Just as the climate changes from south to north in New Zealand, so do the local speciality foods of each region. Chefs carefully seek the very best and often credit their suppliers on their menus. Cafes also occasionally pay homage to local producers.
Some specialities to look for on menus in the far north and in the Auckland region are avocados, nuts, citrus fruits and Asian vegetables. North Island fish differ from the catch of more southern fishermen. Fresh snapper, hapuku, tarakihi and flounder are common in the north. In the colder south, there is more emphasis on groper, sole, brill, blue cod and turbot.
High-quality local lamb and beef can be found in Hawke's Bay, Taranaki, Wairarapa, Canterbury and Southland, and cervena venison (a low-fat, healthy red meat) is mostly raised in these regions, too. A variety of fruits thrive in most of New Zealand's grape-growing districts, and travellers will also find some great local food parings with the speciality wines of each region. Farmer's market stall holders will willingly point travellers in the direction of restaurants and cafes that champion and use local produce.
So, where to eat? Mt Maunganui's shiny new food haven, Providores Urban Food Store (19A Pacific Avenue), maintains a beachy, raffish charm while delivering a serious dose of culinary quality. Surf videos flicker across the walls as you choose between buttery fresh-baked pastries, home-smoked meats and cheeses, sticky organic jams and killer coffee.
Further east around the Bay of Plenty, lonesome Maketu has seen better days, but it is worth a detour to visit legendary Maketu Pies.
Stewart Island's Kai Kart is New Zealand's southernmost eatery, and you could travel the length of the country without finding better fish and chips. The wee caravan turns out incredibly fresh blue cod and delicious battered mussels or oysters. Order up large, wrap up warm, and eat alfresco with the southern ocean winds whipping up in your face.
In the Catlins, Niagara Falls Café is housed in a restored 19th-century schoolhouse, and the cafe and art gallery are definitely worth a stop for coffee and cheesecake. Beers from the Invercargill Brewery and Central Otago wines are also pretty compelling reasons to drop by.
For a taste of Kiwi home-baking, try the Wakamarinian Café (70 Main Road) in Havelock. To quote the owner of the Havelock Garden Motel, "If you don't love the raspberry-and-white-chocolate shortcake, there must be something wrong with you". Too true! But there is more to life than pastry. There is paua ravioli, the signature dish of Logan-Brown. Housed in a grand 1920s banking chamber on groovy Cuba Street, this is Wellington's - and New Zealand's - best.
If you are in Queenstown and in the mood for some quick eats you cannot go past Fergburger. This perennial favourite burger joint has become an essential Queenstown experience. Looking for something fancier? Solera Vino (25 Beach Street), a fine-dining French restaurant is the best for the cultured culinary crowd. Delicate flavours, amazing wine and perfect service. Choice!
The article 'New Zealand’s finest food experiences' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.