Tag Archives: Breakfast/Brunch

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Nin’s Bin, Kaikoura, Akaroa & Christchurch

With only a few nights remaining on our New Zealand road trip, we could safely say that we were on the home stretch. An hour into the drive south from Blenheim we hit the coast, leaving Marlborough and entering Canterbury.

There’s not a great deal along this stretch of highway other than natural scenery, so when we came across The Store we took it as a perfect place to pit stop and take a breather from the driving.

It’s difficult to imagine that this was once an old tearoom and fuel stop. We were a little wowed on entry, taken by the gorgeous fit-out. Tree stump columns rise into a vaulted, tipi-like ceiling with a roaring hearth taking centre stage. Wood and metal tables, flickering pillar candles and bespoke armchairs cushioned with cowhide. There’s a real cosiness to the space.

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There’s a variety of menu and cabinet food – quiches, slices, breakfast and sandwiches – and a variety of locally produced artisan oils and tid bits. A sprawling outdoor terrace takes advantage of the sunshine with patches of garden greenery and lawns offering outlooks to the nearby rocky beach.

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  • The Store
  • 5748 State Highway 1
  • Kekerengu 7371
  • 03 575 8600
  • website
  • Store on Urbanspoon

 

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About 30 km down the coast is another place worth stopping for a short walk into the forest along the Ohau Stream and waterfall. It’s a nice walk but the highlight is what goes on in the pool at the base of the waterfall. During winter months you can catch sight of young seal pups playfully swimming in the pool or hanging out, occasionally fed by their mothers that come up to the pool.

Once winter is over the pups make their way to the sea to hone their hunting skills and learn how to survive on their own. And it doesn’t even cost you a cent to see them.

A little further down the road is the iconic Nin’s Bin. It all started in 1977 when the caravan was parked by the water every day to sell off the local crayfish and mussels. Towing it home each night became a problem when rust took hold, so now it has a permanent home by the rocky beach.

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The days crayfish catch sits pre-boiled in a styrofoam box with prices scribed on each tail, with offers of being served either split in half and served cold with lemon or warmed with garlic butter. Hot chips and 1 dozen mussels were the only other options on this particular day.

I wasn’t all that hungry but I couldn’t visit the iconic Nin’s and not eat something. Mussels (18) it was – cooked in a little white wine and served with lemon. I noticed there was young wild fennel growing around the caravan and found myself foraging a few feathery tops to scatter through the steaming mussels. Hot, juicy and sweet. And the setting couldn’t be more perfect.

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  • Nin’s Bin
  • State Highway 1
  • Rakautara
  • 03 319 6454
  • website
  • Nin's Bin on Urbanspoon

 


Kaikoura


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Further along the highway, the setting of the coastal town of Kaikoura becomes even more picturesque. Pacific Ocean to one side and the rugged, snow-capped Seaward Kaikoura Range on the other. It may not be the biggest town or have a great deal going on along its main strip, but there’s something about it that makes you want to stay a while.

And that, we did. For a night, anyway.

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People descend upon Kaikoura for a handful of things – coastal walking, birdwatching and eating crayfish, to name a few. Come to think of it we barely touched the local seafood, but we did partake in one of the areas more popular activities. Not until a speedy spot of lunch, of course.

And speedy it was. A rather standard lunch at Groper Garage in the west end of town. Open chicken sandwich (10) and salt & pepper squid (15).

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  • Groper Garage
  • 50 West End
  • Kaikoura 7300
  • 03 319 7407
  • website
  • Groper Garage on Urbanspoon

 

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Kaikoura is one of the only places in the world where the sperm whale can be seen relatively easily and all year-round. Any guesses what we got up to after lunch? There’s the assurance of an 80% refund should the Whale Watch boat not come across or track down one of these gorgeous creatures, but after an hour of sonar tracking we were in luck.

Hearing about seabirds was getting a tad yawn-inducing every time one flew past the boat. We were there to spot a whale, after all. Things perked up a bit when a sperm whale briefly appeared a couple of times, causing a flurry of excitement and a little relief. I’m sure nobody wants to go back to shore for a partial refund!

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Those that are up for seal-spotting can head out to the Point Kean seal colony just outside of town. We, however, felt the need to stop along the way.

Kaikoura Seafood BBQ is another iconic supplier of edibles along this part of the east coast. They’ve been going at it for over a decade now, pumping out cooked saltwater critters to whoever’s willing to pull over and plonk themselves at one of the few coveted roadside benches.

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Scallops, salmon, crayfish, mussels and chowder are up for grabs – plus some whitebait fritters that were more egg than whitebait – unlike the ones you can get on the West Coast, which are more about the whitebait.

It was paua fritter (9) for me, sandwiched between two slices of fluffy seeded bread. The paua – or abalone – is sliced so fine that it goes virtually unnoticed in the egg patty; tasting more of hot-plate oil and eggs than anything else.

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  • Kaikoura Seafood BBQ Kiosk
  • Fyffe Quay
  • Kaikoura 7300
  • 03 433 9691
  • Kaikoura Seafood BBQ Kiosk on Urbanspoon

 

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Dinner options were far and few between on this particular September evening. One of the fish & chips joints or the pub, it seemed. Let’s do the pub, shall we?

Apart from a handful of other diners and boozers it was just us. Monteith’s fans are well catered for in the beer department, a brand that shows its face pretty much all over the country.

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The Whaler menu features a bunch of tapas-style share plates – the likes of seafood skewers, calamari or soup – and your typical pub staples.

Our Mediterranean chicken (25) is a rustic plate of herbed thigh meat topped with a  flavourful sun-dried tomato and chorizo sauce. Some creamy baked parmesan polenta joins the Med party as well.

A rather enormous plate of bbq ribs (26) harbours some very intense bbq flavour, lumped on top of fries and salad garnish to help lighten the load.

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  • The Whaler
  • 49 West End
  • Kaikoura 7300
  • 033193333
  • website
  • The Whaler Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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Waking up early the following morning gave me the chance to walk across the road from our hotel and watch the sunrise. Pretty magical, really, especially with the snowcapped mountains as a backdrop and a long stretch of pebble beach all to myself.

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Prior to hitting the road again, it was breakfast at the lovely Beach House Cafe up on the highway. Wooden floorboards, loads of natural light and a choice of cosy rooms to sit in.

Aside from a bunch of cabinet food, the general menu is a very limited selection of breakfast items, soup, salad, souvlaki and a couple of Mexican-style dishes. Really good coffee, as well.

Mine was the hearty lifestyle breakfast (19) featuring scrambled eggs, mushrooms, corn fritters and rather undercooked, crunchy sliced potato. A nice bit of basil pesto herbed it up.

Mr Pancakes went for the usual choice – blueberry pancakes (16) – dolled up with gorgeous grilled banana, toasted hazelnuts and maple syrup.

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  • Beach House Cafe
  • 39 Beach Road
  • Kaikoura 7300
  • 03 319 6030
  • website
  • Beach House Cafe on Urbanspoon

 


Akaroa


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One place that had to make the road trip itinerary is the town of Akaroa. Beautiful French colonial buildings line the main streets in this picture-perfect town that still retains much of its mid-1800’s French heritage.

And what a setting! Nestled on the shores of a harbour that’s actually the filled-in eroded crater of an extinct volcano; one of two that formed the Banks Peninsula.

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Akaroa can be done as a day trip from Christchurch, but it’s much more fun staying the night, methinks. No time was wasted after booking into our hotel then hitting the streets for lunch. Down on the waterfront overlooking the pier is Ma Maison, a restaurant that harnesses local produce and utilises it well.

Pinot noir got me started at lunch, easing me into the relaxed Akaroa lifestyle and our second-last full day in New Zealand.

Roast butternut pumpkin & lemongrass soup (13) is deliciously silky, vibrant in colour and very lacking in lemongrass. No great drama as it was fine just as it was, toasted bread and all.

The Akaroa salmon (27) was absolutely divine. Three generous strips of perfectly cooked brioche & macadamia-crusted fish over cubes of golden saffron potatoes. Creamed leaks are also in there with a light dribble of mint dressing for a touch of freshness.

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Spotting a dessert platter heading to another table prompted me to order one for myself – a citrus assiette (13) featuring lemon brûlée, vanilla mango tart and some rather green lime sorbet. Picking up the tart came with a bit of a surprise when I quickly discovered the filling was actually liquid, narrowly missing wearing it as it poured out of the soft pastry.

We kind of loved the bitter chocolate truffle delice (14) and berry sorbet. Verona chocolate sauce added more richness to the mousse-like cake, but for both of us, the sorbet was the winning element.

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My preferred choice for dinner – The Little Bistro – was seasonally closed and seeing nothing much was open in this part of town, it was all too easy to head back to Ma Maison.

Panko crumbed fromage (17.5) didn’t need too much to make it shine. It is all about that hot, molten cheese, after all. Simply topped with grape chutney, a bit of salad and smoked walnuts made for a perfect starter.

The seared beef carpaccio (14.5) is another winner – rubbed with herbs and black pepper – topped with fresh horseradish aïoli, beet caviar and cubes of port wine jelly.

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More red meat followed with the pan-roasted venison fillet (35) rafting on dauphinoise potato in a shallow pool of port wine jus. The juicy meat held up perfectly against the intensely-flavoured pear that was braised with blueberries and vanilla. On its own it would be a beautiful dessert, but something special happened when venison was brought into the picture.

Italian flavours came into the picture with the spinach, ricotta & toasted almond rotolo (31). It received the same plating treatment as the venison – dabs of pumpkin purée and smear of pesto – plus eggplant purée and rocket & parmesan salad.

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  • Ma Maison
  • 2 Rue Jolie
  • Akaroa 7520
  • 03 304 7668
  • website
  • Ma Maison on Urbanspoon

 

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For a little while it felt like Akaroa was all ours – no people around – just us and that stunning scenery. Nothing was open for breakfast in the main part of town so we walked over to the strip of eateries (not many, mind you) on Beach Road.

L’Escargot Rouge was already in the swing of breakfast with a couple of locals – one of which even walked in saying “bonjour!”

The breakfast offerings are quite limited but you can “do the French thing” by dosing up on the Parisien breakfast of baguette, croissant, pan au choc with jam & butter, fruit and hot drink.

Whilst the coffee may not be the best around, the croque monsieur (8.8) is much like the ones you’d get on the streets of Paris. Sliced brioche, Dijon, ham, cheese and béchamel. Simplicity at its best.

Mr Pancakes went with a rather steeply-priced homemade toasted muesli (14) with fruit and yoghurt.

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  • L’Escargot Rouge
  • 67 Beach Road
  • Akaroa 7520
  • 03 3048774
  • website
  • L'Escargot Rouge on Urbanspoon

 

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Christchurch


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The final stop on our South Island adventure was in Christchurch. Being my first time in the city, I never got to see it before a series of earthquakes led to the decimation of the city after the quake in February 2011.

Today the city centre is a patchwork of gravel quadrants and carparks where buildings once stood, with many remaining structures and building façades in ruin, awaiting their fate. There’s a great deal of rebuilding in progress and it’s difficult to fathom that 70% of the CBD’s buildings had to be demolished.

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One striking building to come out of the ruins is the Cardboard Cathedral – a temporary replacement of the ruined neo-Gothic Christchurch Cathedral – and somewhat of a symbol of the city moving forward.

Eight shipping containers form the walls of the A-frame structure, with 96 laminated wood-reinforced cardboard tubes forming the framework of the angled poly-carbonate roof. It’s an impressive build, even down to the triangular stained glass windows.

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As the city’s arts community drives to get mural colour up on blank walls all over the centre of town (download the free Oi You! app for a street art map and info on the artists), the equally colourful Re:START container mall continues to draw locals and visitors to its temporary shopping and eating precinct.

Opening eight months after the devastating earthquake, this colourful area has breathed new life into the CBD with over 50 businesses in operation.

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Hummingbird is a local coffee brand that’s already known about town and their outlet at Re:START is clearly a hotspot for people that work nearby. And it’s pretty clear why. Hearty breakfasts, cabinets stuffed with rustic, delicious-looking food and some seriously good cheese & onion scones. They really mean business with that coffee, as well.

