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What's not to like about a 400cc quadbike? It's powerful, indestructible, adaptable. And it doesn't care if you're a weedy teenager or as wide as a rhino.

Of course, you feel nothing but fear the first time it roars to life and creates an uneasy rumbling between your legs. Which makes it all the more reassuring that Alistair Trewin, of Glenstrae Farm Four-wheeler Adventures, just south of Kaikoura, puts you through a rigorous test before giving you the green light to roam over his 6500ha farm.

The test begins with a gentle ride through the carpark before tackling a steeper hill circuit. The protective wet-weather gear clearly hints at something more sinister - and challenging - just beyond the farm gates.

The Glenstrae adventure is a 2-hour ride along dirt tracks, grassy trails and creek-beds to all corners of the family farm. The way is littered with countless potholes, sharp corners, steep knolls and creek beds to test your ability to avoid death.

Alistair doesn't tell you this, of course, until you are through the gates and past the point of no return. He also fails to mention how hard it is to concentrate on the track when the bike seems intent on trying to throw you from your throne.

Taking one hand off the handlebars, rounding a corner at anything other than the ideal speed, finding a pothole with any wheel - these all lead to the bike wanting to launch itself, and its rider, into space.

So, at the start, the riders are as adventurous as a sedated turtle.

We avoid potholes, mud - virtually impossible as it's everywhere - cow dung, even harmless pools of water. Corners and steep inclines are taken with such care that it blurs the line between common sense and cowardice.

As Alistair takes the lead, his 12-year-old son David trails behind on a dirtbike. Every so often he disappears into the distance, his bike bouncing as it roars across the rugged terrain, hinting at an excitement just an ocean of courage from our reach.

"We're in no hurry," says Alistair reassuringly at frequent stops, which are necessary to catch our breath and take in the views of the coast that glisten under the watchful eye of the Kaikoura Ranges.

At the edge of the farm, we pause and admire the jagged coastline ambling its way to the Kaikoura Peninsula, as fur seals scatter among the rocks and others nestle in the cliffs for a sheltered rest.

The taming of the quadbike begins as we start the return leg. Nothing injects a bit of driving confidence like speeding across the tame paddocks along the coastline - an open and wide autobahn where we push the bikes to 60km/h as the wind tries to dislodge our goggles.

We soon realise the quadbikes are unbreakable. And so are we, it follows logically.

We hit the dirt track again and sprint over mounds, around corners and through the farm creek, where rumbling over the creek-bed sends water spraying in every direction. On the final leg we lean into corners like seasoned veterans.

As we approach the final bend, rider-mentality has done a complete U-turn; we're aiming for every pothole, every rut the size of a cave, even the cowdung-covered half of the track. It's exhilarating.

Back in Kaikoura, it's a serious change of pace. The town of 3000 is known as a seaside retreat. Sitting on a boat and watching marine wildlife seems the most sweat-inducing exercise.

The food sources that bring sperm whales, Dusky dolphins, albatross and fur seals to the area are also what attracted Maori to settle here 850 years ago.

By the mid-1800s, it was a popular whaling town, but these days lush farmland and booming tourism are the pistons of the local economy. Both can be found 10 minutes north of the township at homely Hapuku Lodge, which is surrounded by mountains, the ocean and a deer farm.

The lodge's most recent addition is a series of "tree-houses" with wooden and copper exteriors.

Each tree-house unit is either intended to be spacious or - judging by the size of the jacuzzi - a snug fit for a large hippopotamus, not that a hippo would have much use for the fireplace, plasma screen or ocean- and mountain-views.

And it offers ridiculous luxury; you know you're staying somewhere flash when the number of pillows on the bed outnumber the fingers on your hands.

But it's not actually a tree-house. There's no kauri trunk burrowing through the centre of the bedroom, no umbrella of leaves shielding the nest from the driving rain, and the balcony is hardly a launching pad for a deafening Tarzan cry. It's essentially a unit on high stilts nestled into growing trees, but "tree-house" is infinitely more marketable.

The lodge's lounge and dining area are equally lavish - the paint on the wall is delicately patterned - and includes an open fireplace where guests gather to discuss how many whales they saw that day.

Dinner is the handiwork of general manager Rod Ramsay. Ours consisted of thinly sliced venison from the lodge's thousands of deer, and fresh Kaikoura crayfish bathed in buttery goodness, a must, as Kaikoura translates to "meal of crayfish".

The move to the lodge was certainly a lifestyle change for Rod, who went from managing a fine-dining restaurant in Christchurch to living within several kilometres of no one. But the trade-off has obvious benefits; the blissful silence of the countryside, the refreshing breeze that sweeps in from the ocean, the small-town hospitality.

All these treasures abound in Kaikoura. Even the finer tastes of the sea are not restricted to the financially gifted at Hapuku. On the road to the popular seal colony on the peninsula, Kathryn Claridge runs a barbecue stall of fresh seafood, caught by locals either that morning or the previous night.

With the tops of the Kaikoura Ranges turning red as the sun sets, hers was the perfect spot to sample the local crays, whitebait, and mussels, and reflect on one of the South Island's most tranquil settings.

*Derek Cheng travelled to Kaikoura courtesy of Air New Zealand, Pegasus Car Rentals and Hapuku Lodge.