A Guide to Eating and Drinking in New Zealand's Bay of Islands
From a farmers' markets to a boutique vineyard and the oldest licensed restaurant in the country, here's where to refuel on your northland adventure.
Not only a destination to soak in crystal clear waters and explore undeveloped islands, New Zealand's far north has a food culture worthy of shouting from the rooftops. With a big focus of seasonal produce, and thanks to its handy placement on the fringe the world's largest ocean, you can expect to lap up an abundance of seafood plus locally made cheese, chocolates and wine all year round. This is a guide to eating and drinking in the Bay of Islands.
Read our weekender's guide to the Bay of Islands here.
Before even setting off on your island adventure, the outskirts of Kerikeri has a number of eateries worth swinging into. The Rusty Tractor is a good place to get a feel for the community and refuel with generous portions. The family-friendly cafe is the kind charm where everyone knows everyone. On this visit the barista could be found hopping between the coffee machine and work in the gardens, while another local was spotted made himself at home behind the counter for a chat. The menu offers a contemporary (and hefty) take on breakfast classics, including mince on toast with poached eggs and onion rings, mushrooms in a cobb loaf with pea and feta salsa verde, and cinnamon sugared doughnuts. If you're in the business of caffeine, the cafe uses first-rate Supreme beans and has the option of a four-shot coffee bucket.
If you have an afternoon to wile away, Marsden Estate is found a short trip from the airport. At the winery you can enjoy an educational wine tasting before settling on your preferred varietal. We also suggested grabbing the antipasto platter of local cheeses, handmade terrine, dips and spreads and perching under the vines in the courtyard. Afterwards, take a stroll around the subtropical vineyard gardens with another glass of vino.
For something on the run (especially if you're around on a weekend), head to The Old Packhouse Market. Found in Kerikeri, literally in an old packhouse, the weekly gathering of more than 100 vendors is the perfect spot to load up on supplies before heading off on a road trip. Expect to pick up everything from homemade pies to raw milk, deep-fried oyster po' boys and fruit and vegetables from producers that reside just around the corner. Enjoy your finds while listening to live music, receiving a palm reading or getting a reflexology massage.
Across the road is another must-visit attraction. As soon as you enter Makana Confections the smell from the adjoining factory will be tugging on your heartstrings. The best part is that free samples are handed out upon arrival in the giftshop so you can try before you buy — you'll also see staff crafting the exact same thing through the window, so you know it's fresh. The cafe offers a lineup of gelato, chocolate truffles, cakes and slices for dine in or takeaway.
While in Kerikeri head to Cafe Istanbul for authentic Israeli cuisine, Food at Wharepuke by chef Colin Ashton for a blend of modern European and Thai-inspired cuisine, and La Taza Del Diablo for portions of Mexican cuisine that not even the ravenous could finish.
En route to Russell, you'll pass through Paihia. Here you'll have the option of quick bites spanning kebabs, pizza and ribs. On the other side of the one-way bridge from the township lies the official birthplace of New Zealand, Waitangi. As part of the historical Waitangi Treaty Grounds you can enhance your visitor experience by witnessing the unveiling of a traditional hāngi — a Māori method of cooking in the earth with hot stones. Hāngi chefs will introduce the cooking process before you tuck into the feast.
Once off the car ferry en route to Russell, make a short detour for Paroa Bay Winery, a family-owned property set against the rolling hills and overlooking Paroa Bay. The boutique vineyard has a big focus on sustainability, using techniques of dry grown vines across chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, syrah, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and merlot. Go for a tasting flight and stay for the Mediterranean and European-inspired menu at onsite restaurant, Sage.
With its award-winning restaurant set right on the water, The Duke of Marlborough is a pristine destination to stop in Russell for a bite to eat. The property was erected in 1827 and later became the first licensed hotel in New Zealand. The property still retains its vintage appeal; the rooms are grand with high ceilings, the walls are covered with marine memorabilia and the solid furniture certainly has a story to tell. The restaurant is all about showcasing local seasonal produce and modern interpretations of classic favourites. You can expect to sample local oysters or oven roasted fish that was caught directly in front of the hotel. We also recommend the Sichuan peppered calamari and slow roasted lamb shoulder. The beverage list is extensive with over 100 wines and 30 beers from the Bay of Islands to Burgundy. The wine tasting rack is a good option for indecisive diners, offering three generous samples to sip back as the sun drops over the inlet.
Just down the main strip from The Duke is The Gables, the oldest licensed restaurant in the country. The building was originally built by an immigrant shoemaker who purchased the land from a Māori chief. It's now owned by Robert and Jenny Loosley who have retained the old world charm and a collection of documents — include the original deed of sale. The kitchen aims to showcase classic New Zealand flavours, with fresh local seafood and grass-fed meat big players on the menu. Our picks include the pork ragout with hand-made pappardelle and ricotta, the smoked lamb rump and comforting seafood-rich chowder.
Elsewhere is Russell, The Crusty Crab is the place to order piping hot fish 'n' chips to enjoy on the beach; Hone's Garden in the warmer months offers wood-fired pizza, fresh beer and friendly community vibes; and Hell Hole is a great option to start your day with loaded bagels and fresh coffee.
Kerikeri Airport is the region's main port of call. From Auckland Airport it's a breezy 50-minute flight to the sleepy terminal. Alternatively, it will take you just over three hours to drive from Auckland to Paihia and Russell.
Published on May 14, 2017 by Stephen Heard