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  • Hummingbird
  • 120 Cashel Street
  • Christchurch 8011
  • 03 379 0826
  • website
  • Hummingbird on Urbanspoon

 

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Exploring the city on foot, we soon found ourselves on Victoria Street, a busy little strip that seems to be a bit of an eating and drinking hub. How about Mexican for lunch?

Mexicano’s kinda doesn’t look like much from the outside. A bunker-like structure at the front of a prefabricated office building that doesn’t reveal anything until you swing open the wooden door. The interior is dark and has a Mexican dive bar vibe to it with an expected Dia de los Muertos theme running throughout – even sombreros and adhesive moustaches for those that really want to immerse themselves.

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It’s all about sharing at Mexicano’s – tacos, beans, “hand-hacked” guacamole, quesadillas, charred meats and much more. Neither of us had big appetites that day so it was only a few things that made it to the table.

Street style grilled corn (5) offers a few small bites of cheesy juiciness with chipotle mayo; before a 6-inch adobo chicken taco (8) spread with guacamole, pickled mango and micro herbs.

The star of our mui pequeño lunch had to be the beef cheek barbacoa (26). It’s cooked to fall-apart perfection and is drenched inside and out with a deep, smoky bbq flavour and mild chilli bite. The menu does specify beef rib, but it wasn’t available that day. Fine by me.

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  • Mexicano’s
  • 131 Victoria Street
  • Christchurch 8013
  • 03 365 5330
  • website
  • Mexicano's on Urbanspoon

 

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Coffee shops are aplenty across the city, and one that we happened to walk past also happened to be one I’d read about previously.

With its close proximity to CPIT, it’s no surprise that Black Betty gets many students dosing up on its espresso, cold drip, syphon and pour-over coffees, as well as cabinet food.

Definitely worth the coffee pit stop.

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  • Black Betty
  • 165 Madras Street
  • Christchurch 8011
  • 03 365 8522
  • website
  • Black Betty Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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The final night of our South Island adventure was seen off in casual style at Fiddlesticks, a place buzzing with locals filling up on after-work tipples in the separate bar or supping it up in the dimly lit restaurant. It’s bistro-style through and through, with touches of astro-turf, recycled wood and vertical greenery.

Reading the all-New Zealand menu makes you feel like there’s much to love – from nibbles to tastes to more substantial main courses.

We weren’t quite sure what to expect with the goat cheese, ginger crisp beetroot (13) but when it came it all made sense. Balls of soft cheese interspersed with brandy snap-like ginger crisps and tiny dabs of beetroot emulsion. The ginger and cheese combo absolutely nailed it in the flavour department and some added truffle honey was its final sexy caress.

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A subtle sourness from artichoke came through in the lemon linguine (23.5), perfectly complemented with briny white anchovies, wilted arugula and caper-pistachio pesto. The lemon was a much needed element due to a hefty dose of oil shimmering at the bottom of the bowl.

It was the crumbed haggis that drew me to the lamb shoulder (33) – tender nubs of spiced offal pudding that almost stole the limelight entirely. Golden cubes of swede joined shaved fennel and feta, bringing crunch and creaminess to the rather rich lamb.

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For dessert, a white chocolate custard (16.5) comes with torn pieces of chocolate sponge. The hero of the dish is beautiful blood orange sorbet sitting on crumbled ginger soil.

The warm poppy seed cake (16) was exactly that. Nothing ground breaking, really. Some pashmak gave the dish some visual interest and dabs of sour meringue was more akin to crème fraîche. I could only assume the yellow smear on the plate was the promised citrus panna cotta, taking on the texture of a pasty gel.

Overall a rather decent dinner spread.

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  • Fiddlesticks
  • 48 Worcester Boulevard
  • Christchurch 8013
  • 03 365 0533
  • website
  • Fiddlesticks on Urbanspoon

 

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All other posts from this South Island trip –

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Nelson, Kaiteriteri, Takaka, Blenheim

Staying in Nelson for a couple of nights meant we could relax and explore the region without having to think about too much driving. Hold on, there was still a bit of driving involved.

The city centre is compact enough to be easily navigated by foot – loads of shops, restaurants, cafe’s and more than enough micro breweries than you can poke a stick at. It’s no wonder this is New Zealand’s craft beer capital, and we sure had our fair share.

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Our first stop, however, was more coffee-related – down on the waterfront at The Styx. Yes they do have local craft brews on tap, but the coffee addiction needed tending to. Love their enormous cheesy scone and flourless orange cake.

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  • The Styx
  • 272 Wakefield Quay
  • Nelson 7010
  • 03 548 1075
  • website
  • Styx Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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A great place to sample some local craft beers is at Harry’s, at the top of Trafalgar Street. More familiar bottled beers are up for grabs, but if you’re up for trying the local brews, there’s a rotating selection of local beers on tap.

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The dark, cavernous space is very cosy and on cold winter nights you can settle in front of the roaring fire and get warm with a drink and a bite. The menu is predominantly pan-Asian and extends from prawn toast to curries and noodles.

Grilled warehou (28.5) sits atop a pile green tea noodles, wok-tossed with vegetables you’d expect to see in a stir-fry. Soy, lime and ginger give it the Asian touch.

The braised beef short ribs (29.5) are much more complex in flavour, with meat falling clean off the bone. Star anise is the dominant spice, permeating through to the spinach and shiitake mushrooms the ribs rest on. Whole cloves of soft and sweet garlic are scattered throughout with crispy and chewy rice cakes that add a nuttiness to the dish.

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For dessert, the steamed ginger pudding (12) is light in texture and has a slight ginger bite, nicely contrasted with the sharp bite from crème fraîche and juicy poached mandarin.

A mild spiciness comes through in the chai crème brûlée (12), the smallest specimen we’ve encountered. At least we had spiced plum, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and tuile because the brûlée was gone in a flash.

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  • Harry’s
  • 296 Trafalgar Street
  • Nelson 7010
  • 03 539 0905
  • website
  • Harry's on Urbanspoon

 

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Breakfast cafe of choice went to the Morrison Street Cafe in the centre of town. Pretty much every dietary need is catered for at this bustling eatery, and the counter laden with house-baked goodies is pretty irresistible as well.

We loved the wholemeal pancakes (17.5), a very generous stack layered with sautéed apple and a star anise-spiced syrup for an extra boost of flavour.

There was a whole lot of promise in the lambs fry (17.5), all sauced-up with bacon, silver beet and onion. Gorgeous flavours in the sauce, but it was totally let down by being overcooked. At least there was a damper-like bread to make up for the liver that wasn’t eaten.

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Bircher muesli (11.5) fans can go wild with the enormous bowl of oaty goodness, laced with almonds, pear and blueberries. Sweet dukkah and banana lovingly top it all off.

Or perhaps a stack of corn fritters (17.5) and spinach topped with avocado and cottage cheese. Some chunky tomato salsa vamps it up a tad.

Trying at least one of the baked treats from the counter was a given, and the dark chocolate cake with lemon curd did the trick beautifully. Impossibly moist, a little sticky and totally addictive.

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  • Morrison Street Cafe
  • 244 Hardy Street
  • Nelson 7010
  • 03 548 8110
  • website
  • Morrison Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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A relatively short drive from Nelson is the small town of Mapua. Visitors tend to gravitate to the wharf with its shops and eateries, but nothing was really open on this particular morning.

We never quite made it to Sublime Coffee in Nelson, but we did chance upon this little place in Mapua, owned by the same folk. The Java Hut it just that, a tiny shack that pumps out the java to locals and anyone that needs a caffeine top-up. There’s little room to kick back with your takeaway cup of coffee other one of a handful of coloured stools at a communal table, or the sun chairs outside.

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  • Java Hut
  • 84b Aranui Road
  • Mapua 7005
  • website
  • Java Hut on Urbanspoon

 


Kaiteriteri


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Barely half an hour up the coast is the tiny hamlet of Kaiteriteri, a bit of a hotspot to those that love their camping and wide open spaces. With a stretch of golden sand and clear water as beautiful as this, how could you not want to immerse yourself?

We were here for a little kayaking, but before anybody’s feet got wet, it was lunch time first and foremost.

One of three places in Kaiteriteri was open for lunch on that particular day, so making choices wasn’t all that challenging. Gone Burgers it was.

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Fish & chips and nachos are up for grabs at this little takeaway, but something tells me it’s the burgers that most people come here for.

It was the pretentious cow (14) that got my fingers all sticky. Juicy beef patty with fried egg, caramelised onion, bacon, beet, green tomato relish, aïoli, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Talk about a mouthful. Absolute perfection.

The chicken classic (11.5) may not have been as elaborate but it still packed some goodness. Seasoned chicken breast, cheese, tomato, relish and aïoli.

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  • Gone Burgers
  • 2 Inlet Road
  • Kaiteriteri 7197
  • 03 527 8041
  • website
  • Gone Burger's on Urbanspoon

 

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Thanks to Kaiteriteri being one of the key gateways to Abel Tasman National Park, it was an ideal spot to head straight to it via the water.

Sea kayaking is a very popular activity in these parts, and one of the easy circuits takes you from Kaiteriteri Beach, past Ngaio Island to Split Apple Rock. Loads of fun out on the water and onshore exploring nooks and crannies in the rocky headland.

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Back in Nelson, one restaurant worth noting is Ford’s. Located in the upper Trafalgar Street precinct, it’s a classy establishment that feels casual at the same time. Fab service, as well.

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And the food. Contemporary New Zealand fare through and through, from the tasty peppered seared venison (19) with poached pear, gorgonzola and walnuts, to the divine house-smoked fish ravioli (17). The one large ravioli is lovingly doused with brown butter and capers, with crispy leek and herbs for crunch.

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The deliciousness continued with the thyme & orange confit duck leg (36), wedged upright on celeriac purée and green beans. And that sauce – a dark chocolate jus. Yep, it was pretty special.

The mixed mushroom risotto (26) packed just as much flavour, if not more. Roasted portabella played the hero and the rice was perfectly cooked, with a chive crème fraîche slowly melting into the warm mound of earthiness.

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  • Ford’s
  • 276 Trafalgar Street
  • Nelson 7010
  • 03 546 9400
  • website
  • Fords Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

 


Takaka


A little town worthy of a day trip from Nelson is Takaka. Getting there by car is scenic, to say the least, but those that suffer motion sickness may want to prepare for it. The drive involves a very windy road over Takaka Hill – or Marble Mountain – taking in gorgeous panoramas as well as around 250 bends.

The town itself holds onto its hippie past with a firm clutch. Bright colours decorate buildings and shopfronts, tie-dye and dreadlocks adorn some of its locals and organic is the theme almost everywhere you look.

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One such organic place is The Dangerous Kitchen, a magnet for in-tune-with-mother-nature locals that add to its laid-back vibe. From brick oven pizza and burritos to house-made V & GF-friendly edibles in the cabinet; it has a menu that’s driven by local produce from ethical suppliers.

No gripes with the exceptional fair trade coffee and a big two thumbs up with the killer orange and almond cake.

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  • The Dangerous Cafe
  • 46 Commercial Street
  • Takaka 7110
  • 03 525 8686
  • website
  • Dangerous Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

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Takaka is the gateway to the Golden Bay region, and whilst we didn’t make it that far up the coast, we did drive along the coastal route to Wainui Bay northeast of town.

A mere 7 kilometres from Takaka are the Pupu Springs – officially known as Te Waikoropupu Springs – home to the worlds clearest spring water. As rain decided to shower over us, we trudged along through the serene forest to the gushing spring. I couldn’t help but notice the wild edible vegetation like flatweed and watercress, resisting the urge to forage and nibble as we walked the boarded trails. Ok, perhaps I had a little nibble of the watercress, straight from the spring.

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The building that stood out the most in Takaka, for me, was the Telegraph Hotel. I’m always up for supporting rural pubs like this – a grand old building that first opened its doors 100 years ago – so deciding on where to have lunch was taken care of.

Inside it’s your typical country pub. Sepia coloured photo’s from years gone by up on the walls, bench seating all ’round and locals playing pool, sipping on lager or feeding pokies.

No gastropub food here, folks. It’s either roast of the day, a burger, nachos, a wrap or soup. Plus a few things from the kids menu and what we ordered. A BLT (9.5) done club sandwich-style and fish & chips (14). Really good fish, mind you.

