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From orchard to popular cafe and wedding venue

From orchard to popular cafe and wedding venue

Travel northeast from Alexandra, past orchards, vineyards and the gold and green patchwork of Central Otago. Hidden among the trees near the western end of Dunstan Rd, there is a driveway winding through lush green foliage. It leads to an oasis among the often barren brown landscape of the region. Like the archetypal desert oasis, this one also provides food and drink. The Orchard Garden Cafe and Function Centre at 576 Dunstan Rd really is an orchard - or used to be. When Wendy Robertson and Dale Butcher bought the property in 1988, it was one of nine family orchards in the area, the product of post-war resettlement blocks. Mr Butcher said 10 years after the couple moved in, when they decided to stop operating the orchard, theirs was the only one left. Closing the orchard meant more time to focus on the cafe and hosting functions, and while some of the fruit trees still stand, the produce is used only in the kitchen. Ms Robertson said running a cafe on site was an idea that stemmed from requests by family and friends to host functions on the property. The venue slowly evolved to what it is today, and Ms Robertson has only missed hosting one of the approximately 500 weddings that have been held at the Orchard Garden. As well as outdoor and indoor dining, two function areas next to the cafe, which has a capacity of 50, the "Shed" and the "Old Tractor Shed", can seat up to 180 or 40, respectively. Ms Robertson describes the fare as "casual cafe food but not from a cabinet". "It's home-made with a bit of a modern twist, but there is nothing that granddad would not recognise." An important part of the service and menu at the cafe was catering for the "locals" who supported the business daily, she said. A glance at the menu will reveal options such as an open beef fillet sandwich with caramelised beetroot, feta and rocket, a warm scallop and bacon salad, carrot, pumpkin and pine nut fritters with salad, and a salmon, leek and baby pea filo parcel. Dessert options and children's meals are available, and the wine list features a who's who of Central Otago wineries. The couple have established extensive gardens with clearings, pathways, hedges, grottoes and ponds, laid out so the explorer will find a new area at each turn. As well as the gardens, the large hedge maze on site provides enough walking to burn off any excessive indulgence during lunch. Access to and from the Otago Central Rail Trail is also available down a tree-lined avenue, providing an option to cycle or walk to and from a meal.

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