Fri08012014

Food & Wine

Travel off the straight and narrow in South Island, New Zealand

I visited New Zealand recently, taking some new routes in my search for unique properties. I found that the road less traveled yields some Canterbury tales.

State Highway 1 is a pleasant enough drive, but in some stretches it is really no more than the shortest route between points A and B. An example is the Canterbury Plains - the Christchurch gardens are legendary, and the college students certainly look as if they were made in England - but why not swerve around the city and take the inland scenic route?

Highway 72 has a lot going for it. Along it you can spot a closer view of the Southern Alps; little towns you have never heard of, such as Windwhistle and Stavely; an octagonal library at Glentunnel; terrific chocolate in Geraldine; and the dramatic crossing of one of the South Island's major rivers at the Upper Rakaia.

This route has little traffic, and after Winchester you are in the territory of the landed gentry. Geraldine is the first town you come to, where the Berry Barn serves buns to bus passengers en route to Mount Cook. Barkers serves fruit juice while Plums offers a cozy wood stove and an award-winning muffin. Also in town is the world's biggest jersey, in a shop that houses a replica Bayeaux tapestry made mosaic-style from tiny steel chips. A Swiss expatriate creates Florentines and other sweet treats at prices that ensure the chocolate stays fresh.

Stock up on chocolate and drive through deer and sheep farms over the Rangitata River, with salmon to be caught and rafts to be navigated, along the straight to Mayfield, where the road takes a more winding and westerly direction. In Rangiora, for a caffeine fix visit the Victoria Street Cafe or Coffee on the Lake. For arguably the tastiest wood-fired pizza outside Italy, don't miss the Coop Pizza. Visiting here, you are close to the New Zealand Alps, amid scenery that caught the eye of "Lord of the Rings" location spotters.

You are heading into ski country, with Mount Hutt on the left and the town of Methven at the end of a detour to the right. The largest deer farm in the world is here. As you head downhill, you approach what must be regarded as the climax of this trip, the Rakaia River crossing. It alone makes the route worthwhile.

Head through Glentunnel to Homebush to see the historical shearing shed. There is a tricky dogleg to negotiate as you cross the main road from Arthur's Pass to Christchurch.

The next stop is Oxford, with its lovely colonial buildings. After Amberley, you are back in the mainstream, but now you have something to talk about - you came off the straight and narrow.

Taking Highway 72 to Geraldine will get you out of the traffic and still speed you on your way to my favorite place - Mackenzie County and the Lindis Pass.

Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel, 160 Main St., Los Altos. For more information, call 941-5810.

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