glenmark Domain, attracting thousands of visitors keen to sample some of region’s finest produce, cooking, and wine. There’s something to suit every palate, from charcuterie to game to slow-cooked gourmet street food.
The Canterbury Truffle Festival takes place from late July to mid August, and features truffle tastings at farmers’ markets in Christchurch, Lyttelton, and Amberley, together with cooking classes, truffle hunts, and lunches at selected winery restaurants.
Be sure to catch a local farmer’s market
Waipara Valley Farmers’ Market takes place every Saturday morning from 9am to noon outside the Hurunui District Council Chambers on Carters Road. Visitors can sample and buy fresh produce and delicious country fare, all made locally.
Get active in the Waipara valley
To work up a healthy appetite, you can go biking along the Waipara Valley Vineyard Trail, which will take you past vineyards and winery restaurants.
If you are a fan of steam trains, look out for special excursions on the Weka Pass Railway.
The Iron Ridge Quarry Sculpture Park, created by Raymond and Sue Herber, features “beautiful and sometimes wacky works”.
Known mostly only to locals, Macintosh’s Beach is isolated and a bit of a hike, but offers surfing and fossil hunting.
Stay close to the action
Options include bed and breakfast and lodges designed with maximum character.
Teviot View offers new apartment-style accommodation in the heart of Amberley, with panoramic views of Mount Grey and Teviot Hills.
Dry Paddocks Country Retreat offers five-star boutique bed and breakfast accommodation, and is ideal for a “romantic retreat” or a “gourmet getaway”.
The Shearers’ Cottage, as the name suggests, is a renovated former cottage at Limestone Hills Farm, in the heart of truffle country.
Annie’s Loft & Studio provides new “luxury vineyard accommodation options in a charming renovated homestead at Waipara River Estate”.
The thermal resort of Hanmer Springs offers multiple accommodation options, as well as thermal pools, a day spa and adventure activities.
Waipara Valley is located just north of the North Canterbury township of Amberley. It is about 45 minutes’ drive north of Christchurch, and the same distance from Hanmer Springs to the west. Kaikoura is about an hour and a half drive north.
Anytime is fine to visit, however some wineries a break during some periods in winter (June to August). Summers are typically hot and dry while winters can have cool nights but fine sunny days.