WAITAKI VALLEY AND PEN-Y-BRYN LODGE
A geologist’s dream, decked out with limestone outcrops, pinnacles and ancient marine fossils, the Waitaki Valley – just inland hop from Ōamaru, three hours’ drive from Queenstown or two from Dunedin – is also building a name for its wine. Challenging weather, silts from the Waitaki River, and the latest harvests in the country lend a unique flavour to its pinot noir, aromatic whites and chardonnay.As our newest wine district, the Waitaki isn’t yet peppered with cellar doors but there are several – Ostlers and River T’s are loved by locals. To get a handle on the stories of the area and taste a wide range of the wines made here, booking a Waitaki Wine Tour with guide Sue Mansworth is an excellent idea. “For a long time we weren’t on any of the maps, or we were lumped in with Central Otago, Otago but a couple of years ago we were given the status of a distinct wine district.” Not many of the boutique wineries here can keep a cellar door open (there are a few, read on), so Sue does tastings on behalf of some wineries as well as a couple of cellar door visits each tour. “I plan each tour separately,” says Sue. “I take people off-road, down back roads, and talk them through some history. We do a bit of scenic geology too – the scenery around here is spectacular.”
River-T Estate Wines in North Otago is one of plenty of cellar doors in the area to fill your time. In Ōamaru, Scott’s Brewery is great for pizzas and craft beers (including gluten-free beer), and Cucina for an upmarket dining experience. Try the feasting menu at Bevan Smith’s Riverstone Kitchen – beautifully prepared hyperlocal, ethical fare – and make time for a wander through the gardens (look out for the castle). Fleur’s Place at Moeraki isn’t too far a drive for the country’s best seafood on the menu but do make sure to book.
Luxury lodge Pen-y-bryn is a stunner, and dining there is a great way to taste local; the restaurant belongs to the Slow Food Movement and much of the food on the menu is grown onsite and other ingredients are sourced within 100km.