Waitaki Valley Honey with Plums and Basil

Easter break is an opportunity to visit family or to explore other parts of New Zealand over the long weekend.  Receiving a gift of honey and a box stone fruit from my friend Kate has prompted me to take you on a virtual journey to the Waitaki Valley, inland from Oamaru, South Island. 

In less than a month the Waitaki River will be showing its autumn colours
as in this photo courtesy of Tourism Waitaki
Kate White and Peter Irving live in the Waitaki Valley, just out of Kurow.  Peter is an apiarist operating 3,500 hives and Kate manages the business end of the Waitaki Honey Company.

Their honey is the most creamy, soft and delicate honey you could wish for. 

Peter working on the hives; Waitaki Honey export around 80% of
their honey to international markets as New Zealand honey is highly valued overseas.

The plums were the size of nectarines and a beautiful red.   I promised I would bring the dessert to a friend’s for dinner, but with little time to prepare, it had to be simple. I remembered a recipe from the New York Times site that suggested roasting peaches with basil.

I would try basil with the plums instead and use the honey to produce a Waitaki Valley inspired dessert.

Roasted Plums with Honey and Basil  

I cut and stoned the plums and placed them on my blue oven proof plate from an appropriately South Canterbury institution, Temuka Pottery.

The dip in the fruit where the stone had been, I filled with honey and spread a little over the cut surface.  I sprinkled the plums very lightly with cinnamon and some sliced fresh basil.  (I used a good handful for the plate).

I wanted the fruit to caramelise a little, so I put a light dusting of raw sugar over the top.  It’s up to you as to whether you want to add sugar at all.

I didn’t have time to cook the fruit, so I just took the plate and a carton of ice cream, and we cooked at our friends for about 10-15 minutes at around 180C.   The cream of the vanilla icecream with the hot, sweet yet tangy plums worked a treat.  And the basil – well it looked great, and it produced a subtle aniseed flavour.

Basically you can do this with any type of stone fruit.  Roasting brings out the flavours beautifully and it’s so simple.  

Honey when cooked gives the kitchen a wonderful fragrance.  New Zealand honey is widely sought after because of its single floral flavours.
The wild areas where Peter puts his hives allows the bees to flavour his honey with clover, thistle and vipers buglos.  Honey made from vipers buglos is often called Blue Borage but its not the herb borage that we grow in the garden.

This image of vipers buglos was captured by landscape photographer
Gilbert van Reenan.   This is how you see it in areas of central South Island
and Marlborough, especially in dry areas.

Vipers Buglos produces a brown tinted honey with a light herbal bouquet.  It is sought after because it is high in fructose and as such is an excellent sweetener for drinks.  It is supposed to be excellent in coffee as it adds another flavour dimension.

Waitaki Honey is harvested from hives dotted over the remote
high country of the Waitaki and Hakataramea valleys and from the
lake shores and meadows throughout the MacKenzie Country

Honey, unlike sugar, is more than just a sweetener.  It has antioxidants and healing properties. 

The stonefruit Kate sent me came from Waitaki Orchard on Highway 83 just 4km east of Kurow. It’s truly a family run operation. Justin and Julie Watt and their 8 amazing children aged 8 to 18 all work on the orchard.
Kate is an excellent horse woman and took my Peter
for a ride along the back roads near Kurow to show
the growth of vineyards in this newest wine region in NZ
Mt Cook Alpine Salmon, Hot Tubs at Omarama, Benmore Dam
and Lake Ohau
 The Waitaki River is sourced from the Southern Alps and is the lifeblood for all the communities that have grown up along its banks.  Waitaki Valley is a gateway to the Southern Alps and the MacKenzie Country.
Here are some things you can do if you travel to the Valley following the River from the alps to the ocean (with a foodie focus).
  • Cycle the whole valley by doing The Alps2Ocean cycle trail. It’s the longest continuous ride in New Zealand (300 km)from our highest mountain Aoraki Mt Cook finishing in Oamaru. There are still large sections of the trail that are on-road.  Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail
  • Near Lake Pukaki eco-sustainable salmon are farmed in the swift cold currents of snow fed hydro-electricity canals.   The salmon having to work hard against the current produce flesh with more omega 3 and less inter-muscular fat than other ocean bred salmon. Mt Cook Alpine Salmon 
  • High above Lake Ohau is Ohau Snowfield and only 20 minutes away is Ohau Lodge. Many have told me Ohau Lodge is a real retreat at any time of the year and that the food is good. Lake Ohau Lodge and Snowfield  
  •  Hot Tubs Oamarama a good place to soak weary muscles be it from skiing or cycling.Hot Tubs Omarama
  • The Waitaki Valley is New Zealand’s newest wine growing region.  The limestone and mineral rich soils, as well as a long cool growing climate produces aromatic wines such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Reisling. One wine label I have tried and really enjoyed is Waitaki Braid’s Reisling and Pinot Noir.  International chef Peter Gordon recognised the potential of this area and is a part owner of Waitaki Braids. Waitaki Braids Vineyard
  • Duntroon is centre for fossils, rock drawings and nearby at Elephant Rocks incredible limestone formations that look quite out of this world. Visit Vanished World and get a Vanished World Trail Map.  Before you take off exploring you might like to stop for a coffee at The Flying Pig Cafe – reviews are good and its a memorable pink.
  • Near to the mouth of the broad-braided Waitaki is the famous Riverstone River Cafe where chef Bevan Smith and his team produce fresh regional food, much of it from Riverstone’s own kitchen garden.
  • Thanks to Tourism Waitaki for providing me with images to use. 

Elephant Rocks, The Flying Pig Cafe, Ohau Snowfield, and
Riverstone Cafe

An early morning view Peter often sees in the MacKenzie Country on the way to his hives

“Paradise found…heavenly nectar”, the opening lines to Waitaki Honey Company website – couldn’t agree more, about the place and the honey.


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