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A weekend of wining, dining and unwinding in North Canterbury

Newshub logoNewshub 6 days ago Alexia Santamaria
a brown and white dog standing in the grass © Newshub.

A few months ago I travelled with a group into North Canterbury where, just 45 minutes out of Christchurch, I had a weekend of magical fun and frivolity under the lofty oaks of Glenmark Domain as more than 50 of Canterbury’s finest food and wine producers came together for the North Canterbury Wine and Food festival. 

My weekend of eating began before we even reached Waipara. A quick stop for coffee at the gorgeous Little Vintage Espresso extended into a potter around the Amberley Farmers Markets where we chatted to producers and bought excellent goats cheese and some bread from the locals. It was already becoming clear, people like good food in these parts.

food on a table © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

And it wasn’t just the culinary delights that turned a 10-minute stop into an hour-long one. On the way back to the car we chanced upon Mumma Ts Trading Lounge which was like stepping into a magical world of collectable treasures. There were perfectly curated displays of furniture and homewares. A mad mix of modern, vintage, retro and antiques meant endless fossicking joy.

We finally tore ourselves away from Amberley in time to make our appointment at Limestone Hills where we spent an hour with Gareth and his clever - and very cute - beagle Rosie. 

Rosie showed us how she hunts for truffles, a fascinating process to watch, resulting in six very fat specimens in just 10 minutes. Incredible how a whole business can come down to a tiny dog’s nose. I’m sure the chefs at the local restaurants are all very grateful for her skills at sniffing out the four varieties Gareth cultivates throughout the year: Perigord, Burgundy, Bianchetto and the Winter Black.

a herd of sheep grazing on a lush green field © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

After an amazing dinner and wine tasting session, it was time to head out to my accommodation, a farm stay 30 minute into the countryside called Karetu Downs. 

For a city girl this couldn’t have been any more of a treat. No cellphone coverage, an enormous 2000 hectare hill country property to walk around (complete with 4500 Romney sheep, 120 Angus cattle, two kune kune pigs and donkey called Barney) all right next to the Waipara river.

With large grounds and peace and quiet like I’ve never experienced, this was utter bliss. I could have sat in that garden forever, but an open fire with a bottle of pinot noir was too alluring and I found myself curled up on the couch never wanting to get up.

In the morning  it was time to head to the main event - the actual festival. Despite a drizzly start to the day, locals were out in droves. There was an incredible selection of vineyards, including my two local favourites - Pegasus Bay and The Boneline - plus every food imaginable: from enormous pork ribs from Smokey Ts, to duck parfait trumpets, to vegan charcuterie and local Amberley brews by Brew Moon. 

a river running through a body of water © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

People brought chairs and small gazebos and ate and drank and danced under the trees all day. I have to say the joyful dancing in practical wet weather clothes was the most delightful contrast to festivals I’ve visited  in bigger cities where standing around in perfectly coordinated dresses, heels and blazers seems more important than eating, drinking and being merry.

It was a wonderful weekend on all fronts and definitely won’t be my last visit to North Canterbury. This part of our beautiful country has suffered so much, I can’t think of a better way to support their economy than indulging in the hospitality in this pocket of paradise.

Alexia Santamaria is a freelance food and travel writer.

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