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  • Telegraph Hotel
  • 2 Motupipi Street
  • Takaka 7110
  • 03 525 9445
  • website
  • Telegraph Hotel on Urbanspoon

 

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Blenheim


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The 2-hour drive from Nelson to Blenheim takes you through mountainous terrain, along the stunning Queen Charlotte Drive and down through the seaside town of Picton.

So here we were in Blenheim, the heart of the wine-growing region of Marlborough. World famous for its sauvignon blanc, we didn’t even make it to one vineyard, although we did drink a little vino. The town itself is pretty quiet and can be navigated quite easily, and not being sure whether it was normal, but there weren’t many people about.

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Word had it there was a place in town that did the best pies, so naturally we drove on out to The Burleigh to do some investigating.

This tiny coffee shop-cum-deli has a nice little collection of European cheeses, South African bintong, baked goods and quality food items. And it looked as if we’d arrived just in time. They were almost out of pies! Rather than offer a huge variety of pies, the varieties available were limited to three. That means one thing, right?

Order all three.

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The ever-popular pork belly pie was the one I’d heard about, and wowsers, it’s something special. Firstly, that pastry is serious business. And that filling – a little sweet, loads of it and if I can make comparisons – it’s very similar to what’s inside Chinese char siu bao.

The steak & blue cheese pie has large chunks of very tender meat, a little gravy and a generous amount of cheese. Sensational.

The jerk chicken pie may not have shone as much as the others, but it was still decent enough with its spiced chicken meat filling.

Well-worth investigating.

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  • The Burleigh
  • 72 New Renwick Road
  • Blenheim 7201
  • 03 579 2531
  • website
  • The Burleigh on Urbanspoon

 

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It’s all about artwork depicting 1960’s pop culture, tiki paraphernalia, formica tables and mismatched chairs at this downtown coffee shop. Ok, perhaps it’s also all about brilliant certified organic coffee that’s roasted onsite, and a menu we never got to try.

The breakfast menu ticked all the right boxes, but we soon learned they weren’t open on the only day we needed them to be. At least we got to try that beautiful coffee.

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  • Ritual
  • 10 Maxwell Road
  • Blenheim 7201
  • 03 578 6939
  • website
  • Ritual Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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The last night on this leg of our trip was spent chilling with drinks at The Corner Stone and moving on to The Yard Bar & Bistro for food.

Be it drinks and nibbles in the bar, out in the back garden or inside by the fire, The Yard Bar is all about playing things casually.

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Pizza takes up a good chunk of the menu so I thought it’d be fitting to try something to nibble on during beverage hour. Garlic pizza bread (10.5) sounded promising – garlic, parmesan and sea salt – but the only thing that made the cracker-like pizza was the cheese and a little greenery.

The regular menu is like something you’d see at a decent pub, only less to choose from. Think vegetarian cannelloni, pork belly and S&P squid.

The crispy skin salmon (25) on egg noodle and red curry broth reminds me of a very thick laksa when you’ve eaten all the soup and the solids remain. Somehow the salmon just didn’t belong with overcooked noodles and curry.

The beef cheek (23.5) hit all the right spots. Slowly braised in black beer and served over kumara & carrot mash, with a hidden prize of creamed spinach. That was one fine bit of cheek.

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  • The Yard Bar & Bistro
  • 30 Maxwell Road
  • Blenheim 7201
  • 03 577 5266
  • website
  • Yard Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

 

NZmap4a

All other posts from this South Island trip –

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Cuckoo Callay

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With the impending Bacon Festival (yes, that’s right, in case you haven’t heard) kicking off at Newtown’s Cuckoo Callay on 9 February, I decided to drop in over several visits to sample a few bits from the regular menu before it gets temporarily modified with all things porcine.

All the exposure these guys have – be it from hundreds of people walking to and from the train station, word of mouth or the constant trickle of write-ups has created a perpetually busy cafe that seems to stand out from many of the others.

And they don’t even have a cronut hybrid on the menu.

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Coffee-wise, it’s pretty decent, be it hot and milky espresso-based or chilled and temple-numbing cold drip.

My favourite plate of food has to go to the mother ducker (22). An earthy ensemble of lentils, sautéed spuds and shreds of tenderly warm duck topped with the most perfect poached egg. Pity the shaved asparagus was a no-show and the chilli jam was more akin to a chutney with no bite whatsoever. Negatives aside, this is one bowl of goodness I’d tuck into anytime, despite not getting everything the menu declared.

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It’s all about cumin-spiced lamb in the beeting the sheep (19) – rolled in thin pastry and fried until golden and crisp. Some grated beetroot (I think it’s meant to be pickled) and goat cheese provide the condiment-factor, with a little extra crunch from shaved radish and snow pea tendrils.

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With many innovative breakfast options, it can be a little tricky choosing without the risk of food envy when you spot something else go to another table.

Cured salmon is always a winner in my books, so I chose it with the #hashtag browns 2.0 (18). Bacon steak or grilled haloumi are the other add-ons. The salmon is absolute perfection and I’m chuffed with the generous quantity of it.

The let-downs? A poached egg that had way too much simmer-time, rendering it to a hard boiled egg. And a pity the bubble and squeak hash brown patty it came with was pasty and lacked any form of noticeable seasoning.

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A touch of Americana is evident in the berets, stars & stripes (15) – a rather sexy collection of ingredients that get the tastebuds dancing. Brioche French toast weighed down with maple bacon, whipped ricotta and smear of peanut caramel. A light sprinkling of cornflakes sealed the sugary deal. This one’s a winner.

So too is the chorizo that comes with the speedy gonzalez (18) – strong porky and paprika flavours that, with the fried eggs and beans, make for two rockin’ breakfast burritos. And the lemon-marinated avocado zings up the palate in the process.

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  • Cuckoo Callay
  • 324b Newtown Railway Station
  • Newtown 2042
  • 02 9557 7006
  • website
  • Cuckoo Callay on Urbanspoon
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Haast, Franz Josef, Hokitika, Westport, Hanmer Springs & Murchison

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State Highway 6 north of Wanaka takes you through stunning landscape that varies from lakes and forested mountains, and it’s here that you cross the boundary between the Otago and West Coast regions.

Seeing we were in the vicinity of the Blue Pools, a short (albeit absolutely freezing) morning stroll through tōwai forest and fern groves was a given. Barely ten minutes in and you’re greeted with the first swing bridge over Makarora River, then onto boardwalk that leads to the second bridge over the impossibly clear, turquoise water. You may even be lucky to spot a large salmon, or two, leisurely drifting about.

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Haast


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The first sign of civilisation in these wild and rugged parts is at Haast, a tiny township a few kilometres from the coast. Nearing lunch time, I was feeling a tad hopeful in what kind of dining scene Haast could offer. The image of an old country pub or selection of seafood shacks was forming in my mind, but I was dragged back to reality with just one place out of a few that was open that day.

The Fantail Cafe isn’t the type of place that’s out to set anybody’s culinary world on fire. It’s a humble establishment that serves chips with a lot of its lunch dishes, be it blue cod & eggs, steak or the seafood basket. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Unfortunately the two things I really wanted to try weren’t available. Venison stew on toast, and the other, whitebait patties – a dish that’s synonymous with the West Coast.

Ham, cheese & tomato sandwich it was, and a dose of caffeine.

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  • Fantail Cafe
  • 10 Marks Road
  • Haast 7886
  • 03 750 0055
  • Fantail Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Good thing I was paying attention otherwise I’d have completely missed the “Whitebait Patties” sign further along on the highway . It appeared we hit gold. White gold. Before we knew it I did a u-turn and drove down a gravel road past beaten up whitebait shacks on the banks of the Waita River. Things were in our favour, as well, thanks to the 10-week whitebait season commencing the same day we hit the west coast.

It was time for lunch #2.

At Curly Tree, the Kerr family is now into its fifth generation of whitebaiting, taking pride in the fresh tiny spawning fish they net from the rivers along the wild south Westland coast. We learn that many locals rock on up to their business and buy the whitebait frozen, but patties can also be cooked right in front of you as you chat and learn a thing or two about this Westland delicacy.

A bit of beaten egg, a good dose of fresh whitebait and a hotplate is all that’s required. Can’t forget the slice of white bread, a squeeze of fresh lemon and seasoning, of course. And look at all those whitebait!

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  • Curly Tree Whitebait Company
  • Waita River Reserve SH6
  • Haast 7844
  • 03 750 0097
  • website
  • Curly Tree Whitebait Company on Urbanspoon

 


Franz Josef


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The town of Franz Josef draws the crowds for one main reason – the glacier that it’s named after. Walking on the glacier was something we’d done many years ago, so we were really only in town to spend the night.

Others may choose to go walking along many of the trails in this major wilderness area – through forests, dunes and wetlands or immerse themselves at the West Coast Wildlife Centre and spot a real-life Rowi kiwi.

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For those that are up for a little nocturnal sight-seeing, grab a torch and do what we did. At the end of Cowan Street – near the Terrace Motel where we were staying – is the start of a gravel road that’s signposted with Tatare Tunnels Callery Gorge.

Between the gate and the first creek crossing is where you can spot many glowworms in the rainforest, free for anyone to see, providing you turn off your torch and allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness. During the day (below) it looks like any regular rainforest, and incase you needed to know, New Zealand’s glowing native fungus gnat larvae aren’t worms at all.

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Eating options in the village centre may be sparse but there’s bound to be a menu that appeals to just about anyone. A craving for some good Asian flavours led us to Eighty Eight, a “fusion” restaurant that doesn’t hold back on colour when it comes down to decor.

All walks of southeast Asian can be seen on the dinner menu, from nasi goreng to tom yum goong, with a lemon posset to mix things up a tad.

We were off to a great start with the fish bites (15); some rather tasty pieces of crumbed gurnet that were supposed to come with turmeric mayo. Sadly the condiments we were given were more along the lines of sweet chilli and tartare sauce.

The Thai green curry (21) came with a very mild level of spice and did very little to excite the tastebuds. The fish of the day (27) followed suit in the flavour department. Steamed bits of gurnet that barely tasted of the promised ginger and sesame oil. And being terribly overcooked didn’t make eating it much fun.

We passed on the posset.

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  • Eighty Eight – Asian Fusion
  • 28 Main Road
  • Franz Josef 7886
  • 03 752 0234
  • website
  • Eighty Eight Asian Fusion on Urbanspoon

 

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Our breakfast and coffee needs were taken care of at Full of Beans, also on the towns main drag. There’s just one all day menu at the cafe and breakfast goes as far as muesli & fruit, bacon & eggs, eggs benedict and the two things we ordered.

A full breakfast (18) stodge-fest came my way with fried eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomato and hash browns from a freezer packet and sliced supermarket bread. It was kinda just what I felt like, even down to the sprig of curly parsley.

The pancake eater went for the usual. Pancakes (13.5) topped with fruit and berry compote. A humble arrangement with a generous quantity of maple syrup to play with.

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  • Full of Beans
  • 22 Main Road
  • Franz Josef 7886
  • 03 752 0139
  • website
  • Full of Beans Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Ōkārito


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Spontaneity took hold when I spotted the name of this little town on the iPad map I was flicking around. Not knowing anything about Ōkārito, a quick detour to see what went down in this seaside hamlet was in order.

“Where’s the actual town?” I asked.

We quickly discovered we were in the middle of it. A tiny community of less than 30 permanent residents. No shops, no pub – just a beautifully rugged part of the coast with sprawling wetlands, forest and more than enough birdlife to get any avian fan’s juices flowing.

It’s a far cry from what was here in the 1860’s during the gold rush, we learned. Ōkārito was the third largest port on the West Coast and was filled with stores and hotels with enough booze flowing to keep the gold diggers well-lubed.

Not much remains of the old settlement other than a restored school house that’s now a hostel. Down on the wharf visitors can see vintage photos and read up on a little of the towns history. And the view over to the snowcapped Southern Alps is pretty smashing, as well.

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Disappointment set in pretty quickly when we pulled over to take a closer look at this place. Why? Because the cafe wasn’t open and I couldn’t sample any of the food. Venison, rabbit, wild pork, even possum pie – although I understand these guys can no longer sell possum pie as it doesn’t come from a government approved supplier. They’ve figured a way around that, however, as you can now “donate” $4 in exchange for one of the pies.

