There is an adventure capital in New Zealand with a fabulous food and wine scene. It is not Queenstown.
Hurunui might be one of Canterbury’s best-kept secrets. While the past few years have brought the masses to New Zealand, there are plenty of spots that are waiting to be explored, and the Hurunui District is one of them.
A place where the mountains, sea and rolling vineyards all intersect, Hurunui is a region of abundance. One of the best times to visit is the beginning of autumn when the days are still warm and sunny, but the leaves have started to change and you can feel the shift of the seasons. There is something so peaceful about this time of year unless you are working at one of the wineries, then it’s full steam ahead!
Perhaps the most well-known part of Hurunui is Hanmer Springs, the classic Kiwi holiday spot of the South Island with an alpine feel to it in winter. But Hanmer also has beautiful mountain biking trails, adventure spots, jetboating and plenty of walks and hikes to choose from, in addition to the amazing hot pools. It’s also a great location to base yourself for a week of adventures. With easy access to pristine coastline, historic towns, an array of amazing wineries and local ski fields.
If you like adventure, you can fling yourself off the historic bridge into Hanmer or cruise below it on jet boats or quad bikes. But of course, a visit to Hanmer would be incomplete without a visit (or 10) to the hot springs. Far from being a simple pool with a fence from 1850, this is an extensive complex with slides, rides and heaps of pools to choose from.
The Waipara Valley in North Canterbury is a peaceful place filled with surprisingly wonderful boutique wineries. Now if that doesn’t get your attention I don’t know what will. A very hot and dry region, this valley is one of the secret heroes of New Zealand's wine industry. Black Estate is a fabulous boutique winery with a lunch menu that packs a punch. Sit outside in the sunshine for a pinot tasting and watch the day slip by quietly. In autumn the region is bright gold as leaves change on the vines and the grapes begin to be harvested. It’s the best time of year to visit and this tranquil valley comes alive. Greystone Wines is also excellent, but there are 31 wineries to choose from, twelve of which have cellar doors.
Perhaps my favourite surprise in Waipara and Hurunui was the great foraging and growing food scene, and there are plenty of keen and knowledgeable locals about who are passionate about teaching others. At Limestone Hills you can join the hunt with Rosie the truffle dog and learn about the different varieties of eye-wateringly expensive truffles that can be found here.
There's nothing quite like being about to sip a local pinot noir in the sunshine after mountain biking or climbing mountains. Combined with fabulous food and unusual visitor experiences, Hurunui won't be a secret for much longer.