Travel & Food: Why NZ’s lesser-known wine region is a must-visit

North Canterbury boasts more than 90 vineyards, with a tight-knit community of local families running most independently. Photo / Hannah Bird

There’s plenty to do when you visit Christchurch, but many North Islanders never venture further than the Garden City. Christchurch local Jon Holmes explains why you should add a side-trip to Waipara to your next trip … and the delicious upcoming festival to check out if you’re there next weekend.

What are some of your favourite things to do in the region?

North Canterbury has some of the most beautiful vistas in the country, so for me, it’s about getting out on a bike or going for a run in the hills to experience it all. It’s a great place to unwind and let off a bit of steam.

Why should wine lovers visit?

Most of the wineries here are independently owned by a close-knit community of local families. With some of the country’s most diversified land formations, from the volcanic Banks Peninsula to the clay and limestone soils of the Waipara and Waikari valleys, the region lends itself to highly varied and interesting soil types. Concentrated and expressive wines are grown here – particularly pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling.

Why is North Canterbury so great for food and wine?

North Canterbury is the garden of New Zealand. Its climate is the main reason it sees such wonderful produce. A cocktail of warm days and cool nights, along with good sunshine hours and a long growing season, make for the perfect conditions for growing, and particularly good for growing grapes.

Tell us about the North Canterbury Wine and Food Festival

There’s feasting, dancing and spectacularly good wine. The festival plays host to 25 North Canterbury wineries, 35 foodies, four epic music and demonstration stages and more than 4000 attendees.

North Canterbury’s climate, a blend of warm days, cool nights, good sunshine hours, and a long growing season, produces exceptional produce and wine.

How is it different to other food and wine festivals in NZ?

It’s the story behind this one that makes it so unique to North Canterbury. It was originally started as a pre-harvest celebration before the wineries begin their busiest time of year. We’ve stayed true to those country vibes but tied it in with high-quality food and some of the best wine that NZ has to offer.

What are your top tips for visiting the festival?

Make sure you come early to experience the opening tradition of the stomping of the grapes. One of North Canterbury’s local legends will get their feet dirty and squeeze some juice from those fresh grapes. There’s a new music stage this year, featuring some up-and-coming artists from the world of jazz. And make sure you bring the kids to meet the animals at our petting zoo.

What are the must-visit wine and food stalls this year?

There are more than 60 stallholders so it’s hard to pick – they’re carefully selected so that we only have the best of the best. But make sure you head to see the Greystone Oyster Bar, grab a taco at the Roma Food Truck and taste wines from Pegasus Bay and Mischief With Wine.

More than 60 carefully selected stallholders participate in the festival, offering the best of the best in wine, food, and unique products. Photo / Hannah Bird
More than 60 carefully selected stallholders participate in the festival, offering the best of the best in wine, food, and unique products. Photo / Hannah Bird

Any hidden secrets in the region you’d be happy to share?

It’s not really known for it, but North Canterbury has some stunning beaches to explore. Particularly around the mouth of the Hurunui River. Spots like Manuka Bay, Gore Bay and Nape Nape Beach. You can stand there and be anywhere in the world. Plus, there’s hardly ever anyone there to share the beach with.

This year’s North Canterbury Wine and Food Festival takes place at Glenmark Domain, Waipara, on March 3.

For more things to see and do in the region, go to

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