NESTLED BETWEEN Kaikoura and North Canterbury, the Hurunui district embodies the very best attributes of the New Zealand heartland.
Loaded with unexpected scenic surprises and distinctive outdoorsy adventure, it's best experienced by bedding down on a farm-stay.
From Cheviot, I turned right at the Hurunui River mouth for a night of stupendous farm-stay hospitality at Tawanui Farm, in the Blythe Valley.
A host of nearby attractions to stake out include the Manuka Bay Track, Cathedral Cliffs, Gore Bay and Nape Nape Beach.
Nestled on a gentle hillside of lush and rolling farmland, their glamping affair consists of two super spacious lotus belle tents, a central camp kitchen and living space and a generously sized gas-fired cedar hot tub. The tents are loaded with home comforts to keep you toasty, while the brilliantly constructed rustic living space includes a solar-powered hot shower, kitchen facilities and even a USB charging port.
Booking out the glamping site is incredibly inexpensive and because both tents can sleep four people, you could have a wild family getaway here. Similarly, if it's just you or you're a loved-up couple seeking a romantic escape, you'll have the place to yourself.
From the lofty hillside perch wrapped in kanuka and pine plantations, I soaked up the wide horizon views, that look down on the artery-like braids of the Hurunui River, across the patchwork farmland and towards the inward Kaikoura ranges. You could never tire of the panorama — nor the operatic birdsong, seasonally backed by bleating baby lambs.
My hosts were the lovely Loughnan family, the fifth generation of Loughnans to farm and live on this land. Mike and eldest son Tim share the workload running the 330ha sheep and beef farm along with its tourism ventures.
Tawanui embraces regenerative farming practices, a far cry from bingeing on agrochemicals. All the animals are grass-fed year-round on healthy, nutritious pastures. You'll see how healthy the green pastures look across their undulating property as you're taken on an ATV farm tour, shifting the sheep and cattle from one paddock to the next, along with their trusty farm dogs.
Tim also operates Energy Jet, the only jetboat-ride operation on the South Island's east coast.
We met up down at the mouth of the Hurunui River for an enthralling ride on the Hamilton Jet 171, first downstream, passing under several bridges, while navigating the shallow river braids, colossal boulder fields and pencil-thin canyons.
On the upstream return, we ventured out into the surreal river mouth lagoon, where the majestic river intersects with the power of the Pacific Ocean.
The lagoon is like an oasis of calm with a storied history, with Maori settlements and inter-tribal battles playing out below the striking cliffs. Adze have been discovered here, dating back to the 17th century from Maori making their way down from the North Island.
For a next-level mountainside hospitality experience, Matai Peak might have your name on it.
Named after the 1000-year-old matai trees growing in the valley below, this ultra-luxury accommodation option is housed on one of New Zealand's most acclaimed Angus stud farms, Te Mania.
Since 1934, the Wilding family have based their angus stud farm at this sprawling Conway Flat property, adjacent to the Kaikoura coastline. Will Wilding looks after the prized cattle operation, while Sam tends to the tourism and events side of the business.
Sink into their mountainside spa to watch the stars come out, followed by a nightcap by the large open fire. With nature as your only neighbour, you'll enjoy skyline-high privacy in what was once a working shepherds' hut, which has been lavishly repurposed into a rustic luxury lodge, with frills and comforts galore, complete with covered outdoor kitchen, roaring wood fire and supreme dining setting.
From this unrivalled perch, witnessing the first rays of sunlight rise out of the Pacific Ocean and gilding the snow-capped peaks of the Kaikoura Ranges will be an indelible highlight.
In addition to the exclusive accommodation packages, Matai Peak is launching a range of day experiences including wedding functions and coastal farm tours, which will give you a first-hand insight of Te Mania's prized bulls, the history and scenic beauty of the farm, before finishing up with a drink at the iconic Saloon Bar, which is festooned with fascinating memorabilia.