All around the cafe are deer busts and animal pelts, and over in the souvenir shop is a range of products made from possum fur. $4 buys you entry to the museum that shows a video on hunting and there are even caged possums to gawk at.

This place sure is an acquired taste, possum pie, or not.

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  • Bushmans Centre Cafe
  • State Highway 6
  • Pukekura
  • 03 755 4144
  • website
  • Bushmans Centre Cafe on Urbanspoon

 


Hokitika


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Another town, another overnighter, and the next place to see our faces is New Zealand’s whitebait capital – Hokitika. Aside from the annual fish spawn-related industry, we quickly learn there’s more to this beachside town.

Art and craft shops are seemingly everywhere including many places that specialise in pounamu – or greenstone/jade – that’s unique to the region. You can even try your hand at carving your own piece.

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A block back from the beach is Stella Cafe, a friendly little place that’s a bit different from others thanks to its cheese room. It may not be overflowing with fromage varieties but there’s a decent enough selection to buy and take away.

Both breakfast and lunch menus have all the standard choices with a bunch of house-made extras in the chiller cabinet.

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The steak sandwich (21) features a juicy porterhouse slapped in a soft bun with caramelised onion, a bit of Cheddar and garlic aïoli. A BLT & fries (16) is presented in much the same way, with more than enough bacon for a good porcine hit.

Breakfast punters can fill up on many hearty choices like the impressive tower of hot cakes (14). Seasonal – and perhaps a little tinned fruit – makes for a fruitful start to the day. And because the other half would appreciate it later, I tucked into the homemade baked beans (15) topped with an oozing poached egg. For an additional $4 I got some bacon; a wise move as the seasoning in the beans was a tad light-handed.

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  • Stella Cafe & Cheesery
  • 84 Revell Street
  • Hokitika 7810
  • 03 755 5432
  • website
  • Stella Cafe & Cheesery on Urbanspoon

 

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Not too far out of town on a road that involves a lot of left-and-right turning is Hokitika Gorge. And yet again the water that you encounter takes on an impossibly vivid turquoise colour. It’s a short walk from the carpark through beautiful forest on gravel paths, boardwalks and to a swing bridge over the Hokitika River.

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I’m not entirely sure why the town was quiet and had very little people milling about, but wandering its streets gawking at the variety of building styles was a pleasure. Well, for those that like their architecture that is.

A walk along Gibson Quay during whitebait season gives you a bit of a glimpse into how the spawning fish are caught as they head upstream. It’s pretty big business and can fetch up to $100 a kilo for this tiny delicacy.

Many of the people that catch the whitebait do it for their own personal consumption, but others make a living of it, and it’s hard to miss the numerous whitebaiting sheds at the mouth of the river.

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As the sun set over the driftwood-strewn beach we hit the town to see what was open and what we felt like eating. Not a great deal was happening in downtown Hokitika so choosing a place was made easy.

Easier still when I spotted something on the menu at Fat Pipi Pizzas. Whitebait pizza, anyone?

Decision made.

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They may not be the wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas I have a soft spot for, but the thin and crispy specimens here are no slouches, either. Even if some of the topping choices are a little typical.

Now, that whitebait (26) pizza. Unlike all the other pizzas that can be ordered as medium and large, the whitebait variety only comes as a medium, at the price of a large. No big deal, really. Especially when there’s 110g of whitebait mixed with egg spread onto the base with mozzarella, capers and garlic butter.

And the flavour? It has an unmistakable white fish flavour that works really well on a pizza, especially with a spritz of fresh lemon.

The Punk! (20) is another tasty choice. This vegetarian-friendly pizza is topped with feta, spiced pumpkin, caramelised onion and coriander pesto. A few cashews provide a little more crunch.

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  • Fat Pipi Pizzas
  • 89 Revell Street
  • Hokitika 7810
  • 03 755 6373
  • website
  • Fat Pipi Pizzas on Urbanspoon

 

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Punakaiki


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Heading further up the rugged coast brings you to Punakaiki, a coastal hamlet that’s a perfect base for national park access and a bunch of outdoor activities the area offers.

Its major attractions are geological in nature, as you’d expect, with the Pancake Rocks and the Blow Holes being the big draw cards. Opposite the entrance of the 20-minute walking loop is the Pancake Rocks Cafe, a place where I so happened to find the best macchiato on the trip. There’s typical New Zealand cafe fare up for grabs like pies, wraps, lolly cake and cut sandwiches; something to fill up on before hitting up the Visitors Centre next door to plan the days outdoor activities.

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  • Pancake Rocks Cafe
  • Coast Road
  • Punakaiki 7873
  • 03 731 1122
  • Pancake Rocks Cafe on Urbanspoon

 


Westport


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Less than an hour up the coast is the port town of Westport. Some come for the seal colony at Cape Foulwind, others may visit for the Coaltown Museum. This pair, however, was only in town to grab a bite.

In a place we knew next to nothing about, it literally came down to slowly driving down the main street to see what cafe or restaurant caught our attention. Not the most effective way to gauge a towns dining scene, but something tells me we lucked out with the end result.

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The Town House can be found at the north end of the main drag up in the more industrial part of Westport. What used to be a Workingmen’s Club has been transformed into a smart restaurant and lounge bar with an Art Deco vibe.

Booths, patterned wallpaper, wood panelling and floorboards make for a dining space that’s easy on the eye.

The lunch menu took on a bunch of international edibles like gyoza, quesadillas or Cantonese style pork ribs. Everything sounded tempting.

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A contemporary hand was dealt with the börek (12) – a feta-filled parcel resting on a flavour-packed tagine of tomato, tender chunks of lamb and spinach.

It was a toss-up between the pork ribs and Kentucky fried venison (16) for me. You can see what I went for. Deep-fried to medium doneness, the soft batter on the nubs of venison seals in the juiciness of the meat, and a tomato & sweet chilli relish enlivens it even more.

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With food that good it was a given that we sample desserts. A rather enormous dark chocolate mousse (15) is presented in a thin chocolate cylinder, joined with poached rhubarb and ginger crumble.

The pear & ginger sticky date pudding (15) may not have been sticky at all, but its light and warm fluffiness was enough to satisfy. An orange Cointreau syrup boozed things up a tad and a ginger semifreddo was the perfect accompaniment.

  • The Town House
  • 13 Cobden Street
  • Westport 7825
  • 03 789 7133
  • website
  • The Town House on Urbanspoon

 


Reefton


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The next nights accommodation was a 2.5 hour drive from Westport, and it was in Reefton that we stopped to stretch the legs, take a walk and switch driving roles.

Yet another town built on gold mining, Reefton has enough historic charm to keep visitors busy for a little while, gawking at it’s beautiful old buildings that date back to the late 1800’s.

Shops, antique stores, tearooms and cafe’s line the main street, and there’s even a replica miners hut in the centre of town.

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The Lewis Pass Road takes you through stunning mountain scenery and alongside the winding Waiau River. What I thought was a storm cloud far off in the east ended up being a massive smoke cloud from a grass fire on the Mount Tekoa foothills. Pretty spectacular, mind you, and worthy of a quick stop to get a few pics.

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Hanmer Springs


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Known for its thermal pools and alpine scenery, the resort town of Hanmer Springs was our next overnight stop. Not that we came close to immersing ourselves in the thermal pools or great outdoors.

Drinks at the pub, more like it. Saints seemed like the only watering hole in town, and aside from one other table, we were the only ones interested in sipping beers and watching the sun set. Quiet night at the pub, methinks.

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  • Saints
  • 6 Jack’s Pass Road
  • Hanmer Springs 7334
  • 03 315 5262
  • website
  • Saints Cafe, Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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It would’ve been easy to settle into the pub but I had other plans. At the top of town is Malabar, a gorgeous little restaurant owned by a couple that decided to move from Mumbai to little old Hanmer Springs. From the warm crackling fire to the warm and welcoming service, this is one gem on the Hanmer dining scene.

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Onion & spinach bhagis (16.5) presented as a golden tangle of sweet onions, perfectly crisp and packed with flavour. Some tomato & chilli dipping sauce injected a lovely tang to the bhagis.

Taking the innovative Asian route this restaurant is known for, the pan-seared scallops (24) were nothing short of divine. Sweet, plump and juicy, the scallops are served over sticky pork belly with crunchy pickled spring onion. The magic touch came with a light sprinkling of Earl Grey salt.

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Our main courses were unmistakably Indian – such as the chicken tikka (18.5) simply lined-up on the plate and garnished with pickled red onion and squiggle of pomegranate reduction.

The other – street style butter chicken (28.5). Served on the bone, the tender bits of chicken take on the deep richness of the creamy sauce. Very tasty, even if it had a high price point.

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  • Malabar
  • 5 Conical Hill Road
  • Hanmer Springs 7334
  • 03 315 7745
  • website
  • Malabar Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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Breakfast offerings were very sparse, but thanks to spotting the Powerhouse opposite the pub we had drinks at the evening before, we already knew where to go.

Good coffee, great selection of house-made cakes and a hearty breakfast menu can be found in this cafe that fills what was once a hydro-electric power station.

Scrambled eggs (17.5) with bacon satisfies the better half as I tuck into a steaming bowl of kedgeree (18.5). A little rich for my early morning stomach, but I relished every spiced grain of rice in this salmon-heavy dish. Not only was there cold smoked salmon, but generous chunks of hot smoked salmon were flecked throughout. And that oozing egg made things all the better.

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  • Powerhouse
  • 8 Jacks Pass Road
  • Hanmer Springs 7334
  • 03 315 5252
  • website
  • Powerhouse Cafe on Urbanspoon

 


Springs Junction


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There was a little back-tracking up through the valleys and Southern Alps, with a morning pit stop at Springs Junction; a locale that’s little more than a place to refuel the car, grab a bite or stay the night.

The Alpine Motor Inn Cafe is the only place in “town” that you can buy food and a drink and stepping into its doors is akin to stepping back a few decades. I have a bit of a soft spot for old cafeterias that have “tray tracks” at the food cabinets. You’ve gotta love nostalgia.

Pre-made rolls and sandwiches, pies, cakes and slices are the go at this relic on the junction of two state highways. Eat inside beneath the leadlights, or out in the fresh valley air and sunshine.

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  • Alpine Motor Inn & Cafe
  • State Highway 7
  • Springs Junction 7895
  • 03 523 8813
  • Alpine Motor Inn & Cafe on Urbanspoon

 


Murchison


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It’s trees, valleys and more trees north of the junction, and the town that hosted us for lunch was Murchison. Driving from one end of town to the other would probably take 30 seconds, so you can imagine its size already.

Two pubs, a museum, a couple of places to grab groceries and a few other places of interest for anyone breezing through town.

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Those of us that have a penchant for bric-a-brac and dust collectors may find Somebody’s Treasure a bit of a gold mine. There’s a dazzling collection of pre-loved bits and pieces, antiques, stuff for the kitchen and home. Miraculously I left empty-handed.

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In the centre of town next to the Commercial Hotel is the Vault Cafe, taking residence in the former historic Bank of New Zealand building.

At the centre of the cafe is the robust vault that once held the fortunes of local gold miners and growing community. Today it’s an additional room where you can sit and enjoy your coffee and a bite from the small menu.

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The food options are fairly slim – think burgers, sandwiches and soup – but it didn’t take long for me to gravitate to the homemade pies in the cabinet. It was venison pie for me, served with a little tomato relish. Great chunks of tender meat and delicious flaky pastry. The apple slice was pretty special, as well.

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  • The Vault Cafe
  • 37 Fairfax Street
  • Murchison 7007
  • 03 523 9696
  • website
  • Vault Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

NZmap3

All other posts from this South Island trip –

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The End of King

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With last years departure of the short-lived and conjoined Tram Stop Diner & El Cuervo Cantina, the digs at 609 King Street have been transformed and once again show signs of life. The concrete floor has been stripped and polished, new furniture and lighting has moved in and gone is the vintage mural of Newtown during Sydney’s tram age.

A quick scan over the breakfast and lunch menu reveals much of what we’ve seen all over the traps; the likes of eggs benedict, caesar salad, BLT and salt & pepper squid.

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It’s what stands out from the norm that gets my attention, especially in a new business, and it doesn’t take long to notice that End of King has a slight point of difference.

Chef and owner Sal learned a thing or two about cooking from his mother and grandmother when he was growing up in Kathmandu, and it’s these techniques that show through to some of the dishes on his menu.

