One thing visitors ought to taste is Rotorua’s array of food experiences. No longer a ‘country cousin’ when it comes to food; Rotorua will surprise those who take the time to uncover some of its foodie secrets.
Be they stylish, interesting, fabulous or just plain funky, good cafes serving great coffee are easy to find . . . Zippy Central, Lime Caffeteria, Capers Epicurean, Picnic Cafe, The Library Store, Fat Dog, Third Place Café and Okere Falls Store are among those that spring to mind.
Loaded with personality, they provide real points of difference. For instance Third Place, run by a charitable trust, is committed to the local community and wider social needs and is mainly staffed by volunteers. LakeRotoiti’s Okere Falls Store is known as much for its casual food and coffee as it is for its ethical, sustainable attitude, so look out for the composting toilet and worm farm. It also recently featured on TV3’s Café Secrets show fronted by Julie Le Clerc.
Capers Epicurean has twice been named Rotorua’s Cafe of the Year (2011 and 2009) in CAFE magazine's national Best Cafe Awards.The owners of the new European-styled Picnic Café have a long history of successful destination cafes with special touches; this time its embroidered picnic blankets for customers using the pavement seating. Not surprisingly the homely Le Café de Paris attracts the French-speaking crowd, where Alain and Valérie Janin host monthly French Chat mornings to encourage those keen to practice their French.
Although known as a mountain bikers’ haunt, Zippy’s great coffee, food and constant buzz attracts a huge fan base.
While Rotorua has long been the benchmark for hangi food offered as part of a Maori cultural experience, indigenous food is no longer limited to the hangi pit.
Maori chef Charles Royal, New Zealand’s Innovative Chef of the Year in 2003,has led the way in bringing some of these amazing flavours, like kawakawa, horopito and pikopiko fern, to the table. He also offers food trails and cooking classes.
Ervin Garde, the executive chef at the Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort’s Mokoia Restaurant, is also an innovator. His menu focuses on quality Rotorua produce infused with indigenous herbs and spices. In fact, the restaurant lays claim to being NZ’s only fine dining restaurant incorporating indigenous herbs and spices – and are the only one able to showcase pukerau, the Mokoia Island mushroom, during the January-March season. Unknown anywhere else in New Zealand, the pukerau has a distinct yet delicate favour not unlike a truffle.
Charlie Brown is yet another local star. He’s the host chef for Hamurana Lodge’s Le Manoir, the country’s first - and only organic - lodge restaurant and uses only organic ingredients and locally sourced produce including vegetables and herbs from the lodge’s own organic garden.
Bistro 1284 also ranks as one of Rotorua’s long-standing food heroes; racking up 10 prestigious Lamb and Beef Hallmark of Excellence Awards and nine Best Rotorua Restaurant Awards in Michael Guy’s Eating Out Guide in the past decade.
Relaxed summertime entertainment is easy to come by too. The Mexican - offering tequila and tacos to die for- has quickly become a firm favourite with locals and visitors for their fun themed cocktails as well as their food. The Regent of Rotorua’s summer poolside options include live acoustic guitar music, cocktails and tapas every Sunday afternoon throughout January, February and March. The historic Blue Baths is also geared up for summer with a new musical theatre production called, 1931: THE SHOW, plus live entertainment on the Terrace overlooking Government Gardens most summer dayscomplemented by a range of casual food like tapas and tasting plattersfrom the Summertime Bar. Young professional musicians and singers will be performing live on the terrace as part of the Blue Baths own summer mentoring programme entitled EMERGE.
DIY foodies will want to find time to visit the Saturday morning market in Kuirau Park as well as the weekly night market on Thursdays. Both have a great range of fresh fruit, vegetables plus lots of ethnic food options.
And let’s not forget the humble pie and chips. Patrick Lam of Rotorua’s Gold Star Bakeries has won the coveted Bakels Supreme Pie of the Year an exceptional four times with mince and cheese (2003), gourmet meat (2004 and 2009) and bacon and egg (2010). Down the road Oppies Fish and Chips wasnamed New Zealand’s top chip shop for 2011.
Fancy a beer to wash down the pie and chips? Try a locally brewed, award-wining Croucher beer on tap at the new BREW craft beer pub or maybe a handle of the historic Pig ‘n’ Whistle pub’s own Swine Lager. ‘The Pig’ is one of the city’s entertainment hubs too.