And it’s no surprise in the Waikato, one of the country’s most bountiful food production regions, that fresh, seasonal and local is quite simply the best.
The Waikato’s rich soils, wide open spaces and temperate climate make it a natural for growing a range of fruit and vegetables - think spring-time asparagus and blueberries (any kind of berry, actually) - and farm-raised meats and poultry, as well as locally sourced seafood, craft beers, wine and a range of other beverages.
Bars and eateries
To take a bite, sip and savour the best of the Waikato, head for eateries throughout the region where there are talented chefs in many of the kitchens. The laneways and riverside areas in Hamilton’s CBD, like Riverbank Lane, have some interesting spaces for popular restaurants to flourish, while suburbs like Hamilton East have become known as gourmet neighbourhoods.
In Hamilton, amongst the celebrated restaurants are Gothenburg down by the Waikato River, plus Palate and Mr Pickles Bar & Eatery, both of which have caught the attention of the judges in the Cuisine Good Food Awards.
On just about every inner city street there’s a range of casual eateries and bars where you can take your taste buds on a world tour experiencing the many different cuisines on offer. Then there’s the likes of the Good George Brewery Dining Hall (with two locations in the city and a further one in nearby Cambridge), SkyCity Hamilton where options include Eat Burger and Bowl and Social for 10 pin bowling and pizza.
With tree-lined streets and some fine examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, Cambridge is also a foodie hotspot with a number of funky and interesting cafes, wine bars and restaurants. The Italian eatery Alpino has been pinpointed as a restaurant to watch by the Cuisine judges.
The west coast surfer town of Raglan, where the vibe is eco-conscious, has plenty to please the palate too. Fans of coconut yoghurt and sustainability will be keen to know they can book a tour of Raglan Food Co. .
Artisanal cheese makers make the most of the fact this is New Zealand’s dairy farming homeland. They include Mercer Cheese and Meyer Gouda Cheese, both of which have their own shops as well as being featured in a range of other food stores, supermarkets and restaurants. Another local cheese maker is Cilantro, specialising in goat milk cheeses.
As you can imagine in this dairying region, the Waikato is where there are plenty of places to get your ice cream scoops, or sorbet, gelato and frozen yoghurt fix. Many berry farms offer ice cream and frozen yoghurt made with fresh fruit, then there’s the iconic Duck Island Ice Cream company’s creative range, available at its scoop shops, including the flagship store in Hamilton East, and elsewhere in food shops, local supermarkets and a number of eateries.
The staff of life, bread gets the gourmet treatment at a range of local bakeries where there’s often something sweetly delicious to tempt too. Award winning locals include Volare, which has shops in Hamilton and a number of surrounding towns, and is a regular at farmers’ markets. Another is family owned and operated Viands Bakery in Kihikihi. Here fifth generation, award-winning bakers specialise in a range of breads, cakes, and pastries.
Farmers’ markets in the Waikato are foodie heaven, tempting with a range of delectable foodstuffs - from pies made with pasture-raised organic meat to hot smoked salmon, pậté, chutney, pickles, preserves and bespoke chocolates (and more).
Pick Your Own
The Waikato is one of the most prolific berry growing regions in the country with numerous Pick Your Own options during the summer months - and real fruit ice creams to devour at many of the farms.
With its excellent growing climate, the Waikato also has a number of orchards and market gardens so the best of fresh produce is never far away including, in season, prized asparagus, strawberries and blueberries.
Farm shops/roadside stalls
Throughout the Waikato region, you will find roadside stalls offering the freshest produce, but local eateries, restaurants and gourmet food stores also act as proud advocates for regional products and produce.
For wine, weddings - or other celebrations - and even accommodation amongst the vines there are two Waikato wineries. Boutique Takapoto Estate is located a short distance from Cambridge near Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari. The estate also breeds award winning Angus cattle. Just south of Hamilton is family owned and operated Vilagrad Wines. Mediterranean-style long lunches on Saturdays and Sundays are a specialty here.
Craft beer and cider enthusiasts have plenty to taste at breweries and taprooms in the region. Amongst the stars is hometown hero Good George Brewing, based in Hamilton, and available at its seven eponymous bars and eateries in various other Waikato towns. Others producing boutique small-batch craft beers in the Waikato include the likes of Brewaucracy in Hamilton City, Hopnotic on the northern side of Hamilton Airport, Bootleg Brewery in nearby Matangi village, and Workshop Brewing Co in Raglan.
Teapot brews are to be found at Zealong Tea Estate, on the outskirts of Hamilton. This is the only commercial tea plantation in New Zealand. Premium organic oolong tea is the specialty and visitors can take a tour, taste the different tea combinations, have high tea overlooking the one million-plus tea bushes and picnic under the trees.
For java jolts with a local flavour there are several passionate Waikato roasteries including Raglan Roast, Origin and Manuka Bros.