David Whitely sets out on a gastronomic journey to discover which New Zealand locations taste best.
One of my favourite ways to get to know a country is through its food. And I’d heard that New Zealand is a food-lovers paradise. That everything the locals sow, grow, rear and catch seems to turn to gastronomic gold. Oh, and what they ferment is pretty good too.
I wanted to taste it all. But rarely can good intentions have gone astray so quickly. The idea was to hop on the ferry from Auckland, go walking for a few hours, then head back. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to go for a walk on Waiheke Island without passing a winery. Pick the right circuit and you’ll end up trundling past a whole bunch of them.
The Cable Bay winery sums up the prevailing mood of Waiheke – it feels like a rich man’s escape, with helicopters landing outside and weekend breakers tucking into lunch on the terrace. Sampling a few wines doesn’t break the bank however – even if carrying the ones you buy afterwards makes the walk a bit more of a challenge.
Mudbrick is the next along the route and again the lure of trundling up the hill for a few tastings is too strong to resist. The guy behind the counter patiently explains the citrus and passionfruit flavours I should be looking for as I work my way through the list. I end up coming away with extra bottles of rosé and viognier, then clank my way round the rest of the walk like it’s an army training exercise, albeit with bottles weighing down the backpack instead of bricks.
It’s a fitting starting point for a drive across the North Island that becomes increasingly food and drink themed. The cow-strewn hillsides of the King Country show just how important the dairy and beef industries are to the country, while have-a-go prawn and trout fisheries congregate around Lake Taupo.
Return ferries to Waiheke Island from Auckland cost NZD $36 with Fullers. The three hour Church Bay circuit passes numerous wineries.
Fish for prawns plus take a tour of the nursery and hatchery at the Huka Prawn Park in Taupo.
Go to the Bluff Oyster and Food Festival at the bottom of the South Island. And if the festival’s not on while you’re there, gorge on oysters anyway. It’s the rules.
Tuck in to a hangi – a meal cooked in an earth oven – after a ceremonial welcome at the Tamaki Maori Village near Rotorua.
Indulge your sweet tooth with a range of chocolate-making classes at She Chocolat in Christchurch. Lessons range from tempering and truffle-making to mixing chocolate with savoury dishes.
Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Auckland Fish Market, watching fish being filleted, taking an exclusive peek at the processing area and learning about the industry from boat to restaurant table. You can follow it up with a seafood cookery class upstairs.
Wellington may be the craft beer consumption capital of New Zealand, but Nelson bills itself as the craft brewing capital – a lot of hops are grown round there. JJ’s Quality Tours has an option that dips into some of the area’s best craft breweries.
Delve into the world of bourbons, blends and single malts on one of the regular whisky tastings at the House of Whiskey NZD in Auckland. The 101 class goes through the basics – talking you through how whisky is made and why Scotches have such a range of tastes. Master Classes are available for the advanced palate.
Central Otago is the world’s most southerly wine region. Appellation Central runs seriously knowledgeable tasting tours through the area from Queenstown – with a focus on some of the planet’s best pinot noirs.
The perennially popular tour of the Speight’s Brewery in Dunedin takes visitors through the history of beer and how it’s made before finishing with a generous sampling session.
For a wine tour with a twist, On Yer Bike offers self-guided cycling tours around the wineries of Hawke’s Bay. They give you the bike and a route map, then off you go.