7 ways to eat and drink your way through New Zealand

New Zealand puts emphasis on fresh and local with plenty of farmers markets, world-class wine, and food festivals worth the trip.

Up until the 1980s, traditional New Zealand fare was meat, potatoes, and three veg, usually boiled or roasted. Simple. Hardy. Rather bland.

Enter the foodie revolution.

“I'm evolving as a chef because of our guests,” says Jacqueline Smith, the personal chef at The Landing, a luxury heritage and conservation property located in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. “They want fresh and organic. They want to experience New Zealand’s amazing diversity and beauty on a plate.”

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Chef Jacqueline Smith harvesting herbs in the Cooper Residence garden at the Landing.

Smith grew up in Dunedin on a family farm, gathering eggs, hunting, and helping her grandmother in the garden. “If we didn’t have something, we’d share or barter,” she says. “Food was a communal thing. I remember helping my Nana bake, stirring the ingredients. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m in my own little world, right back with my family, and I think it’s like that for a lot of New Zealanders. The farm-to-table experience is nostalgia.”

Keen to taste New Zealand for yourself? Here are seven experiences to whet your appetite:

Wine Tasting

With 10 diverse wine regions—Northland, Auckland, Waikato/Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury/Waipara Valley, and Central Otago—ranging from chilly, rocky landscapes to lush and languorous rolling hills, wine-touring in New Zealand matches the wines themselves for popularity. Follow the Classic Wine Trail for a journey through regions producing more than 80 percent of New Zealand’s wine, or set your own course— just follow the vines.

The Landing

This Bay of Islands property contains six beaches, a vineyard and residences.

Wellington on a Plate

This feast for the masses is the ultimate food festival, with set menus, cocktails, and a packed schedule of culinary events. It takes place the last two weeks of August in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington.

Farmers Markets

Farmers markets take place regularly throughout New Zealand, from Wellington’s Harbourside Market, the oldest and most popular in Wellington and a Sunday tradition for most locals, to Kerikeri’s Old Packhouse Market, held every Saturday, a favorite place to meet up for coffee and a produce browse.

Hokitika Wildfoods Festival

Located on the west coast of the South Island, Hokitika has a Wild West feel about it, and this annual fall festival is a celebration of all things wild. Taste exotic delicacies like huhu grubs, enjoy a traditional Māori hāngī (where food is cooked in underground pits), and indulge in gourmet creations.

Traditional Farm Lunch

Walter Peak Station offers a high-country station experience, including a traditional barbecue lunch. Located across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown, the farm gives visitors a taste of New Zealand’s formative history, from the crossing aboard the TSS Earnslaw, a historic steamship, to a working farm experience. This is an ideal outing for families.

Feasting on Fruit in Cromwell

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Tamarillos and kumara are sold from a truck in Awanui, New Zealand. Cromwell is known for its bountiful stalls but across New Zealand you may find roadside vendors and impromptu markets around any turn.

Located on the South Island, Cromwell is one of New Zealand’s fruit baskets. Roadside stalls abound, overflowing with cherries, apricots, apples, pears, plums, and peaches on offer from December through March. (Keep an eye out for other delicacies, like fresh fruit ice cream, local honey, salad dressings, chutneys, and wine.)

Bluff Oyster & Food Festival

An annual autumn event held in the southern town of Bluff, this festival’s tagline is “unsophisticated and proud of it,” which sums up Bluff’s rustic, rough-and-ready personality. Sample oysters and wild fare like muttonbirds to the accompaniment of live music.

Carrie Miller is a New Zealand-based writer, traveler, and storyteller for National Geographic Traveler magazine and other publications. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
Krista Rossow is a contributing photographer to National Geographic Travel. You can follow her on instagram @kristarossow.