Sal has been cooking in Sydney for 15 years, at one point business-partnering with his brother on Glebe Point Road. Now the brothers have their own places – Sal in Newtown and his brother Naggy at the O’Connell Street Cafe in town.

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All day breakfast is very much the norm in many-a-Sydney cafe. We kind of expect it now, don’t we? We’ve been for breakfast a couple of times now and sampled a few of the edibles, so here’s a little preview.

The End of King smashed avocado (15.9) is a pretty decent doorstop of rye sourdough, tomato, bacon and grilled Cypriot haloumi. A rather flat poached egg threatens to burst at the slightest touch and a curious squiggle of pomegranate molasses introduces a tangy sharpness.

The aloo chop! (15.9) is bound to kick-start the tastebuds. Two small spiced potato cakes, fried eggs dusted in mild paprika and some roti and spiced chickpeas. I kinda wanted more of those potato cakes!

Shakshuka (16.9) has been doing the rounds for some time now and the one at End of King is one of the better ones I’ve tried thanks to some meat. Lurking beneath the tomato ragù are two spiced lamb koftas, topped with an egg before a little oven time. A lot more spice in the sauce would have gone down a treat.

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And how nice to see momos on the menu. We had our fair share of these pleated dumplings in Kathmandu many years ago, gorging on plates of them with cold beers before and after our trek to Everest Base Camp.

The momos here are made by Sal’s wife, Munu, filled with either spiced chicken or vegetables. A roasted tomato chutney comes with the dumplings, spiced up and puréed for generous dunking.

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Veering away from the Nepalese goodies, the prawn linguine (17.9) doesn’t disappoint. Cherry tomatoes, a bit of vino, fresh lemon and red chilli are mixed through the pasta with confit garlic cloves and those gorgeous prawns.

For something a bit lighter there’s the warm squid & chorizo salad (16.9). The combination of these two ingredients is pure heaven, only enhanced with chickpeas and lemon-dressed rocket leaves.

A refreshing salad for a business that has refreshed the bottom of King Street. All the best, guys.

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  • The End of King
  • Shop 6-11, 609 King Street
  • Newtown 2042
  • 02 8021 3486
  • End of King on Urbanspoon

 

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Timaru, Lake Tekapo & Wanaka

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An hours drive north of Dunedin is a much visited geological site known as the Moeraki Boulders. Such rock formations can be seen in many places across New Zealand, but the ones at Moeraki are probably the most visited and photographed. About 50 of these 2-3 metre-wide concretions are strewn along the beach, and if you’re lucky, you may spot a furry grey local basking in the sun next to the boulders.

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Timaru


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Ninety minutes north of Moeraki is the small port city of Timaru, our first food stop of the day. In retrospect, we probably should have wandered about the city centre a little more to check out the beautiful bluestone Edwardian and Victorian buildings, but once the appetite was sated, we kind of forgot.

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The Oxford caught our eye as we drove around looking for a parking spot; catching sight of its smart interior as we turned the corner.

Taking centre stage inside the restaurant is an enlarged photo from the 1960’s depicting a fashion parade. It isn’t until you look closely that you begin to notice quirky – and well disguised – additions such as somebody taking a photo with their smartphone and the owner sitting in the crowd using a laptop. It soon becomes a “Where’s Wally” game trying to find other additions.

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The lunch menu may not offer as much as the one at dinner, but the six or seven options are solid examples of English and Continental bistro-style fare.

My beef & ale pie (17) is a damn fine plate of gastropub goodness, standing tall on creamy mash and buttered cabbage; richly drenched in ale gravy.

Almost as substantial is the open pork sandwich (19), served salad-style with pieces of schnitzel, fennel slaw, crunchy apple and mustard mayo.

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The savouries were so good that desserts were a given. Warmed slice of orange syrup cake (12), a scattering of pistachio crumble and healthy dollop of thick yoghurt.

Just as warming was the toffee apple grunt (12). Beneath the biscuit top is baked apple and boysenberries, bourbon-soaked prunes and pine nuts.

I kinda wanted to hang about town to try the dinner menu, but we had another town to get to.

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  • The Oxford
  • 152 Stafford Street
  • Timaru 7910
  • 03 688 3297
  • website
  • Oxford on Urbanspoon

 


Tekapo


The remnants of hazy memories from my first visit to Tekapo involve a multitude of colourful lupins, an old church and killer sandflies. Not much has changed other than us missing lupin season and those biting insects not being so prevalent. As for the Church of the Good Shepherd, well, you can scroll down and see it yourself.

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Tekapo, as with most of the South Island, presents itself as a bit of a postcard. A rippling turquoise-coloured lake framed by the snow-dusted Southern Alps.

Many come for the hot springs, air safaris, skiing and trekking, but another activity so happens to be star gazing.

Overlooking the village is the Mount John Observatory, a place that takes full advantage of the clear night skies and low levels of local light pollution. It’s no wonder that Lake Tekapo is part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve.

During the day the observatory operates a cafe that has some pretty smashing 360° views over the surrounding countryside. And the coffee ain’t half bad, either. Food-wise, the offerings are all about sandwiches, bagels and a few cakes.

The main drawcard, of course, is that view.

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  • Astro Cafe
  • Mount John Observatory
  • Godley Peaks Road
  • Lake Tekapo 7945
  • 03 680 6007
  • website
  • Astro Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Being such a small village means the eating options are relatively limited. Some hotels have their own restaurants, but it’s the compact village that most gravitate to. Not a village in a quaint kind of way; more like a glorified strip mall, really.

Tin Plate is a relative newcomer to the town, feeding-up visitors with pizza, pasta and piada – a type of pita roll loaded with things like spiced pulled pork, meatballs or chorizo and prawn.

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It was carne pizza (22) for this one – topped with venison, beef, lamb and mushrooms. Caramelised onion and bbq sauce, as well. The base is enough to keep thin-and-crispy pizza lovers content, but this particular Neapolitan die-hard wasn’t all that thrilled.

A similar reaction with the penne (22). Meagre in size and a little too al dente. At least the flavours were good – with bacon, garlic, chilli and basil.

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  • Tin Plate – Kitchen & Bar
  • State Highway 8
  • Lake Tekapo 7945
  • 03 680 6677
  • website
  • Tin Plate Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Tekapo is Mt Gerald Station, the farm that supplies much of the venison, beef and merino to its Run 77 Cafe & General Store in the village. The cafe takes its name from the stations “run”, a numbering system used in the late 1800’s for each station property.

On the general store side of things, there’s a gamut of New Zealand deli-style pickings like local cheeses, preserves and chutneys and take-home meals that simply require reheating.

Cakes, slices, wraps and sandwiches fill the cabinets, with platters of fresh scones filling the air with their buttery scent.

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Breakfast is all about eggs, beans, grains and good coffee, thrown together in a rustic manner as you’d do at home. High country fried eggs (14.5) kick-started me with toasted seeded bread, a tangle of charred bacon and balsamic roasted tomato that was neither roasted or anywhere near vinegar. The promised Cafe de Paris butter didn’t get out of bed that morning, either.

Couldn’t go wrong with the bowl of goodness (13.7), however. House-made muesli with three slices of poached pear and yoghurt. Rather steep in price, but tasty none the less.

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  • Run 77 Cafe & General Store
  • State Highway 8
  • Lake Tekapo 7945
  • 03 680 6910
  • website
  • Run77 Cafe & General Store on Urbanspoon

 


Mount Cook (Aoraki) National Park


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Our next overnighter wasn’t all that far away, so a little local exploration was in order. Just above Lake Pukaki is the spectacular Mount Cook-Aoraki National Park; a haven for hiking, mountaineering and heli-skiing. Aoraki-Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain and so happens to be the place that Sir Edmund Hillary honed his mountaineering skills before his Everest conquest.

A well-equipped Aoraki Visitor Centre provides fantastic information about the areas Māori and climbing history and any activities that one can do in the region. You can even base yourself in the village at one of a handful of accommodations.

I wasn’t all that keen on a 3-hour trek that involved ascending over 1800 steps on the Sealy Tarns Track that particular morning, instead opting for a more leisurely 15 minute walk to Kea Point. It’s still a beautiful walk and provides views to the mountains, glaciers and even an avalanche or two. We were at a safe distance, so watching ice and rock tumble down a mountain was seriously spectacular.

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Twizel


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First impressions of Twizel was “Where’s the actual town?”

As far as a town goes, this one is a bit of a youngster. Created in the 1960’s, Twizel started out as a home-base for workers that were part of the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme.

The town centre is merely a cluster of strip mall-type buildings that contain services and most of the eateries. A newsagent here, a Thai restaurant there, and a fantastic Shawty’s Cafe that was busier than everything else.

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Coffee was the sensible choice, and seeing this place is a bar as well, one of the craft beers or a grappa would have gone down a treat. Yes, they even have a grappa menu. I guess it was only midday and I was driving, so no booze just yet.

The lunch menu is a mixed bag of top-notch cafe fare. I went all out and ordered the confit duck leg (32). An enormous shallow dish that also contained a spiced wild game cassoulet of pancetta, venison sausage, veg and white beans. Seriously impressive and the best cassoulet I’ve had since our Canal du Midi jaunt a few years ago.

A much lighter lamb shoulder (20) resembled an open sandwich, of sorts. Juicy shredded meat joined rocket leaves, smoked kumara aïoli, balsamic roast beets and feta; all over char-grilled ciabatta.

Win-win in the food department, and the coffee is top-notch, as well.

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  • Shawty’s Restaurant Cafe & Bar
  • 4 Market Place
  • Twizel 7901
  • 03 435 3155
  • website
  • Shawtys Restaurant Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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A few kilometres drive south of Twizel is High Country Salmon, floating over the turquoise Wairepo Arm of Lake Ruataniwha. More than a dozen pens cluster in the water around the shop, with access to a couple of them if you feel like tossing the salmon pellets and creating a wild feeding frenzy.

Inside the shop you can purchase hot and cold salmon, whole fish or fillets, sashimi lunch packs; even free range eggs, local honey and chutneys.

Well worth the stop-in if you want to stretch the legs, get some fresh air and some of that fresh salmon grown just metres away.

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  • High Country Salmon
  • State Highway 8
  • Twizel 7901
  • 021 400 385
  • website
  • High Country Salmon on Urbanspoon

 

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En route to our next overnighter is a blink-and-miss-it locale called Tarras. This small farming settlement is well-and-truly set up for people pulling off the highway to refuel their cars and refuel their bodies. The Tarras Country Cafe offers country style breakfasts and a few lunch options like polenta cakes, bagels, salads and sandwiches. Caffeine and sugar was all I needed to stay alert, so macchiato and ginger crunch it was.

Those that are interested in picking up a kitchen gadget, something for the home or some basic food items can duck into the Country Store adjacent to the cafe.

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  • Tarras Country Cafe
  • 2792 Tarras-Cromwell Road
  • 03 445 2821
  • website
  • Tarras Country Cafe on Urbanspoon

 


Wanaka


The town of Wanaka fits the same kind of template as Tekapo. Gorgeous lake back-dropped by the Southern Alps, walking, hiking and skiing. And more. Wanaka is a larger town, has a lot more buzz and a more diverse food scene.

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Places to grab a drink are aplenty and our pick is the ever-popular Alivate Restaurant & Bar. Not to be confused with the pub-like Water Bar downstairs, Alivate is a tad more polished and has a great outdoor deck overlooking the lake and mountains beyond.

The drawcard? Happy hour, of course. It was time to get stuck into some local vino, chat and watch the sun go down over Lake Wanaka.

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  • Alivate Restaurant & Bar
  • 145 Ardmore Street
  • Wanaka 9305
  • 03 443 1188
  • website
  • Alivate Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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Next door to the bar is BoaBoa Food Company. Nothing more than a takeaway with a few seats for those that are lucky enough to get them. If burgers are your thing, then this is a good place to start. There are twelve to choose from. If not, then perhaps fish or crayfish & chips, whitebait or fried chicken would do.

Between our two choices, the crumbed blue cod & chips (12) outshone the burger I ordered. Thin crumb and steaming, flakey fish innards.

