Pack your appetite and a sense of adventure, says Helen Scarr: South Island is a gastronomic delight
Food and drink probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when planning a trip to New Zealand’s South Island. Most visitors come for the vast mountainous landscapes, crazy adrenaline-fueled sports and lush, untouched greenery. Of course, New Zealand is every bit as magnificently beautiful and fun as you’ve imagined. But if you ignore the food and drink experiences there are to be had here, you’ve definitely missed a trick.
Marlborough region vineyards (Helen Scarr)
Wine tasting, Marlborough Region
New Zealand is the queen of the sauvignon blanc grape, and it’s all thanks to a wine revolution in the northern region of the South Island back in the 1970s. Marlborough now produces 74% of all New Zealand wines. Pinot noir and Riesling are also popular varieties bottled here. A wine tour around the Marlborough vineyards is a must-do. Join an organised tour so someone else is doing the driving or hire a bicycle and cycle around. Start with a couple of the ‘big guns’ – Saint Clair or the beautifully located Brancott Estate (officially the birthplace of Marlborough sauvignon blanc). Then try a few of the smaller, boutique wineries. Rock Ferry and Wairau River Wines are my favourites
Fresh crayfish in Kaikoura
The stunning coastal road just north of Kaikoura on the South Island’s east coast has a couple of secrets. One is an inland pool that is home to frolicking seal pups for a few months every year. The other is Nin’s Bin, renowned for selling the freshest crayfish you’re likely to find anywhere in the world. This basic roadside shack has been famous since the 1970s for its crayfish and green-lipped mussels. Cooked simply in garlic butter, the crayfish is mouth-wateringly succulent and cheaper than any you’ll find on the menu in nearby Kaikoura’s restaurants. Since the Maori name Kaikoura literally means ‘eat crayfish’, it’s surely obligatory to do so when in the area.
Speight’s Brewery Tour, Dunedin
Undoubtedly one of the drinking highlights of the South Island, Speight’s Brewery is the oldest in the country and frequently wins awards for its beers. A brewing expert will take you around the facility, still housed in the original building which first started trading in 1876. The tour explains the history of Speight’s as well as a crash course in how beer is brewed. The best part of the experience is left to the end, though, when you are able to try several Speight’s brews for yourself – as much as you can drink in the space of 20 minutes.
The famous Fergburger, Queenstown
Can a burger change your life? Probably not, but you’ll be hard pushed to find a tastier and better-priced fast food option in the South Island. Fergburger has achieved something of a cult status amongst travellers to New Zealand. With numerous varieties of gourmet beef, chicken, fish, lamb and veggie burgers to choose from there’s a Fergburger to suit every taste. With the venue open late into the night it’s a great alternative to a kebab as you make your way home after sampling the lively Queenstown nightlife. Don’t leave the South Island without trying one for yourself to see what all the fuss is about.
Craft beer tasting, Nelson
The picturesque coastal town of Nelson in the north of the island is at the heart of New Zealand’s hop-growing industry. Home to a number of small independent breweries, Nelson is an ideal spot to taste some of the country’s finest beers. Establishments such as The Free House or Founders Brewery offer complimentary beer tasting with new barrels frequently being added. Visit during March to experience Marchfest – a craft beer and music festival that celebrates the best of New Zealand’s hops.
Manuka honey, various locations
Renowned for its healing properties, manuka honey is a New Zealand speciality. This unique honey is made from nectar collected by bees who have visited plants in the delicately-flowered manuka bush family. Available across the South Island, you can often pick up jars from roadside farm stalls via an honesty box system. There are also several large-scale producers such as The Honey Company in the Marlborough region which offer tasting and a larger variety of flavours.
Fruit & veg honesty box stalls, Catlins
Down in the far south of the island is a rural paradise. Rolling hills are dotted with sheep along a strikingly windswept coastline. There are more farmstays than hotels in the Catlins and plenty of gravel roads through the picturesque countryside. Roadside fruit, vegetable and egg stalls abound, usually with an honesty box system where you take what you would like and leave the amount of money suggested. Sometimes they even give away food for free. It’s a great ‘back to nature’ experience to stop off at one of the stalls, see what’s on offer and do your bit to support local New Zealand farmers – picking up some great bargains in the process.