Central North Island is one of the best for discovering traditional Maori food. It's also known for excellent wines, fruit orchards and food producers.
Two touring routes meander through the Central North Island, both ending in Hawke's Bay - a premier food and wine destination. The Thermal Explorer Highway leads to geothermally-farmed prawns and traditional hangi food; the Pacific Explorer Highway lets you follow the coast to discover seafood, fruit and sensational wines.
With its gloriously sunny weather, endless beaches and vast river plains framed by forested mountain ranges, the Hawke’s Bay region is a place to satisfy all your senses.
Boutique accommodation within vineyards allows you to immerse yourself in the region’s food and wine culture. Or you could stay in a restored historic hotel, where every meal is a work of art.
Local growers and artisan food producers keep the region’s chefs inspired with exceptional ingredients - follow the gourmet trail to discover cheese, honey, olives, chocolate and much more. A weekly highlight is the traditional farmers’ market in Napier, a city renowned for its Art Deco buildings.
Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s second-largest wine region. Alluvial soils and a distinctly Mediterranean climate produce sophisticated, concentrated reds and weighty, finely-structured chardonnays.
Hiring a mountain bike is a novel way to tour the vineyards, or you can easily organise a driver to whisk you from one cellar door to the next.
Around lunchtime, you’ll want to find yourself near a vineyard restaurant - like the one at Brookfields, where exceptional provincial cuisine is perfectly matched local wine.
Heading south from Auckland into the Hamilton - Waikato region, you might be tempted to pause at Mercer - a highway stop that is known for bacon and ice cream. Otherwise, save your appetite for Hamilton’s Victoria Street cafes - there are plenty to choose from.
Just outside Hamilton, in Ohaupo, Vilagrad Wines offers tours and tastings - phone ahead to make a booking.
Two attractions not to be missed in the Hamilton - Waikato region are Hobbiton Movie Set and the Waitomo Caves. In Matamata you can wander through Hobbiton Movie Set, featured in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies. Visit Bilbo's house, have a pint at the Green Dragon Inn and dance under the Party Tree.
In Waitomo you'll be astounded by the underground labyrinth of limestone caves decorated with sparkling glowworms. While various forms of caving are the main attraction here, the historic Waitomo Caves Hotel has very comfortable accommodation and a choice of restaurants.
In Rotorua you can arrange an indigenous food tour with Charles Royal, an innovative Maori chef who uses his knowledge of traditional cooking methods and native herbs to keep you entertained and well fed.
Or, for an authentic historic experience, book a tour at the Tamaki Maori Village. A hangi feast, cooked in an earth oven, is part of the entertainment.
You’ll see steam rising from geothermal areas almost everywhere you go in Rotorua. At the village of Whakawerawera this underground energy is used for cooking, a tradition that began around 600 years ago when Maori first settled in the region.
The lakeside town of Taupo also has geothermal attractions, and it’s the only place in the world where you can eat prawns grown in geothermally-heated water. You can even fish for them yourself at Huka Prawn Park.
The Great Lake Taupo region has plenty of top-quality cafes and restaurants on offer; local favourites include Replete Café & Store, Vine Eatery and Crafty Trout Brewery.
If you're starting from Auckland, a great start to this foodie road trip is a stop at Clevedon Coast Oysters, which is on the coastal road out of Auckland. Then it’s on to the Coromandel Peninsula, where seafood is always on the menu.
As well as favourites like snapper and terakihi, you can enjoy crayfish, paua (abalone), oysters, mussels and scallops. In Coromandel town there’s a smoking company, for naturally smoked seafood of every kind. On the other side of the peninsula, Tairua is famous for its fish and chips.
The Bay of Plenty is a huge bay with plenty of wonderful food experiences. Everything seems to flourish in this green and pleasant land, including grapes. Call into Morton Estate near Katikati or check out the Mills Reef Winery in Tauranga.
Mount Maunganui is a favourite with holidayers; it’s a surf town with a never-ending beach and no shortage of eating places.
If you want to see where kiwifruit come from, Te Puke should be on your agenda. Hundreds of local growers produce millions of trays of traditional green and luscious gold kiwifruit that are shipped worldwide.
At Kiwi 360 you can have a kiwifruit theme park experience, complete with orchard tour and kiwi cuisine.
Whakatane is a stylish seaside town where you can visit White Island, an offshore marine volcano, and enjoy innovative eating at the local cafes.
Head around East Cape to sunny Gisborne. Known as the Chardonnay capital of New Zealand, Gisborne has also gained a reputation for Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris. There's a comprehensive wine trail to follow, and an informative wine centre in the city to get you started.
Apart from delicious whites and great gourmet food, this small, laid back city is rich in Maori culture and boasts some of the country's best surf beaches.