I thought I’d go all out and get the big red (22), a hefty burger with two 180 g patties, hash brown, bacon, egg. cheese, beet relish, chilli jam, onion ring and a little salad. In reality it’s two burgers in one thanks to more bread bun in the middle. Sadly the meat was overcooked and incredibly dry and the chilli jam and beet relish was nowhere to be seen.

The kitchen seemed to be on the verge of melt-down due to a massive influx of people placing orders on this particular visitation, and the few guys in there were barely coping with it all. Interrupting them may have become contentious.

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  • Boaboa Food Company
  • 137 Ardmore Street
  • Wanaka 9305
  • 03 443 1234
  • website
  • Boaboa Food Company on Urbanspoon

 

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As the sunrise hit the surrounding snowcapped peaks, we emerged from our humble Alpine Motel in search of food and coffee. Sadly there was still half an hour before the first place opened, and that so happened to be Urban Grind.

High brick walls give this cafe a great sense of space and sitting by the roaring fire helped the extremities defrost from the near zero temperature outside. It seemed I was the only one with an appetite that morning, tucking into my baked mushrooms (12.5) with absolute joy. Rich, earthy and loaded with parmesan, peas, tiny croutons and oozing egg. Bacon on the side, of course.

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  • Urban Grind
  • 72 Ardmore Street
  • Wanaka 9305
  • 03 443 6748
  • website
  • Urban Grind on Urbanspoon

 

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That rocky knoll that rises 240 metres above the town is Mount Iron. Most people would drive past and not think more about it, others have the desire to climb it after breakfast. Nothing like a bit of a sweat in the morning, right? And I guess the view is pretty special – down the Cardrona and Upper Clutha Valleys, over both lakes and a virtual wall of mountains.

Speaking of Cardrona, it’s well worth the short drive to this picturesque valley to take in more of that stunning landscape. Yes there’s the famous Cardrona Hotel and that much-photographed bra fence, but a drive up towards Snow Farm Lodge offers spectacular views up and down the valley.

Sadly, for us, the fuel indicator decided to flash red halfway up, forcing us to turn around as the nearest petrol station was way back in Wanaka. Note to self – check fuel levels before driving up mountains.

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Dinner choices in Wanaka are aplenty, but it pays to book ahead or get in early, as many of the good restaurants fill up very quickly. We thought we give Francesca’s Italian Kitchen a go. Unfortunate for us was they were solidly booked, but if we were ok with it, one of the outside tables was available for the next hour. The only downside is the heaters they use are more “visual” rather than practical, and the temp was rapidly dropping to low single numbers.

All of that aside, it was well worth the slight discomfort. Francesca’s happened to be the best place we’d eaten on the entire trip, and also happened to be some of the best food we’ve eaten outside of Italy.

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For a start, the handmade beetroot agnolotti (16). Blushed and beautifully plump, the soft pillows are kept toasty and warm in browned butter, with sage, poppy seeds, vincotto and pecorino as perfectly partnered flavours.

And then the Aoraki salmon salad (20). There was no holding back on the hot-smoked salmon as it took up most of the dish alongside shaved fennel, segments of orange and a good dose of salsa verde and chilli.

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Many people avoid carbs at dinnertime, but we don’t believe in such practices. And if we did, we would have missed out on the next two plates entirely. House-made potato gnocchi (25) with braised beef shin. I mean really, how could you not?

Impossibly soft, the little dumplings were the perfect vehicle for the rich, tender ragù; generously topped with pecorino and gremolata.

The orecchiette (22) was no slouch, either. Cavolini – or Brussels sprouts –  with chestnuts, crisp prosciutto and fresh lemon. Pecorino, of course.

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Dessert didn’t disappoint. Caramelised apple tart (12) with mascarpone ice cream and a divine set lemon cream (12) that came with high praise from our wonderful waitress. Both are great, but that lemon cream, well, it made our tastebuds bounce.

Aside from the cute glass cloche presentation, the arrangement of fresh and freeze-dried mandarin, pistachios, meringue and lemon gel was enchanting. And the flavour – uplifting and incredibly light.

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  • Francesca’s Italian Kitchen
  • 93 Ardmore Street
  • Wanaka 9305
  • 03 443 5599
  • website
  • Francesca's Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

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Prior to setting off on the next leg of our road trip, it was breakfast at Federal Diner in the centre of town. This is another popular breakfast-brunch hang-out with a robust selection of edibles.

Baked delights tempt you as you walk in past the kitchen counter – pastries, scones and bikkies and the smell of coffee hangs in the air, tempting me order one as soon as we take a seat.

Once again it was me with the morning appetite, going vegetarian with the Hawea flat (18). Crisp fried hunks of polenta with spinach, grilled haloumi, mushrooms and tomato. A decent start to the day before more driving into the South Island wilderness.

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  • Federal Diner
  • 47 Helwick Street
  • Wanaka 9305
  • 03 443 5152
  • website
  • Federal Diner on Urbanspoon

 

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All other posts from this South Island trip –

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Te Anau, Milford Sound & Dunedin

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On leaving Queenstown for our little jaunt into the South Island wilderness, it didn’t take long to settle into yet another road trip that involved some smashing scenery. I’m kind of loving these road trips; an unbeatable way to immerse yourself and not having to worry about schedules and not being able to stop where you want.

Majestic mountain ranges make way to open plains and farmland where, if the timing is right, you may encounter a spot of road congestion; as we did along the southern arm of Lake Wakatipu. Trust the city folk to get excited about seeing hundreds of sheep on the road.

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Te Anau


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Barely two hours on the road and we were pulling into the driveway of our first overnighter. And check the digs we were shacked-up in. The cute and very comfy Aden Motel a block back from Lake Te Anau. All that was missing was a pair of flamingo statues. Although, the garden did have its share of colourful statuesque critters! From the very friendly Irene at the front desk and the fact that the motel is pet friendly, this place had much more homely character the bigger hotels seemed to be lacking.

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The town of Te Anau sits on the edge of Fiordland, which makes it the ideal base for day trips into the national park for walking, hiking or water sports.

Being in town at the end of winter presented us with having most of the place to ourselves. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a town so devoid of people, as the only sign of life were the people working in shops, restaurants, other businesses and the occasional tourist breezing through town.

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Aside from two local ladies and a small family of three, it was just us at The Fat Duck tucking into a hearty lunch. Pub and cafe-style food abounds at this chilled eatery in the centre of town, and it was the winter special menu that got our attention.

$20 for a main course with house vino, juice or beer couldn’t be ignored, so lambs fry with a local pinot it was, for me. Aside from the liver being overcooked and dry, the mountain of mash and very generous ladling of red wine and caramelised onion jus. My favourite part was the “jus”, a deliciously creamy sauce packed with richness.

A shot glass of highly-sugared onion chutney is amusingly embedded into the mash.

Bangers & mash it was, for the better half. Three very good pork & apple cider sausages with caramelised onions and cider gravy.

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  • The Fat Duck Cafe & Bar
  • 124 Town Centre
  • Te Anau 9600
  • 03 249 8480
  • website
  • Fat Duck Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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There’s more pub-style food to be had down the road at Bailiez Cafe & Bar, one of the restaurants at the Distinction Luxmore Hotel on the main drag. Inside and to the right is a casual bar area, to the left is the humbly-decorated restaurant complete with booths and tables that extend into a separate room.

Thai skewered chicken, blue cod and grilled steaks are the types of offerings on the family-friendly menu. There’s nothing pretentious about the Luxmore burger (26), featuring fried eggs, beetroot, bacon and two beef patties.

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Aside from the awkwardly deep bowl that made eating the Fiordland venison pie (26) a challenge, the chunks of meat were slow-cooked to toothsome tenderness. A bucket of kumara fries came with it, as did a superfluous and flavour-challenged salad of shredded iceberg, cucumber and carrot.

Soy braised pork belly (29) was a must, served atop bok choy and several discs of aromatic West Coast black pudding. The menu did mention creamy mash, but the dry, crumbly and unseasoned potato we got didn’t match up to the description.

It was the native horopito that prompted me to order the chicken wings (15.5), but sadly it went completely unnoticed. BBQ sauce sweetens the tender wings and another dose of shredded iceberg salad provides the greenery.

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  • Bailiez Café & Bar
  • 41 Town Centre
  • Te Anau 9600
  • 03 249 7526
  • website
  • Bailiez Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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Very close to Bailiez is Kepler Restaurant, an eatery with more of a modern hand at the local food it dishes up. This particular visit wasn’t about exploring the menu and sampling a variety of plates. It was more like a “let’s just grab a bite and relax back at the motel” kind of visitation.

It’s difficult to miss the deer farms as you drive into town, so I’m wondering which farm the local free range venison medallions (37.5) may have come from. I was seriously impressed with this towering plate of juicy meat over sautéed savoy cabbage, portobello mushrooms and kumara & pumpkin purée. Every flavour complemented the other and the added confit cubes of beet and red currant jus brought delicious pops of sweetness.

Things weren’t so ecstatic with our other choice of tender roast lamb (27.5). I’m not sure what made both of us think of juicy lamb fillets that could have been pan-roasted. Instead, it was layers of sliced, pre-roasted and reheated lamb, just as you’d have at home or an RSL restaurant – or RSA as they call them in NZ. A tasty drenching of port & red wine jus moistened the meat, with confit potatoes and a tian-style ratatouille on the side. Dabs of sweet mint sauce sealed the deal.

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  • Kepler Restaurant
  • 1055 Town Centre
  • Te Anau 9600
  • 03 249 7909
  • Kepler Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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For the two nights we’d spent in Te Anau, breakfast was had at Sandfly Cafe. Consistently good coffee, hearty food, friendly service and some killer homemade sweet and savoury muffins. And you’ve got to love the name of the place. Clearly a reference to those pesky little local winged beasts that attack with a stinging bite.

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Aside from those delicious muffins – yes we had our share – and the cabinet stocked with cakes, tarts, slices and rolls, the brekkie menu is a celebration of egg dishes, toasties and grains.

A bacon & egg panini (9.5) fuelled me up one morning as the fluffy pancakes (13) took care of the other half on both days. We don’t think we’ve seen a place that’s so generous with berries as Sandfly is. Much appreciated, folks.

The hash brown stack (16.5) is a perfect contender to increase anybody’s cholesterol levels. Aside from the obvious, it’s a small mountain of bacon, tomato, poached eggs and buttery hollandaise.

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  • Sandfly Café
  • 9 The Lane
  • Te Anau 9600
  • 03 249 9529
  • website
  • Sandfly Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Being in Fiordland and not getting out-and-about would be a bit of a waste of time, so our agenda involved driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound. An early morning rise as a thick fog blanketed the valley pretty much as far as The Divide. Once high enough in altitude, of course, it was clear skies and valleys in the Mount Christina and Mount Lyttle region. Stunning view, as you can see above.

Before the drive through the mountain via Homer Tunnel it was a stop to take in the scenery, stretch the legs and be reminded of the biting cold outside. Fern fronds looked as if they’d been crystallised in sugar, grass crunched beneath the feet and a curious kea landed on the car to say hello. This endemic bird – the worlds only alpine parrot – looks cute enough, but it didn’t hesitate in trying to take chunks out of any rubber or plastic fittings on the car.

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Exiting Homer Tunnel provided yet another spectacular view. This time over a deep forested valley filled with fog pretty-much all the way to Milford Sound. No town, as such, can be found there. Other than the cruise terminal down on the waterfront, there’s accommodation, the Blue Duck Cafe & Bar and an information centre. Free limited wifi comes in handy when the urge to reconnect is required, even if the connection is painfully weak. Snaps to the coffee-maker, as well. So good that we went back for another top-up after our little cruise on the sound.

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  • Blue Duck Café & Bar
  • Milford Sound Village
  • Milford Sound 9679
  • 03 249 7931
  • Blue Duck Café & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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Yes it was absolutely freezing up on the roof deck of our cruise, but it’s the ruggedly beautiful scenery that trumps any icy discomfort, should you visit at the end of winter as we did. Seals bask in the sunshine at the base of sheer cliffs, snow is dusted high above the waterline and waterfalls plunge into the milky turquoise waters.

It’s the complete opposite of when we were in this area nearly twenty years ago. The weather was so cyclonic that you couldn’t see past the shore and we were advised to leave before Homer Tunnel closed and we were stranded.

