The land of the long white cloud literally drips with milk and honey, making it heaven for food and wine lovers. We pick 10 of the best New Zealand taste experiences.
1. Dine on Bluff oysters
A coveted oyster from the deep south of New Zealand, bluff oysters are in season from March until August. You’ll find them everywhere from supermarkets to up-market eateries; some menus offer Bluff-oyster shots. Some of the best can be had at Logan Brown (loganbrown.co.nz), a restaurant in a former bank building in Wellington, and at Oyster Cove (oystercove.co.nz) in the town of Bluff itself with its spectacular 180-degree views of Ruapuki, Dog and Stewart islands. The town also hosts the annual Bluff Oyster Festival in May. Be sure to try this local delicacy.
2. Lunch at the Lodge
The legendary Huka Lodge (hukalodge.co.nz) on the banks of the fast-flowing Waikato River in Taupo, on the North Island, pioneered the luxury lodge concept that New Zealand does so well. If your budget doesn’t extend to staying here, book for lunch or dinner. You can dine in the classic Virginia Fisher-designed interiors or, if the weather is fine, alfresco on a private deck overlooking the river beside a roaring outdoor fireplace. Bookings must be made in advance with priority given to in-house guests.
3. Sample New Zealand “caviar”
Described as a “religion” by Booker-winning Kiwi novelist Keri Hulme, and New Zealand’s “caviar” by others, whitebait has long been an iconic part of New Zealand life. Unlike European whitebait (small herrings), NZ whitebait are the young of galaxiids which live in freshwater rivers and lakes. During whitebaiting season, August to November, visitors and locals flock to the region’s rivers with nets and buckets in the hope of catching some “white gold”. Seasonally it’s on the menu at restaurants, pubs and fish and chips shops across both islands. Monteiths Brewery (monteiths.co.nz ) in the West Coast town of Greymouth does a delicious whitebait fritter (or patty), while Cibo (cibo.co.nz) in the upmarket Auckland suburb of Parnell offers a couple of fancy versions.
4. Do the hokey pokey
Kiwis claim Tip Top ice-cream may just be the best in the southern hemisphere, and hokey pokey (a flavor combining French vanilla with honeycomb toffee) is far and away the biggest seller (five million litres annually). You can buy tubs of hokey pokey from supermarkets or the local dairy (mama shop), while ice-cream and gelato bars often sell the popular old-school flavour.
5. Cruise Ponsonby road
If you’re staying in Auckland, dinner at the bustling Blue Breeze Inn (thebluebreezeinn.co.nz) on Ponsonby Road, the inner-city suburb’s thriving retail and restaurant strip, is a must. Tuck into inspired rum cocktails and a plate of steamed buns with pork belly at this hip Chinese-fusion restaurant. Afterwards have a nightcap at SPQR (spqrnz.co.nz) and soak up the cool urban vibe.
6. Eat on the wild side
Treetops Lodge at Rotorua offers a fascinating foraging and cooking class (treetops.co.nz/cooking-experience). The half-day Wild Food Cooking Experience includes a four-whee;-drive tour of the lodge’s 2,500 acre eco forest, a stroll through the bush collecting indigenous herbs and spices and a cooking class back at the lodge using the foraged fare.
7. Taste the South Pacific
Watch boats bobbing on the tide as you dine alfresco under a magnificent pohutukawa tree at Kawau Beach House, set on the serene Vivian Bay on Kawau Island. Host and chef Andrew Cullen serves South Pacific cuisine with a twist made from the best of fresh, local ingredients. Think local prawns with avocado and pomegranate, or seared salmon fillet with lemon risotto and orange mustard glaze. Kawau Beach House is reached via scheduled ferry service or water taxi from Sandpit, an hour’s drive north of Auckland. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.
8. Catch your own salmon
Sitting at 677 metres, Mt Cook Alpine Salmon at Tekapo is the highest salmon farm in the world. Pick up some fresh or smoked salmon from Lake Pukaki Visitor Centre for a picnic beside the lake with the backdrop of New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki (Mt Cook). If you feel adventurous, you can fish for your own salmon in mountain rivers such as the Ahuriri and Tekapo during the open season from early October through to late April. Mt Cook Alpine Salmon is served as sashimi, grilled and smoked in many fine dining restaurants around New Zealand.
9. Follow the Wine Trail
Experience three of New Zealand’s best wine regions on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail (wellingtonnz.com/classic-new-zealand-wine-trail): Hawke’s Bay, Martinborough and Marlborough. You can cycle the vines or be chauffeur driven to some of the many cellar doors open for tasting and stop at a vineyard restaurant for lunch. Hawke’s Bay is well-known for Bordeaux-style blends, syrah and chardonnay, Martinborough boasts wonderful pinot noir, and Marlborough has world-class sauvignon blanc.
10. Experience a Maori hangi
Taste the smoky flavours and enjoy the communal experience of a hāngī, the indigenous Māori version of a roast dinner is cooked in the earth using hot rocks. Hāngī experiences typically include a traditional welcome ceremony and cultural performance and can be found in Rotorua, Northland and Christchurch. Smaller, more exclusive experiences are found at Kai Waho at Lake Taupo, Charles Royal in Rotorua and Waimarama Maori Tours, in Hawkes Bay. Or pick up a takeaway hāngī from Kiwi Kau Rotorua.