The Greenwood Guide to New Zealand
New Zealand

To browse our Eating and Drinking recommendations click on one of the following areas:

Auckland (Auckland & islands, West Auckland coast) :: Bay of Plenty (Rotorua, White Island) :: Canterbury (Christchurch, Kaikoura) :: Central Plateau (Taupo, Tongariro Nat Pk) :: Coromandel (Coromandel Town, Whitianga) :: East Coast (Gisbourne) :: Hawke's Bay (Napier, Hastings) :: Marlborough (Picton, Blenheim) :: Nelson (Nelson, Abel Tasman Nat Pk) :: Northland (Bay of Islands, Whangarei) :: Otago (Queenstown, Dunedin, Wanaka) :: Southland (Fiordland Nat Pk, Stewart Island) :: Taranaki (New Plymouth, Mt Taranaki) :: Waikato and King Country (Waitomo, Raglan) :: Wairarapa (Martinborough) :: Wanganui and Manawatu (Taihape, Palmerston North) :: Wellington (Wellington, Kapiti Coast) :: West Coast (Fox & Franz Josef glaciers, Greymouth)

Eating and Drinking

Being well-travelled, sophisticated gourmets, you will be pleased to hear that there are few things that you won't be able to sink your teeth into in New Zealand… except perhaps for proper Marmite and decent non-imported chocolate.

When eating out, home-bred lamb and, less obviously, locally-farmed venison dishes tend to stand out on any menu. Seafood too is usually fantastic. If you're around in May don't turn down a Bluff oyster. The season is very short and these are purported to be the best in the world. Whitebait fritters, Kaikoura crayfish and green-lipped mussels are specialities, the latter easily recognised by the distinctive green 'lipstick' around the edges of the shells. Brown or rainbow trout are both introduced fish that swim abundantly in New Zealand fresh water. You cannot buy them in the shops, so either you can find them in restaurants or better still, fish for your own.

You will also find the sadly unpopular possum on some menus. Once, when driving along the West Coast, I stopped off for a road-kill possum burger – fresh, naturally, and believe it or not, delicious!

Other fruity titbits which have been adopted as New Zealand specialities, but none of which are originally from New Zealand, are: the feijoa (originally Brazilian, makes a fine liquor), persimmons (originally Chinese, but too delicious to be missed out here), and of course, the Chinese gooseberry or, as re-branded with the greatest success in the 1930s, the 'kiwi' fruit.

Wellington is at the forefront of a real and growing café culture that seems to have evolved around the twin pillars of coffee and muffins. Never have I been more confused by a coffee menu nor more delighted by the humble muffin.

Here are some more New Zealand oddities and specialities:

Anzac biscuits – a wartime biscuit that has stuck. They're made out of oats, coconut and treacle and contain no egg.


Geothermally-charged Taupo is the country's biggest lake. At 43km long and 28km wide, it is actually the crater of a mighty volcano that erupted in 181AD.

Chocolate fish – choc-covered fish-shaped marshmallows. These tasty treats are often given as a reward hence the saying, "you've earned a chocolate fish".

Hangi – a Maori meal of meat and root vegetables that's cooked underground over hot stones.

Hokey pokey – honeycomb. You'll often see 'hokey pokey ice cream' and 'hokey pokey chocolate'.

Kumera – sweet potato.

Pav – or 'Pavlova', which you're probably familiar with. The kiwis have made this pudding of meringue, fresh fruit and cream their own and you will come across it everywhere. They like to serve it with kiwi fruit.

Pies – Okay, so you know what a pie is, but New Zealand really does excel when it comes to pies and their fillings. Chicken satay and possum were my favourite.

Pipis and pipi fritters – these small clam-like shellfish that are dug up on the Northland beaches at low tide. The meat is often make into fritters.

Whitebait fritters – a battered ball of whitebait fish.

Vegemite – a milder version of marmite, you're likely to enjoy one or the other. I hate both.

Kiwi Fruit

Kiwi fruit became an all-out marketing success in the 1930s when a chap called Jim McLoughlin planted the first orchard in Te Puke and sold the fruit at the local market. Previous to McLoughlin's success, kiwis were known as Chinese gooseberries, but their presence grew so rapidly in the New Zealand market (many farmers became instant millionaires from the plants flourishing success in the Bay of Plenty region) that they have now become a New Zealand icon. Make sure you sample both the traditional emerald green Hayward variety and the more recent gold-fleshed Zespri variety. Both are delicious and as fresh as you can find.

Kaikoura Crayfish

The Maori named Kai (to eat) Koura (crayfish) because its waters were filled with rock lobster that made for particularly good eating. Naturally, this crustaceous delicacy tastes just as good today and can be enjoyed from most eateries in Kaikoura. You'll find a few tiny establishments dotted along the coastal drive between Kaikoura and Kekerengu that literally cook crayfish fresh from the boat. Nin's Bin, a tiny takeaway, boil up these beauties in natural mineral water - no preservatives, additives or flavour enhancers, just fresh, organic crayfish.

Green Lip Mussels

New Zealand green-lip mussels, named for their green-tinged shells, love the pure, clean waters of Havelock and grow there in abundance. Not only are they good to eat, but it seems they are also incredibly good for you. Regular mussel eating can reduce joint pain, improve flexibility and rebuild lost cartilage. So they say.

The Havelock Mussel Festival is in March.

Here's a vaguely interesting fact: male mussel meat is creamy white, while female mussel meat is orange. They are, however, as plump, sweet and tender as each other. Just one more major difference between mussels and humans.

Coffee culture in Wellington

"You can never get a decent coffee in New Zealand!" Americans and Europeans would cry. I remember this from my backpacking days when I worked as a barista. Well, it seems that Kiwis have taken the criticism on board. Now, try as you might, it is virtually impossible to get a bad cup of coffee in New Zealand. Every bean is best-quality-organic, every cup a delicately-balanced work of art. Coffee here is savoured sitting down and is an experience in itself.

Nowhere has embraced café culture quite as whole-heartedly as Wellington, which is rumoured to have (though I haven't measured it myself) more cafés per capita than New York. There are certainly an awful lot of them and the majority are wonderfully good and serve excellent food to boot. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Chocolate Fish Café: family-friendly and relaxed with an unbeatable beachside location, 497 Karaka Bay Road, Scorching Bay, Tel: 04-388-2808.

The Vista Café: superb light fish lunches with a tranquil vibe, 106 Oriental Parade, Oriental Bay, Tel: 04-385-7724.

Nikau Gallery Café - See 'Wellington City Gallery'.

Midnight Espresso: one of Wellington's original cafés open till the wee hours. They have a good selection of vegetarian food and an irresistible cake cabinet. Hot chocolates are bucket-sized and entirely delicious. Young, funky and occasionally loud. 178 Cuba Street. Tel 04-384-7014.

Things To Do
Places To Eat

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Travel Information

Here's some more specific information about travelling in New Zealand: when to go, getting around (car hire, inter-island ferries, train journeys) and distances.

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