Located on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island and on the doorstep of Christchurch city, North Canterbury is an internationally renowned region for food and beverage production. Our mighty region is an abundant food basket with 90+ vineyards, beef/sheep/arable farms, forests rich with wild game, market gardens, truffières, apiaries, rivers and coastlines full of kaimoana (seafood).



The first Maori ancestors arrived in New Zealand from eastern Polynesia around 1250-1300 AD. They quickly realised that while Aotearoa’s land was fertile and abundant, the weather was unpredictable, which propelled their resourcefulness and mobility. Our Maori ancestors were hunters and gatherers who relied on horticulture, kaimoana and foraging for sustenance, economics as well as mana (honour).

Life Revolved around Mahinga kai...

The knowledge and values associated with customary food gathering places and practices. They lived a highly mobile way of life that was connected to the seasons, animal lifecycles and growth cycles of plants. A network of trails was established across Te Waipounamu so that hapū could travel between localities to exchange food and other natural resources. The Kaiapoi Pā, just north of Woodend, became the major trading centre for food exchanges between settlements. The centrally positioned Pā (fortified settlement) was located strategically for access to natural resources and its proximity to the wealth of natural resources available in Kaikōura, Ōtira-Waimakariri Trail (Arthur’s Pass), Banks Peninsula and Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere).

Respected rangatira and tohunga Teone Taare Tikao tells of the different types of food from various areas and the importance of this exchange to provide some variation in diet. The people of Kaiapoi brough tuna (eel), kāuru (root of the tī kõuka/cabbage tree), kiore (rat), aruhe (fernroot) and kumara. The people from nearby Rāpaki might bring pipi; kuku (mussels), shark and maraki (dried fish) as a return gift.

Key mechanisms for exchanging food between hapū were rituals of hākari (feasting at a ceremonial gathering) and kaihaukai (the reciprocal exchange and presentation of food that would be consumed by another group later). Mana was gained, maintained or lost according to the quality and quantity of food. It was about mutual enrichment, not hustling to get the best deal.

*We are grateful for the guidance and permission from Matapopore Charitable Trust to publish passages from “The Grand Narrative” written by Associate Professor Te Maire Tau, Director of the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre, University of Canterbury.

When the early British Migrants Settled

Farmers seeking large expanses of pasture settled in North Canterbury in the 19th century and introduced new offerings to the already abundant region. It wasn’t known then, but what turned out be one of North Canterbury’s most thriving agricultural pursuit were grapevines. North Canterbury’s first experimental grapevines were planted by John McCaskey in the mid-1960s. Unfortunately for John, the vines were washed away by a flash flood soon after planting. North Canterbury’s wine region really began to take shape in the 1970s when a group of wine pioneers from Lincoln University, including Danny Schuster, Dr David Jackson and Dr Paul Mulcock, began trialling vines throughout the region. One of the most iconic vineyards was planted by the Donaldson Family in 1976; you may know it better as Pegasus Bay. Vineyards planted in the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s still produce grapes to this day. You’ll find them at Waipara Springs, Black Estate’s Netherwood Vineyard, Muddy Water and Waipara River Estate.

The Present Day

As we move through this modern world, it’s hard to imagine the landscape that once was – a vast watery landscape full of native birds, fish, plants and a people who lived here and harvested a wealth of natural resources in accordance with their knowledge of mahinga kai. But this landscape and traditional knowledge still exists in North Canterbury and resides with our local hapū Ngāi Tūāhuriri, in the names of places, in waiata (song) and kaupapa (principles) like manaakitanga – supporting and loving our people, our community and visitors – and kaitiakitanga – ensuring natural resources are in plentiful supply in order to maintain a way of life.

Then, as now, the region’s climate and soil, forests, rivers and coastlines allow for a diverse amount of foods to grow naturally throughout the entire year. Just like our Māori ancestors, we still grow, make and share produce for mutual enrichment. This shows through in the quality of our products; just visit any local farmers’ markets, cellar door, restaurant or café around our region and you’ll see this firsthand.