The allure of truffles is universal. In New Zealand, there are more than 300 areas of land specially cultivated to grow the sought-after fungi. One of the country’s most renowned is in Waipara, 60 kilometres north of Christchurch, where family-run farm Kings Truffles harvests fresh black truffles (Tuber melanosporum) between June and August.

During truffle season, you can book a spectacular experience that starts with a picturesque helicopter flight courtesy of another family-run business – GCH Aviation. Fly over the patchwork of the Canterbury Plains, touch down for a guided truffle hunt at Kings Truffles and fly on for a delicious finish: a truffle-centric meal at the acclaimed restaurant of organic vineyard Black Estate.

GCH Aviation completed its purpose-built jet facility back in 2018. The Virtuoso rating means many private planes land here from around the world, with Christchurch’s immediacy to Australia and the Pacific making it the perfect South Island pit stop.

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Pilot Jonathan “Jono” Cummings is the ultimate guide in the sky with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the surrounds on our flight north to Waipara. You’ll learn about the history of the region as the braided rivers of the Canterbury Plains meander out to sea. Small towns pass below us and the Canterbury Plains dissolve into foothills of brown and gold vines. The limestone hills bare their fossil-heavy sedimentary rock and, as Mount Grey looms, we take a short left out over the ridgeline to reveal Kings Truffles.

English evergreen oaks pepper the valley of the farm’s eight hectares. It’s a sight to behold as the dappled, wintry sunlight illuminates stony creeks weaving across the valley floor. We make our way downhill to the Kings Truffles hut where we’re greeted by general manager Jax Lee and 9-year-old truffle-hunting Labrador Freddy.

Kings Truffles regularly sell out tours – in fact, the season this year is full for on-calendar events – but you can still book a bespoke trip for groups of eight people or more. With such a short season and knowledgeable host, you can see why.

Along with being the New Zealand record-holder for largest truffle at 1.43 kilograms, Kings Truffles is regenerating its boutique station and has been spray-free for four years; sheep have done the bulk of the pastoral management. The climate is ideal and, along with planting a host of new native plants, Lee and her partner plan to expand the orchard.

Knife in hand (and knee cushion tucked under arm) Lee orders “find them” as Freddy eagerly bounds down the rows of trees, stopping occasionally to help herself to a nut or three. Within seconds she stops, paws the ground and sits. Lee kneels at the spot and softly smooths away the surface earth to reveal a small mound under the topsoil. A quick sniff and she’s certain it’s ripe. She invites us to take a whiff; the scent is beetroot-like with an odd sweetness that is fragrant and distinct.

In the space of 10 minutes, our bag is bursting with golf ball-sized treasures. Freddy knows she’s performed and is rewarded with a treat. Tenderly, Lee wraps one for us to take to our next stop, Black Estate, where it’ll be incorporated into our meal.

Back in the chopper, it’s another short but spectacular flight to Waipara’s wine region and the vines of the Omihi Hills. This little-known wine region punches well above its weight. Black Estate is in fine company, with Pegasus Bay, Greystone, Waipara Springs, and Torlesse Wines all within 15 minutes’ drive of one another.

There’s also a more recently established group of exciting family-run vineyards, including The Boneline, Georges Road and Terrace Edge. Overall, the area’s cluster of wineries boasts some of the most regenerative, biodynamic, organic and sustainable wines in the country and their varietals tell great stories of the land here.

Black Estate owner Penelope Naish was once a corporate lawyer. She and her family left city life behind for this picturesque part of the country and she’s proud of the region’s abundant culinary cachet.
Black Estate’s menu is informed by the array of meats, produce, wild game, foraged fare and foodstuffs on its doorstep. The restaurant is intimate and, with a capacity of just 40 diners, it’s not uncommon for the cellar door to turn over a table 2-3 times daily on a weekend. Be sure to book ahead of time.

On this winter’s truffle season menu, we found the rich, nutty and earthy flavours were perfectly matched with aged vintages. Dishes of kingfish tartare, celeriac carpaccio and Black Estate’s house-made sourdough with grated truffle each complemented the younger rieslings and chardonnays. The 2016 Home Block chardonnay is heaped with fruit and wonderfully matched with a butterfish main with truffle beurre blanc and fennel.

If you’re not up for the scenic flight home, you can stay a night at Black Estate’s B&B, or right next door at Kumiko’s Guest House – suitable for small and large parties. The region offers a number of other appealing accommodation options including lovingly restored B&Bs, luxury farm stays and glass-roofed Purepods.

If you do opt to head back to Christchurch via the sky, you’ll be treated to striking views of North Canterbury’s coastal sandstone slips, which look similar to England’s White Cliffs of Dover. Flying over Pegasus Bay reveals wide vistas of Banks Peninsula, Christchurch and the Southern Alps, currently with a generous dusting of snow, before you touch back down in the Garden City.