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Calling all foodie adventurers. Look no further – here's how to find and enjoy New Zealand’s passionate producers devoted to pleasing your palate.
But first a little history…
As one of the last British outposts we were obviously heavily influenced by our colonial forebears, the long suffering New Zealander had to put up with a staple diet that consisted mainly of meat and three veg, followed by stodgy pudding and weak tea. The only thing present that looked close to a herb was a good dollop of tomato sauce. We had a long road ahead of us.
Inspired by the old-world culinary Meccas of France, Italy and beyond, jet setting kiwi youth returned from their ‘OE’ (overseas experience) and demanded change; they turned their noses up at mum's ‘Bangers and Mash’, cringed at the ever reliable 'Bread and Butter Custard Pudding' and overnight we were transformed from a nation who cherished rugby, racing and beer into a nation of connoisseurs, a nation of proud food, wine and craft beer lovers.
The culinary revolution was upon us. We diligently fine-tuned our palates, corrected our pronunciation of 'degustation' and as if by magic our wines started winning international awards, our chefs were gaining global recognition, coffee culture was becoming firmly entrenched – “New Zealand has more roasters per capita than anywhere in the world,” we bragged. We had arrived!
Perhaps it was the GFC or it could be in response to climate change, whatever the case, the story is once again changing. The ‘high-end culinary experience’ no longer fits the bill; innovative young chefs are winding back the clock (ever so slightly) ‘From the paddock to the plate’ has become the new mantra, fresh seasonal flavours, regional farming, boutique local artisan food products and farmers markets are the new buzzwords, challenging patrons to think more deeply into how and where their food is produced. As if in unison farmers are also changing their tune with ‘sustainability’ and ‘organics’ leading the charge.
Here is a quick guide to ‘New Zealand Cuisine’ and who we think are truly passionate about pleasing your pallet when you set out to explore New Zealand by its local flavours.
Sometimes you feel like you are living on an island within an island residing in the ‘City of Sails’ surrounded by water. Its fertile volcanic soils and a temperate climate guarantee fine fresh produce, but let's not forget the fresh fish caught in the gulf or the superb wine made in the west of the region.
Join Elle Armon-Jones AKA ‘the Big Foodie’ on a tantalising tour around this exciting multicultural city. Elle takes you around the city centre to visit award winning restaurants and cafes and out to the suburbs where you visit local producers, farmers markets, and much more.
Waiheke Island is to Auckland as the Hamptons are to New York – the former being on a much smaller scale. Home to beautiful beaches and holiday homes, Waiheke Island punches above its weight and produces some outstanding wines – Syrah has become well regarded – and the Stonyridge Larouse requires that one wait on a list to become eligible to buy. Just a 35-minute boat ride away from the city, the island lends itself nicely to a lazy day of sampling great food and wine staring out over the Pacific. A natural complement to the fine wines you will taste on Waiheke is a range of hand-made specialty foods all locally-grown.
The name ‘Ananda’ gives you a glimpse into the island's hippy past, derived from the principal disciple of the Buddha. Ananda Tours have been showing guests the delights of Waiheke for decades. Although you wont see any flower patterned VW kombis these days you will certainly get a chance to visit the island's best vineyards and eateries. Stony Batter is a must stop with the cellar door nestled on the water's edge – fancy a cold Rose as you dip your toes in the ocean.
Hawke’s Bay is on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island and is blessed with a sunny, Mediterranean-style climate and being one of New Zealand’s warmest, driest regions it is no wonder it is the leading producer of red wine and often referred to as the ‘Food Basket’ of New Zealand. Also known for its artisan gourmet foods, beautiful Art Deco architecture and glorious beaches – Hawke’s Bay has all the ingredients for a great place to visit.
Grant Petherick has over 25 years of experience in the wine industry and has a knack for tailor-making gourmet tours to suit individual needs, giving you exclusive access to the finest wine and food Hawke's Bay has on offer. From Saffron to olive oil, truffles to chili lime marmalade, your taste buds will be teased.
It says it in the name Greg Beachen from Grape Escape runs small group tours that offer a great overview of the wines produced in the region with options to savour local produce along the way.
Wairarapa’s Martinborough and Greytown – Self Guided
Martinborough is just an hour's drive north of Wellington and is the centre of the Wairarapa wine region. Some of New Zealand’s best and certainly most expensive wines come from here and with everything being boutique and compact you can park your car in the local town square and stroll to the vineyards, there is quite a selection with more than 20 to choose from.
Now for some food: Just up the road is Greytown with its historical Victorian buildings and stately tree-lined avenues, Greytown has been described as the prettiest town in the North Island and a must-see if you happen to be doing the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. Greytown has a great selection of chic cafés, restaurants and pubs alongside well regarded antique shops and boutiques galleries – perfect for an afternoon of eating and shopping.
Dubbed the” Coolest Little Capital In The World” by Lonely Planet, it is also known as the ‘culinary capital’ and is famous for its hidden bars with award-winning bartenders, quirky cafes and top of the line restaurants – Whether you’re a wine or culinary aficionado or a craft beer connoisseur, Wellington has a range of flavours that is sure to delight.
Zest Food Tours
Explore Wellington’s favorite hidden gems with a four-hour ‘Walking Gourmet Tour’ - a great way to navigate through this compact city meeting owners, coffee roasters, baristas and chefs, followed by a delicious three-course tasting lunch with matched kiwi wines at a top restaurant.
Synonymous with the Marlborough region is its world-class Sauvignon Blanc. A backdrop of rugged mountain ranges, fertile plains and picturesque waterways with thriving aquaculture, Marlborough has a lot to offer from its wilderness, waterways and wine – best you make sure your holiday includes Marlborough.
Marlborough Travel has a unique wine and food cruise experience through the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. Take in the natural beauty of this serene environment; your skipper will share fascinating stories of the ancient Maori tribes that lived here and hear history of the pioneering families who settled over six generations ago. Visit a Greenshell Mussel farm where your launch captain will explain the intricacies of growing this delicacy in the Sounds. While at the mussel farm you will be served freshly steamed mussels with a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, a wonderful wine and food match in a beautiful part of Marlborough.
With over 150 bars and restaurants, this city has gained reputation for great wine and exceptional food. Local growers, winemakers and chefs are passionate about their region and with a supply of outstanding produce sourced locally inspire some amazing menus bound to please the fussiest of wine and food lovers. Central Otago is the world’s most southerly wine region and it is here you will find great Pinot Noir, one of the holy grails for wine fans, so a locally hosted food and wine tour is just the ticket to enjoy the district fully.
Join Wendy Johnston and Phillip Green and their team at ‘Appellation Central Otago Wine Tours’ . Enjoy a relaxed day sampling fine cuisine while tasting some of New Zealand’s premium cool-climate wines in Cromwell, Gibbston Valley and Bannockburn – areas of unrivalled scenic beauty. Walk through New Zealand’s largest underground wine cave, sample local cheeses and finish up with a platter lunch at Northburn Station.
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