Foodie’s guide to New Zealand: Rotorua and Napier

Kauaeranga Valley.

Kia Ora! from New Zealand, where I have been rambling around these past three weeks. Starting from Auckland I am journeying south at a leisurely pace, dividing my time between sightseeing and WWOOFing (doing work exchange on organic farms).

This is the first time I have travelled outside of Europe. In fact, from a Danish/British perspective this is as far away as you get. I have arrived at the end of the world – and I’m loving it. The majestic, rugged landscapes that take your breath away, and the disarmingly friendly Kiwis warmed me to NZ immediately, and I haven’t even mentioned the food yet!

Best apricots in the whole wide world.

Being part of the daily life on a farm offers a unique look into food production in New Zealand. In Kauaeranga Valley, in the Coromandel, I helped out at a place which is primarily a garden and plant nursery but also has an orchard bursting with ripe plums, apricots, and oranges. Those apricots are the best in the whole wide world. We would sell them by the roadside. One afternoon we were just depositing some fresh ones at the stall when I heard someone exclaiming ‘Oh my God!’. I peeped round the hedge and saw a customer eating her first apricot as she was settling back into her car.

Mind you, apricots are only the beginning. New Zealand has an abundance of produce, from seafood to lamb and wine. All this potential and yet, up until recently, Kiwi cuisine was pretty much synonymous with British cuisine – Sunday roasts and fish&chips. Out of all cultural domains, food is perhaps where the British heritage is most acutely felt.
There is something bizarre about enjoying a cuppa and a Sunday roast on the veranda with a backdrop of bush and palm trees, and to a chorus of screeching tropical birds.

Night market in Rotorua.

Luckily, over the last decade or so, Kiwis have started rethinking their cuisine to make the most of their gorgeous produce. Contemporary Kiwis are very foodcentric, judging by the amount of farmer’s markets and food magazines on offer. It makes me feel right at home.

Kiwis do love a market, in fact I have yet to visit a town without one. On the day of my arrival in Rotorua, geothermal wonderland and hub of Maori culture, the weekly ‘night market’ was being held. In the middle of the pots and pans and lights and laughter a band was playing, and people were having a great time. I picked up a delicious pita bread with venison, couscous, harissa and aioli – something to try out at home.

Venison pita.

For my birthday my new friend Sara took me out to a cute ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ themed restaurant in Rotorua’s trendy Eat Streat. The al fresco dining area was a neat little garden, complete with potted plants and a bird cage which contained the menu. Servings are tapas-sized so we were encouraged to order lots of items to share between us.

A highlight of the evening was the cocktails: I had ‘Scout Sangria’ with vodka, red berries, orange juice, lemon and rosé. Sangrias are sickly-sweet at their worst, but this one struck just the right balance between punchy, fruity and refreshing.

‘Scout Sangria’. Peach Calpurnia in the background.

Another highlight was the prawn tostada: crispy tortillas with yoghurt, lime and coriander and, in Sara’s words, ‘the best prawns ever’.

Prawn tostada.

For dessert we shared a ‘chocolate trio’ – mousse, ice cream and crumble, with sweet cherries – decorated with festive candles! A chocoholic’s dream of a dessert and the perfect end to the evening. Fun, tapas-style food paired with a laid-back atmosphere and easily the best service I ever had at a restaurant, Atticus Finch comes highly recommended.

Happy Birthday!


A few days later we moved on down to Napier, the central town of Hawke’s Bay on the east coast. Napier suffered a great trauma in 1931 when an earthquake killed 251 and reduced the town to a pile of rubble. It was rebuilt entirely in the style of Art Deco which was the fashion of the 1930’s.

In February, Deco-lovers from all over the world gather for the annual Art Deco-festival. For one weekend people dress, drive, dance and dine 1930’s style. Regretfully I arrived just too early for the festival but I did get to check out their amazing secondhand shops, which are second to none.

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Secondhand shopping in Napier.

In between shopping Sara and I made a pitstop at café/restaurant Mister D to sample their famous doughnuts. Now I’m not a massive fan of doughnuts but anyone would be a fan of these doughnuts. Infinitely light vanilla-flecked gorgeousness, adorned with powdery cinnamon-sugar. I’m tempted to come back for more.

Famous doughnut at Mister D. Sweet brioche in the background.

Meanwhile our gaze is directed south towards Wellington and the south Island. No looking back. I’m excited to see what else NZ has in store for us.

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