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And there you have it. Magestic Mitre Peak enshrouded with clouds; the iconic Milford Sound scene that people come far and wide for.

The region is a bit of a paradise for nature enthusiasts, where visitors can stop to walk through the rainforest to The Chasm, fulfil any feathery fetishes with bird-watching or spontaneously take a left turn and see where the Hollyford Track road takes you, as we did.

Swing bridges, crystal clear creeks and rivers, wild forest and waterfalls.

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With Milford Sound and Te Anau well and truly behind us, the South Island road trip continued in a south-easterly direction with a quick early morning stop at the small township of Lumsden. It was the mural on the local pub that made me pull the car over to snap a few pics.

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Gore


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The drive from Te Anau to our destination takes a mere 3½ hours, so the morning pit stop was made in the town of Gore – home to brown trout fly fishing and home to New Zealand’s country music scene.

Breezing through town only had one requirement. Coffee. Located in the St James Theatre building is The Green Room Cafe; appropriately named and decked-out in vintage garb. Tempting cakes peered from the bench cabinet, but for us it was a couple of coffees whilst seated in old movie theatre seats.

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  • Green Room Café
  • 59 Irk Street
  • Gore 9710
  • 03 208 1005
  • website
  • Green Room Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Dunedin


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If I had one request whilst planning this trip to New Zealand, it was to see the city of Dunedin down on the southeast coastline. It’s the second largest city on the island, is home to some mighty-fine Edwardian and Victorian architecture and happens birthplace of my partners late father.

It’s pretty easy to see why it’s been labelled as the Edinburgh of New Zealand.

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Our arrival time coincided perfectly with lunch time and I had eyes for just one place. Bracken. This is the pride and joy of Ken and Fiona O’Connell, a couple that made the big move from Ireland to better the life of their family.

It’s easy to assume the name of the restaurant came from poet Thomas Bracken, an Irishman that spent most of his life in New Zealand, but it seems the name is more plant related. The bracken – that hardy fern that grows wild on almost every continent.

I was quietly hoping to see a few fiddleheads – the edible tender young heads from the bracken fern – but it wasn’t the right season. One thing I did love seeing was greens that had been foraged by either Ken himself or one of his suppliers. You’ve gotta love a chef that’s in tune with the local wild herbage.

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Local Gruff junction goat curd (17) took centre stage in the first arrival, tinted with beetroot and piped into brik pastry. Either side of the “cigar” is a silver beet salad muddled with cranberry, orange, beet relish and honey. A final chefs flourish of bee pollen completed the picture.

Then there’s the southern seafood & shellfish (16). Fish, clam, prawn and mussel wade in a shallow pool of warm crayfish verjuice cream flecked with leek, peas, potato and wakame.

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More delicious local produce came with a merino lamb rump (32), sauced-up with smoked garlic & mustard cream and kumara mash. A couple of leaves and blanched cavalo nero added greenery.

The tossed salad of crisp pork cheek (19) didn’t only featured tasty swine, but there was black pudding and chorizo in there as well. Not to mention the foraged greens, blooms, hazelnuts, apple and native horopito pepper relish.

Desserts didn’t disappoint, either. Rhubarb and custard (16) is tricked up with yoghurt, granola and maple syrup ice cream with a preserved raspberry crisp.

Or perhaps the chocolate crémeux (16) with fresh and freeze-dried mandarin, a chocolate malt soil and chocolate quince macaron.

A decadent end to a brilliant lunch.

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  • Bracken Restaurant
  • 95 Filleul Street
  • Dunedin 9016
  • 03 477 9779
  • website
  • Bracken Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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Fiona from Bracken strongly suggested we take a drive into the Otago Peninsula after she learned we were in town for just one night, and the fact the weather was absolute perfection. From the centre of town it’s an easy drive along Portobello Road, hugging the harbours southern shore through bays and villages, to the northern point called Taiaroa Head.

Nature lovers flock to this part of the South Island to see seals, sea lions, penguins and a plethora of birdlife. We so happened to drop by the Royal Albatross Centre where we were lucky enough to witness many of these majestic birds and see them in flight. This is the worlds only mainland breeding colony for albatross, with all profits going straight back into the maintenance and protection of the area.

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The small city of Dunedin offers a great choice of drinking and eating venues. We gravitated north away from The Octagon to sniff out the more casual eateries past the shopping strip, settling on a bit of Indian for the night.

Shahi Tandoor is a sizeable place with a rather vibrant appearance. Orange walls and ceiling and illuminated pillars depicting bright photos of spices. As far as the menu goes, there isn’t a great deal that sets it apart from any regular Indian restaurant, and it’s difficult to ignore the very friendly service.

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The amritsari machhi (15.9) are swoon-worthy deep-fried North Indian fritters of monkfish beautifully spiced with ginger and amchoor.

My usual Indian go-to is biryani, so no exceptions were made in choosing the lamb (14) variety. The rice was quite overcooked, which made everything a little on the sloppy-side. As for the flavour, it was bang on.

Tandoori murgh (10) is also flavour-packed. Juicy little pieces of chicken fresh from the oven.

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  • Shahi Tandoor
  • 351 George Street
  • Dunedin 9016
  • 03 470 1592
  • website
  • Shahi Tandoor on Urbanspoon

 

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Not a great deal seemed to be open for early risers like ourselves. Good for us that Morning Magpie was ready for business, pulling coffees for a stream of regulars that clearly work in the neighbourhood. No work for us, however, as all we had planned for the day was a bit of driving to our next destination.

The main focus at Morning Magpie is the coffee they churn out. They’re a knowledgeable lot that strives for coffee perfection, be it from the espresso machine or pour-over.

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Many of the edibles are made in-house, often displayed on the counter for all to see. Cakes, slices, rolls and ready to-go bagel sandwiches.

One of the big and rustic savoury scrolls did us fine, as did a creamy mushroom open bagel (14). It comes loaded with spinach and cottage cheese as well. A toasted bagel would have been preferred, but it’s still a decent breakfast offering.

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  • Morning Magpie
  • 46 Stuart Street
  • Dunedin 9016
  • 03 154 0837
  • website
  • Morning Magpie on Urbanspoon

 

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As if one strong coffee wasn’t enough at breakfast, it was a speedy drop-in at Diesoline at the back of The Octagon. This little roaster and cafe offers nothing more than a handful of baked items, but we do understand you can bring your own food. You may want to check on that before you pack a lunch and nab one of the tables in this stark and sleek space.

The coffee is meticulously made and packs a real punch. Something I needed as it was my turn to drive us to the next destination.

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  • Diesoline Espresso
  • 7 Bath Street
  • Dunedin 9016
  • 03 477 7088
  • website
  • Diesoline Espresso on Urbanspoon

 

All other posts from this South Island trip –

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Blacksmith

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Coming to us from the same folk behind Blacksmith up in Mona Vale, this new Surry Hills outpost has been open for a week and the locals already seem to have settled in.

The cafe takes up corner possie where Firstdraft gallery resided for almost 20 years. The exhibitions and artworks have made way for a deeply textured space that takes on a whole new personality, and it quickly becomes apparent how the name marries perfectly with the decor.

There’s metal everywhere. Be it forged, in sheet form and crafted into pendant lamps, planters and furniture. Right down to the bespoke teaspoons, breakfast skillets and metal trays. All this with exposed brick, wood, formica and terrazzo and you’ve got a unique space that fits the building as snuggly as a blacksmiths glove.

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Cabinets are filled with cakes and pastries alongside a rack loaded with loaves of fresh bread baked onsite.

Morning punters can lube up by way of fresh juice blends, smoothies, T2 teas and coffee by Toby’s Estate. We’re pretty chuffed on the beaker styling with the cold drip coffee; great the first time, but sadly, insipidly weak on another visit. Even water glasses have been given the enamelware touch.

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Breakfast covers the usuals – toasties, fruit, eggs and French toast, with a few little quirks thrown in as well. The roughforked avo (13.5) is presented salad-style rather than on the sourdough, as most would do. Watercress and baby rocket leaves with black quinoa, tomatoes and feta, plus a pop of lemon zest and paprika olive oil.

Something that’s a little more messy is the Smithy breakfast burger (14.5). A crisp brioche bun harbours bacon, pesto fried egg, beet relish and some very aromatic pickled slaw. Melted Cheddar joins in on the fun with caramelised onion that replaced the promised chilli jam. A bit of a bite would have been welcomed.

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The lunch menu features a bunch of filled baguettes, salads, even rump steak; with many V and GF options for those with intolerances and non-meat preferences.

The Derrick (13.5) is a good old mouthful of chorizo, pickled capsicum and onion with a squiggle of horseradish honey mustard. It’s declared “ok”.

And something that’s doing its rounds in Sydney at the moment – the soft-shell crab burger (21). Brioche bun, as expected, loaded with pickled Asian slaw, ribbons of fennel and “kimchi” salsa. Can’t forget the golden fried crab that beacons with its pointy claws. Not bad.

Teething problems aside, Blacksmith is sure to become another breakfast-brunch hotspot for the Surry Hillsters.

BYO beard optional.

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  • Blacksmith
  • 116 Chalmers Street
  • Surry Hills 2010
  • 02 9690 0103
  • Blacksmith Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon
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Lady J Cafe & Wine Bar

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For anyone that doesn’t know Bondi Junction, it can easily be regarded as several things. A bus interchange, a place to see yet another Westfield shopping centre, a rather uninspiring Oxford Street pedestrian mall and the end of the line for train travellers. And then there’s the notion that the area exists in the shadow of its beach counterpart.

Venturing west on Oxford reveals a part of town that doesn’t appear to have changed a great deal over the last few decades. A mish-mash of small businesses and services that, at a very quick glance, seem to blend into the uninspiring streetscape. As a local, you probably already know what’s good and what’s not. As a visitor, you have to scratch the surface and see what it’s all about.

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Located beneath the relatively new Forum apartment building is somewhere that seems to have added a little sparkle to this end of Oxford Street. Cafe by day and at night, a wine and tapas bar with a South American inflection. Rustic wood and industrial fittings set the scene, complete with cigar boxes that store the cutlery and those ubiquitous souvenir teaspoons we’re all too familiar with these days.

The beans come supplied by Gabriel Coffee, and Brasserie Bread fans will be chuffed to see their beloved loaves and rolls appear on plates and wooden boards.

I was half expecting a small glass of granita when I ordered the frozen ristretto – made with a Kenyan single origin called kianyangi. What’s delivered is an espresso cup that’s steaming. Frozen? It looked just like a regular ristretto. It’s when you touch the cup that you understand where the “frozen” enters the equation. The cup comes from the freezer and the hot ristretto is extracted straight into it. The flavour is intensified and kind of plays with your senses. Great stuff.

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Food-wise, the brekkie menu covers just about all the expected options. Muesli, toast, pastries, eggs and fruit. A couple of breakfast bruschetta’s are on offer as well. Our pick is the asparagus bruschetta (15) – a simple chunk of toasted ciabatta with poached eggs, semi-crisp prosciutto and fried sage leaves.

Along the same lines is the toast with avocado (8), ricotta and tomatoes. Fresh basil adds a nice touch and side of bacon (4.5) completes the picture.

And then there’s the chorizo stack (16). Piled high on two slices of toasted sourdough is spinach, baby rocket, mushrooms, chorizo, tomato and two wobbly poached eggs. A light incision spills those golden innards that streak through the hollandaise sauce. My requested side of haloumi never quite made it from the waitress to the ordering system, but no great loss as the plate had more than enough food on it anyway.

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My favourite? The huevos rancheros (18.5); a dish I tried on a separate visit. These guys step away from the traditional method of plating and serve it up in a shallow skillet, with whole cannelloni beans in place of the gloopy refried variety. There’s a subtle smoky spice in this hefty portion, with golden flecks of corn and spring onion melded with bubbling Cheddar. A couple of eggs and corn tortillas make for a solid breakfast.

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  • Lady J Café & Wine Bar
  • Shop 4/310-330 Oxford Street
  • Bondi Junction 2022
  • 02 9389 3743
  • website
  • Lady J Cafe & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon
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Fergburger, Joe’s Garage, Ivy & Lola’s Kitchen & Bar, Vudu Cafe & Larder, Public Kitchen, Aggy’s Shack, Rātā, Provisions

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Adventure capital of New Zealand. I believe people have even gone as far as calling it the adventure capital of the world; although I’m sure it was a Kiwi that made that declaration.

