Go whale-watching and sample some of New Zealand’s best wines before exploring the revitalised city of Christchurch. A single day doesn’t get much better.
Fly over rugged coastline, get up close with awe-inspiring marine life, and enjoy gastronomic delights at a celebrated winery restaurant. All before sundown. Undoubtedly one of the most remarkable days of your life, your heli-adventure begins at the magnificent historic homestead of Otahuna, nestled into Christchurch’s Port Hills. You’ll head to Kaikoura, one of the best spots for whale watching in the world, before exploring the undiscovered gems in the wine region of North Canterbury.
8AM: Fortify yourself for the day ahead with a hearty breakfast made from fresh local ingredients. Choose from the enormous buffet or order your preferred cooked breakfast. Breads, scones and muffins are baked in the kitchen, the all-natural muesli is Otahuna’s own recipe, the pork sausages include pork farmed on the property while the free-range eggs are sourced from Lamond.
10AM: Your helicopter touches down on the great lawn of Otahuna estate. After a safety briefing you are whisked up over the Otahuna Valley, Gibraltar Rock, and the Summit Road, and then northeast to Godley Head. Spread out beneath you is the sunken volcanic caldera of Lyttelton Harbour, fringed by the rugged Port Hills.
Next you follow the gentle curve of Pegasus Bay and the Pacific coastline. You may see racehorses training on the beach and a few surfers catching the waves. Gradually the beach becomes increasingly empty and isolated. You pass over Teviotdale farm country before you spot the canyons and rock formations of Motunau and Gore Bay.
After climbing over the Hundalee Hills, all of a sudden the Kaikoura coast and Pacific Ocean roll out in front of you. The Kaikoura Peninsula and the often snow-capped Seaward Kaikoura mountain range rise up straight out of the ocean, making an unforgettable vista. Watch out for a ripple of water as a pod of Dusky dolphins appears as if on cue.
11.20AM: After touching down at Kaikoura Heliport, it’s time to discover what makes the seascape around Kaikoura unique. Sometimes called a “maritime Serengeti”, the ocean bordering the mountainous North Canterbury area of Kaikoura is home to a rich abundance of marine life. An ocean canyon plunges down to depths of 1,000m (3,280ft) or more close to the shore where the Southern Alps meet the Pacific Ocean. This canyon provides a plentiful food supply for male giant sperm whales, which stay here year-round hunting for their favorite food, giant squid. The region is also home to New Zealand fur seals, which you can see lazing on the rocks.
Switching to another helicopter operated by Kaikoura Helicopters and specially licensed for whalewatching, you fly out over the waves. One advantage of the helicopter, apart from saving time, is a smooth trip no matter what the sea conditions. You also get to see the whole whale, which can measure from 17m to 19m (56ft to 62ft). Watch for a plume of spray as the whales surface, and then admire their signature “tail fluke” as these magnificent marine mammals dive to the inky depths.
1.00PM: Back in Kaikoura you change helicopters again and fly south. Following the sinuous route of State Highway 1, you pass above arid dusty-brown sheep farming country near Cheviot. Then the colours change as you reach Waipara wine country.
1.25PM: You land at Pegasus Bay Winery and Restaurant for lunch overlooking the beautiful gardens. Established by the Donaldson family in the 1970s, Pegasus Bay has won acclaim for both its wines and its restaurant, which has won multiple New Zealand Restaurant of the Year awards. Treats to tempt your taste buds include fresh homegrown produce, market fish, tender Canterbury lamb or beef, and wild venison. Why not pair the delicious fare with an intensely flavored riesling or a complex pinot noir?
3.50PM: It’s time to fly back to Christchurch, this time passing over the central city to view its rebirth after the earthquakes of 2010-11. Marvel at the dynamic cityscape as new office buildings and retail precincts spring up. You’ll admire the leafy green expanse of Hagley Park and the numerous trees that help give Christchurch its Garden City tag.
4.20PM: After an inspiring day, your helicopter touches down at Otahuna. If you still have energy to spare, you can enjoy a tour of the gardens, planted in the late nineteenth century by Sir Heaton Rhodes, or perhaps take a cooking lesson from award-winning chef Jimmy McIntyre. Or alternatively, you may want to just relax and unwind.
6.30PM: With your appetite revived, you can look forward to some of the best local cuisine made with fresh estate-grown ingredients. Dinner is a five-course chef’s degustation menu that changes daily. Start off with canapés in the drawing room, like diced strawberries with watermelon, mint, and 20-year-old balsamic vinegar. Then move through to the dining room and indulge in onion soup with walnut sourdough; salmon fillet, baked leeks from the potager garden, poached tomato and salsa verde; and Otahuna lamb and kumara puree, and seasonal vegetables. You might finish off with Wangapeka camembert and quince jelly and lemon cake passionfruit sorbet. All, of course, are matched by some of New Zealand’s finest wines. What a perfect finish to a perfect day in Canterbury.