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Go Wild in the Waikato

I'm a relative newbie to the Waikato so my intrepid journey with Food Writers NZ into the wild, was an eye-opening experience.  

We thought the term ‘wild’ was a misnomer when we arrived at our first port of call — Zealong. Just north of Hamilton — in a picture-perfect 48 acres — 1.2 million camellias provide leaves for Zealong’s ever-increasing tea varieties. It’s a scene of quiet sophistication where visitors can enjoy high tea or innovative a la carte meals. Zealong’s story is an example of excellence and entrepreneurship. We were treated to tea taste treats and exquisite finger foods before heading to Sweetree Honey.

It was here where it did become a bit wild. Unfortunately, I’d left my gumboots snugly locked in my car boot in the city, so it was a squishy slog on the tracks to our canopy in the wetlands.  Stephanie and Martin Lynch’s award-winning honeys were enjoyed a mere few feet from their hives and we wondered if that the occasional flying insect making a ‘bee-line’ for us was upset or happy that we were indulging so enthusiastically.

After our tastebuds had been sharpened with savoury samples, they were tickled further at our next stop at Waikato’s well-known and delicious Donovans Chocolates. But did we have room for lunch?

Dough Bros is situated in Hamilton’s ‘Eat’ (Victoria) Street. Owners Jake & Katherine Mitchell and head chef Josh Kerr take pride in serving locally sourced ingredients. They encouraged several of the suppliers to showcase their wares at the lunch and it was — awesome! For me the tiramisu was a highlight — the lightest and most luscious ever. (For more info please read Denise Irvine’s wonderful piece at: www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/food-wine/recipes/95215717/locavore-long-lunch-puts-waikato-on-a-plate.

Beer was always a fave at university but nowadays I prefer wine. However, after touring the award-winning Good George Brewery I was converted back to hops. Although now it isn’t all about hops. Good George is currently trialling beer made with Zealong tea leaves. I’m sure their religious zeal about brews is influenced by the fact that their operation is run from a deconsecrated church. I also loved the award-winning cheeses from our local Meyer and Over the Moon that refreshed our palates while downing cold ones.

Dinner was enjoyed at Hayes Common a delightful suburban eatery in Hamilton East. Yes, we found we still had room — after all, we are food writers. The menu specialises in inventive scrumptious small plates — to share if you wish. Hayes was recently named in the top 100 NZ restaurants by Cuisine Magazine’s Good Food Awards.

Next morning back to the country and 500 acres of baby vegetables. Southern Fresh supplies retailers and restaurateurs nationwide with the freshest of little veg. Each member present was gifted a carton of four colours of baby carrots, baby beetroot, turnips and fennel plus large bags of mesclun, mint, coriander, Italian parsley, spinach and rocket.


Gumboots were the preferred footwear at a rather reduced Cambridge Farmers’ Market. Not the greatest of times to call on my much-loved local that on a good day hosts over a 50 stallholders and hundreds of visitors. But it was only a hop, step and a jump to Alpha Street Kitchen & Bar for a superb five-course lunch.

Another recent addition to the top 100 NZ restaurants in Cuisine Magazine’s Good Food Awards, Alpha is only in its second year of operation and offers modern, artistic and yummy menu options a credit to chef Harry Williams, owner Fiona Massey and assistant manager Sebastien Lemercier. Our menu: Poached pear, apple & cilantro chevre terrine; smoked potato ravioli & NZ winter truffle; Ruakumara red venison tartare; Matariki entry —  Puau, kina brulée, pickled bush mushrooms, crayfish oil; Lemongrass & mint crème pina colada.

A wonderful weekend was finished off by a trip to our local Vilagrad winery, where we enjoyed toasting the excellent food scene in Waikato. Cheers!