New Zealand is famed for its extraordinary food, from the gate to the plate, the sea to the pan, the market stall to your salad bowl. And you don’t have to go out of your way to experience astonishingly fresh and flavoursome foods.
Shop fresh at farmers’ gates
Whatever the season, if you’re driving around New Zealand, you’ll never be far from a roadside stall selling everything from avocados to kiwifruit, berries and juices. Be sure to try juicy feijoas in early autumn – like a cross between a pineapple and a banana – there are few countries in the world where they grow so easily. If you’re almost anywhere in the North Island over summer, gorge on strawberries, sweet corn and watermelon. At the same time in Central Otago in the South Island, stone fruit including cherries, apricots and peaches are at their glorious peak.
From early summer to late autumn, roadside and farm gate stalls sell all manner of fresh produce and preserves. Drive slowly, keep your eyes peeled and have small change on hand as many operators either use honesty boxes (pay for your produce into a locked container) or don’t take cards.
Buy local at farmers’ markets
Increasingly fashionable, farmers’ markets keep the food miles low and quality high. Paihia, in the historic Bay of Islands, hosts a pop-up market every Thursday afternoon on the Village Green. With smoked fish, cheeses, artisan breads, eggs and vine-ripened tomatoes, this is the perfect picnic stock-up spot. Many of the same stallholders head to nearby Kerikeri on Saturday mornings. On Sunday mornings in rural Waikato, Hamilton’s Te Rapa Racecourse turns itself over to baked goods, fruit and vegetables, meat, coffee and entertainment while picturesque Clevedon, south of Auckland, has fresh local oysters, among other delicacies.
An estimated 50,000 loyal locals and passing tourists flock to farmers’ markets every week seeking seasonal, sustainably produced food. Be sure to travel with a cooler (called a chilly bin in New Zealand), utensils and napkins to make the most of eating well on the road.
Pick your own fresh fruit
Across New Zealand, many farmers welcome genuine, respectful gatherers to pick their own produce. Bag berries in West Auckland, Nelson and Waikato or try your hand at plucking nashi pears from Gary and Lynda’s Orchard on the outskirts of Christchurch. Coal Creek Farm in Roxburgh on the South Island has apricots and cherries, while Mrs Jones’ Fruit Orchard outside Cromwell grows everything from cherries to apricots, plums, apples and pears. Or try hunting with the charming Tom Loughlin from Kai Waho (translation: outdoor cuisine), who calls hunting “walking with guns”. You might just bring home the bacon.
Always check ahead of time that farms are open for self-picking as most are working farms. Websites such as pickyourown.org give details of orchards and farms or visit the NZ Fruit and Foodshare map on Google maps.
Lodgings, restaurants focused on food
Many boutique B&Bs and farmstays welcome visitors who are eager to experience rural life. Gather your own eggs at The Manse in Hawkes Bay or enjoy a taste of rural living from the kitchen garden and orchard at Sherwood in Queenstown. Spend a night at Hapuku Treehouses and dive for paua (abalone) and crayfish fresh from the sea. Or simply enjoy bread, stock, ice cream and even peanut butter, all made in-house. Pay a visit to Roots Restaurant in Lyttelton, near Christchurch, where almost all the produce is grown or foraged for close to the restaurant.
Establishments at which the owners grow or source their produce locally are becoming more common as diners favour food that hasn’t travelled far – even if the diner has come a long way. To find out more, contact the owners before you arrive, most will be happy to help.
Aquaculture is alive and well
At Huka Prawn Farm, 10 minutes’ drive north of Taupo and not far from the famous Huka Falls, guests can fish for their own prawns in freshwater ponds. Once you’ve bagged your fill, have the prawns cooked up in the riverside restaurant or take them home and do it yourself. If you book ahead, Mahurangi Oysters north of Auckland near Warkworth take oyster lovers out on their boat, the Shuckleferry. For a few hours, owners Andrew and Lisa teach all there is to know about oysters while guests enjoy freshly shucked delicacies with local beer, wine and juice.
Huka Prawn Park is open throughout the year, except Christmas Day, with longer hours during summer. It also offers guided tours of the prawn nursery and hatchery. Mahurangi Oysters hosts a two-hour tour for $80 per person, with bookings essential. Or buy fresh molluscs direct from their gate.