Why? The ski fields, for a start. And then there’s the bungy jumping, canyon swinging, jet boating, river surfing, whitewater rafting & sledging, canyoning, skydiving, hang gliding. It goes on. Oh, can’t forget the hydro attack – that shark shaped boat that plunges 5 feet into the water and leaps up to 18 feet into the air.

The last time we were in Queenstown was somewhere around 18 years ago. Some very hazy memories of a mountain town that doesn’t seem to have altered much. Well, perhaps a little.

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One thing for sure is the landscape upon which Queenstown is built is nothing short of stunning. Snowcapped mountains form an impressive backdrop to a sparkling Lake Wakatipu that laps the pebbled shoreline.

People mill about the waterfront parks to catch the warm sunshine, lounge about the al fresco bars and cafés and tuck into food from a multitude of cultures.

Where was our first meal in Queenstown? A burger joint. But not your ordinary burger joint.

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This is undoubtedly the most popular eatery in town. At just about any given time of the day (and night) people line up for a little burger action at Fergburger; stuffing their faces with some of the most delectable burgers around.

“The Ferg” has a 21-hour day. What the hell? Yep, those skiing and snowboarding youngin’s need something to soak up the booze in the early hours after shredding their way down the slopes, hitting up the bars and then dosing-up on solids before repeating the procedure. Us conventional folk that sleep at normal times will happily line up at midday for their burger fill. Yes, I’m talking about the hnf crew.

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Take a look at this sexy beast. That would be Chief Wiggum (14.5) – layers of lettuce, tomato, caramelised red onion and a hash brown. Following the vegetable factor are thick strips of meltingly fatty slow-roasted pork belly with a sweet apricot seeded mustard. To be blunt, it was nothing short of stupendous and completely overshadowed my rather ordinary burger choice.

It all sounded great on paper and looked decent enough, but my sweet bambi (12.5) wasn’t cracked up to what I was hoping it would be. I thought I’d keep it local by ordering a burger that contained wild Fiordland deer, but that minced-up patty was almost as dry as a boiled egg yolk between two bread buns. The Thai plum chutney and aïoli help a bit, but I only had eyes for that juicy pork belly, and other peoples burgers.

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  • Fergburger
  • 42 Shotover Street
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 643 441 1232
  • website
  • Fergburger on Urbanspoon

 

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On a previous visit to Wellington we dropped by Joe’s Garage, a laid back café with some cracking coffee, but it’s in Queenstown that we found the first Joe’s tucked away on Searle Lane near Nomads hostel. When they started out fourteen years ago they operated from the sorting room in the old post office. Nowadays the digs are a little more advanced and it’s a magnet for the breakfast/brunch crowd.

The first time we dropped in for coffee we had to sit out in the lane due to every inside seat being occupied. No great drama if drinking coffee in 2°C floats your boat. At least the sun was warm, and that fab coffee warmed the innards in no time.

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  • Joe’s Garage
  • Searle Lane
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 03 442 5282
  • website
  • Joe's Garage on Urbanspoon

 

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Taking the skyline gondola 450 metres up Bob’s Peak is not only a great way to get a sense of your whereabouts, but it reaffirms how utterly beautiful the Wakatipu basin is.

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Back down on the waterfront at Steamer Wharf there are a number of eating and drinking options. And what better way to sit and watch the sun set over the snow-dusted Remarkables than al fresco beneath a heater? Ok, regular folk would probably opt for a table inside, rather than eat their food faster than normal before it went cold from the sudden temperature drop as the sun disappears behind Bob’s Peak.

Ivy & Lola’s was our pick for the evening with its solid sounding menu that celebrates local produce, decent drinks list and a cool Art Deco fit-out that’s easy on the eye.

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Mulled wine would have been the go, considering the chill-factor, but I thought the wild rabbit & pork hot pot (18) would be more appropriate. It was chunks of meat galore in a watery broth that didn’t really pack a great deal of flavour. Even the mentioned wild thyme didn’t come through much.

Some toasted brioche helped soak up some of that broth and, disappointingly, the chef decided to replace the promised rhubarb chutney with a smoked whipped yoghurt. Sounds interesting enough, but the incredibly intense smokiness was like a jolt to the palate; a questionable condiment to an otherwise bland casserole.

Portion size isn’t an issue when it comes to the mains. Crisp braised pork belly (30) with bacon & leek bake would have been enough, but some potted shredded pork shoulder super-sized the meal. The belly may not have been crispy and the bake was akin to a bread pudding, but it was a good dish, overall. Loved the chilli bite from the jalapeño chutney.

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A great slab of Fiordland venison (36) was all about varying degrees of doneness from medium to blue, spilling its tasty juices over a celeriac pureé with every slice of the knife. The main selling point, for me, was the “crispy” venison heart that packed some flavour, with cumin as the overriding one. I could have eaten them all night.

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  • Ivy & Lola’s Kitchen & Bar
  • Steamer Wharf, 88 Beach Street
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 643 441 8572
  • website
  • Ivy & Lola's Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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We discovered there wasn’t a great deal on offer for early risers in the town centre. Perhaps people stuck to their hotel breakfast buffet? Of the couple of options available, Vudu Larder seemed the magnet for the early breakfast punters. And there’s no guesses why. The meals are hearty and delicious and the array of house baked sweets and savouries in the long cabinet is rather impressive.

How about grilled haloumi (18) with perfectly cooked poached eggs? A coriander-spiked tomato salsa joined in on the yolky fun; as did some toasted tortilla that was smeared with spiced black beans.

Pancake lovers are well-catered for with the stack of buttermilk & buckwheat pancakes (17.5). A blueberry compote crowns the stack with a dollop of orange-vanilla bean ricotta.

And the coffee? Well, it’s pretty smashing.

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  • Vudu Cafe & Larder
  • 23 Queen Street
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 03 441 8370
  • website
  • Vudu Cafe & Larder on Urbanspoon

 

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With weather as glorious as what we encountered during our stay, it was a given that we got out on the water to see the landscape from a different perspective. The obvious choice was to take the historic TSS Ernslaw out on the lake, but we chose Million Dollar Cruise as it’s smaller and more intimate.

Sitting inside to listen to the well-informed commentary was the warmer option, but sitting up on the roof in the freezing cold provided unobstructed views of the remarkable scenery. Shivering like a fool kinda didn’t matter.

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Another place that grabbed our attention down on Steamer Wharf was Public Kitchen; an eatery that’s not only easy on the eye, but it takes full advantage of the waterfront location, with views to the nearby mountains.

The menu is New Zealand through-and-through, with the likes of local venison, lamb, beef and rabbit alongside Pacific Island style cod and sweet pav for dessert.

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Ours was a relatively light lunch that involved – for starters – some intriguing chickpea chips with truffle salt (10). The soft and light fingers are made from ground chickpea batter, deep-fried and joined by aïoli.

Too many things were screaming to me from the extensive menu. Confit duck pancakes, coconut fried chicken and potted rabbit, to name a few. And then there was the braised beef cheek (22); tenderly sliced and served with roasted cauliflower and juicy raisins. Some collagen-rich goodness that hit all the right places.

A salad of salt baked beets (18) took care of the vegetable element, with the addition of peppery watercress, almonds and sheep feta.

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  • Public Kitchen
  • Steamer Wharf
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 03 442 5969
  • website
  • Public Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

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Queenstown may be a town of adventure, but there’s much to do when it comes to activities that don’t require a great deal of energy or adrenalin. Take sitting on the waterfront and having a few drinks, or shopping for a new pair of sunglasses because yours mysteriously disappeared. The options are aplenty.

One thing this pair did was go for a stroll around the Queenstown Gardens; that leafy finger of land that juts out below the town centre. It’s tranquil, beautiful and offers some smashing views from the shoreline.

Frisbee enthusiasts can even partake in a rather unique activity called Disc Golf. The challenging course takes the frisbee-tossers through the gardens and forest, with strategically placed nets that players aim for. Oodles of fun, especially if you’re knocking back stubbies of beer during the process, as we observed with a bunch of guys.

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At the bottom of Church Street is somewhat of a Queenstown “mini” institution. Aggy’s Shack keeps many-a-local and visitor fed from its tiny kiosk location. It was one of the first things I noticed when walking along the waterfront, and on the third pass-by I went in for a much closer look.

A few benches surround the yellow & black shack; topped with the essentials of malt vinegar, chicken salt and a serious napkin dispenser. Fish & chips, steamed prawns and mussels, spring rolls and squid populate the menu above some more “Wild Kiwi Foods” like smoked eel, blue cod, pāua, sea urchin and marinated raw fish.

Something made me revisit the mutton bird, or as the Maori call it – the tītī. The last time I tried it was at the Wellington night markets; tenderly cooked in a hāngi. This shearwater bird has a flavour that you’ve either grown to appreciate or struggle with; a dark flesh that’s quite fatty and akin to the combined flavours of very salty duck that tastes like tinned sardines.

Half a mutton bird & chips (15) is more than enough for this curious eater, and those golden chips are sensational.

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  • Aggy’s Shack
  • Marine Parade
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 03 442 4076
  • Aggy's Shack on Urbanspoon

 

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Those that may be up for something a tad more refined should probably take a look at Rātā – a bit of a gastro-temple that celebrates local produce in a relaxed and beautiful space.

Celeb and Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett has his name branded on the restaurant, but as we all know, it’s bound to be someone else tossing the pans. That would be a fellow named Chris Scott.

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Apparently the Rātā bread tin (7) has a bit of a fan club, so it was a given that it made the table with a couple of starters. Hot and fresh from the oven, the bread is very fluffy, a little sweet and sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt. What can I say, other than – it’s bread.

The signature goat cheese profiteroles (10) sit like lop-sided soldiers on a lump of shale; an easy pop-in-the-mouth and it’s gone moment. A little thick and creamy honey joins in on the wee fun, from bees that harvested the rātā blossom; a tree that’s endemic to New Zealand. Cheese and honey always work, in my eyes, so thumbs-up here.

I liked the play of textures with the Moko smoked eel (22); small firm pieces of eel, golden, yellow and red beets, crunchy black quinoa and watercress. There was meant to be horseradish in there somewhere, but it barely showed its face.

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The two mains we ordered were relatively light and perfectly proportioned, seeing we weren’t overly ravenous to begin with. Crispy skin duck (48) lay beside a small mound of freekeh and broccolini, with sweet roasted black grapes that brought some much-loved sweetness to the juicy duck flesh.

The crispy skin Marlborough king salmon (39) flaked to medium-rare perfection; a dish brought together beautifully with warm velouté, leeks, Otaga saffron potato and thinly shaved Bluff pāua. Interesting touch with the thin rounds of raw swede beneath everything; an element that added a fresh crunch to the otherwise soft textures of the other components.

Dessert was unnecessary, would you believe?

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  • Rātā
  • 43 Ballarat Street
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 03 442 9393
  • website
  • Rata on Urbanspoon

 

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Arrowtown


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Many that come to Queenstown don’t leave without paying a visit to Arrowtown, that historic gold mining town just 20 minutes from the adventure capital. The Arrowtown we saw on this particular visit was far from the one I remember, thanks to stopping by early in the morning just as the village shops were opening their doors.

During the day it becomes a very different place, swarming with tourists snapping pics of the restored building façades and snapping up the tourist offerings most of the businesses peddle.

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I must be honest, I prefer the town without the hoards, and seeing it enshrouded in smoke from burning fireplaces added a mystique to the whole setting.

The very cold temperature was something I could easily deal with, but something I couldn’t ignore was a chalkboard saying the words “obscenely good sticky buns & Arrowtowns best coffee”. These guys know how to get my attention.

Provisions Cafe can be found in an historic miners cottage a block down from the main strip. The name says it all with the goods that are on offer – gourmet pantry and fridge edibles, fresh bread and baked goods made daily, local ceramics and baking accessories.

If we’d known about this place before breakfast, we would have eaten here for sure. Great sounding menu. A very decent Allpress coffee and as for those killer sticky buns, they’re well-worth the visit for those alone.

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  • Provisions
  • 65 Buckingham Street
  • Arrowtown 9302
  • 643 442 0714
  • website
  • Provisions on Urbanspoon

 

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All other posts from this South Island trip –