An easy drive up the coastal SH-1, just 40 minutes from Christchurch, is the beautiful Waipara Valley. Known mostly for its vineyards, it's New Zealand's fastest growing wine region. Nestled within the sheltering confines of the Teviotdale Hills, the climate here is one of mellow, warm winds and glorious sunshine.
The villages in and around the valley are little pockets of balminess, with autumn the best time to visit, when it's not too hot, and you can enjoy simply beautiful, long sunsets. Pinot Noir and Rieslings are the most notable grapes produced here, and you can choose from around 80 wineries to sample their quality.
Most wine lovers will base themselves in the town of Waipara itself. Sitting on the banks of the river of the same name, it enjoys some of New Zealand's highest summer temperatures and lowest annual rainfall. There are several wineries within walking distance of the centre, or a very short drive away. As expected, you'll also find a great epicurean infrastructure. Wine bars, boutique cafes, artisan food stores and some quality restaurants abound here.
Other villages worth visiting for their vineyards, include Balmoral and Waikari. There are both Summer and Winter Wine Trails available to explore, plus a 'By Appointment' selection, for serious wine buffs.
Waipara also hosts the annual Waipara Valley Food & Wine Festival every February or March, bringing together the region's wineries and gourmet food producers in one day of decadent indulgence.
Once you've had your fill of grape and grain, it's worth exploring the wider Hurunui District. Stretching from the east coast, north of Christchurch, right up to the Hanmer Conservation Park. It's a natural playground of 274 hectares of scenic reserves, beaches and tourist drives.
Head to Amberley (the admin centre of the region) Leithfield, Motunau and Gore Bay for some seaside tranquillity and wonderful sands. The latter has a great tourist drive around the cliffs and beaches of the east coast. Inland, you can camp by the Hurunui River at Balmoral Reserve, or pamper yourself in the thermal resort town of Hanmer Springs.