Whether you have an insatiable hunger for dramatic scenery, outdoor adventure or you are in love with gourmet food as much as I am, then New Zealand’s North Island will satisfy your appetite. I’m not here to talk about the pretty outlook or riding rapids, I just want to share with you mouth-watering dishes and fresh produce.
From the moment you touch down in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, you don’t have to venture too far to uncover some of the best restaurants and produce in the country. Think plump, sweet strawberries, freshest of fresh king fish, naked natural oysters and the famous wines all ready to be greedily consumed on your North Island gourmand getaway. Farmers markets and exciting restaurants capture the best of what the “land of the long white cloud” has on offer.
One of my favourite Kiwi chefs, Al Brown, is kicking big round golden goals with his NZ interpretation of the Montreal-bagel at his newest establishment, ‘Best Ugly’. I know what you are asking “why Best Ugly?” Think about it. If you were punched, rolled, boiled and fired, you wouldn’t be looking your best either. Al first discovered his love of the hand-made, wood fired bagel while living in Montreal back in the 80’s, and like the idiosyncratic hairstyles of the time, each of his bagels are individually hand-rolled, simmered in honey-water and then fired using NZ’s famed Manuka hard wood.
You would be forgiven for thinking you are on holiday in Japan when you enter “Everybody’s bar and eatery, as executive chef Nick Honeyman has taken Izakaya style as his muse when designing his menus. In urban Japan, Izakaya is a popular drinking establishment which serves inexpensive food to be shared and to accompany the drinks. My pick of the menu is the sashimi King fish as the cold clear waters surrounding New Zealand is the perfect breeding ground for the most incredible seafood. Of course all dishes should be washed down with a little sip of sake.
For a real local delicacy, stop off at La Cigale French Markets for a popular kiwiana snack. Among the artisan breads and pastry stalls is the very simple white bait fritter served on top of white bread and lots of salt and pepper.
If you’re after a break from the dining table and feel the need to get active, then get to Havelock North in the Hawkes Bay region, jump on a push-bike and pedal around on a food tour tasting all the local fare along the way. Loads of companies offer cycling food tours, but make sure you request a stop-over for the chance to PYO (pick-your-own) strawberries at The Strawberry Patch. My step-by-step guide to picking your strawberries is pretty simple – pick the biggest reddest strawberries you can find! My (very) sweet tooth gorged on quite a few and you can always wash them down with a real fruit smoothie. Just a little indulgent!
Now I am known to love a drop of vino (or two) and The Hawkes Bay region is famous for producing some of the world’s best wines. Craggy Range Winery is nestled at the base of Te Mata Peak and the view from the cellar door sales has an impressive outlook of this rocky mountain. They are most famous for their elegant syrah, cabernet sauvignon and merlot wines and what’s most exciting is it is widely available in Australia! Keep an eye out on their website for their many long lunches and food festivals held at the winery, you might just be there at the right time to celebrate with the locals.
Bay of Islands
The whole of the North Island of New Zealand is bulging with incredible produce, from the Hawkes Bay in the south up to the Bay of Islands region right up on the northern tip and it is here you will discover one of my favourite delicacies – oysters.
The Orongo Bay oysters are a speciality of the Bay and are defined by their round plump shape with a fresh light seawater taste. I have a penchant for slurping them straight from the opened shell bought directly from the shop at the oyster farm, but if you prefer, head to the Duke of Marlborough Hotel where the salty molluscs are served with white balsamic, lemon and Tabasco sauce.