Every year, a small town in the Bay of Plenty pays tribute to the humble avocado. Vicki Ravlich-Horan was there.
Every January Katikati transforms from New Zealand's mural town to our avocado capital. Perfectly positioned in the Bay of Plenty, Katikati is a town bursting with gourmet delights. A quick look at their website, will show you that this town has it all, from salami to cheese makers, European bakers, wineries, seafood and orchards full of the everyday and the exotic. But in January the avocado is king.
Organised by the local Pakeke Lions, the festival is in its ninth year. The mid-January festival is a great opportunity for holidaymakers to spend a day enjoying some local food and wine and perhaps learning a bit more about avocados. So this summer we put it on our must-do list.
I've heard a lot about the local Plant and Produce Market, held every Friday from 4pm-6pm, so we decided to go a day early and stay the night.
Half an hour before reaching Katikati, we stopped at Waitete Cafe and Restaurant in Waihi, for a late lunch.
Chef and owner Roland Straessle is the perfect host. Classically trained and with over 40 years of cooking under his belt, Roland's passion for great food still shines through. As usual we have taken too much time over lunch and I am afraid we will be late for the market. I have been told there is a young chap who makes the best chocolate brownies but you need to get in quick, because he sells out fast.
We arrive just before 4pm and already a crowd is forming waiting to get in. That's right, no queue-jumping here, the market starts at 4pm on the dot.
With a glass of homemade lemonade in hand we wonder around the stalls admiring the beautiful selection of fresh produce. Unfortunately there are no chocolate brownies today. There is, however, a big line forming in front of the Breadnz stand, where Megan and Henri are selling their beautiful range of sourdough and wood-fired pizzas.
We decide to grab a loaf, along with some Mt Eliza cheese, local homemade pickles from Kaimai Country and some salad goodies. After a quick stop at Finer Wines on the main street, where the owner Jim recommends a great drop, we have accumulated the perfect summer dinner.
We wake on Saturday to a mixed bag weather-wise but optimistically pack the sunblock, hats and umbrellas and head to the avocado festival.
The majority of New Zealand's avocados are grown in the Bay of Plenty and this season has seen New Zealand's biggest ever crop, so I'm keen to get some great ideas on what to do with this healthy and plentiful fruit.
We watch kids make avocado faces, guacamole-making competitions and an avocado cooking demonstration by local chef Peter Blakeway. We learn how to tell if an avocado is ripe without squeezing it (a big no-no). We try avocado icecream, oil, smoothies and guacamole. There are plenty of other things to see and try with local wineries and producers all here, but we came for the avocados. And when I am all avocado-ed out, it's time to relax on a blanket with a glass of wine in hand and Rhythm Express playing in the background.
* Waitete Cafe and Restaurant: Open seven days, 31 Orchard Rd, Waihi
* Katikati Plant and Produce Market: Friday 4pm-6pm at the A&P Showgrounds, Main Rd, Katikati
* Finer Wines: 8 Main Rd, Katikati