In Southland, they sure like their tucker — especially a certain shellfish starting with "O" that dominates local menus from March to August — so it's no surprise to find an enthusiastic local bunch of brewers, seafood smokers, restaurateurs and chocolatiers going about their business in downtown Invercargill, and the surrounding countryside.
Steven Nally makes beer in a former engineering firm's premises, which has been fully equipped with modern, state-of-the-art equipment. He's starting to make ripples internationally with his impressive range of Invercargill Brewery> products — not bad for someone who began his craft in a shabby old dairy shed.
"Try this," he says, offering a taste of the popular Stanley Green pale ale, named in honour of his maternal grandfather. It's delicious, and just perfect for scorching Southland summer days when temperatures can hit the early 30s.
Just around the corner from the brewery is the Seriously Good Chocolate Company where locals gather to sip good coffee and nibble on something sweet and sinful.
Owner Jane Stanton has been at the forefront of New Zealand chocolate production for 16 years. She started out making truffles for her hairdresser, using a recipe gleaned from her grandfather, Tik Heenen, who sold chocolates at the book store he owned in Hokitika.
She's seriously diabetic yet even a brush with breast cancer recently wasn't going to hold Jane back as she expanded her business and increased production in the spotless industrial kitchen at the back of the premises.
At Southern Seafoods the chowder is thick and tasty and the mussel pate light and delicate. Smoked hoki is out of this world and the fresh salmon is caught right nearby in the crisp, icy waters of Foveaux Strait.
International food choices have definitely arrived in Invercargill with Indian, Turkish, Thai, tapas, sushi and Vietnamese joining long-standing Chinese favourite, Canton. At Bombay Palace the chocolate naan is an interesting variation on a classic Indian bread variety.
Newcomer Mamma Lina is Invercargill's first Italian restaurant, with pretty checked tablecloths and excellent food in intimate surroundings. Locals were so keen to support this new eatery that more than 100 reservations were already in the diary when owner Carmine Esposito began producing authentic Italian food there late last year.
If you enjoy fine dining you must visit 148 on Elles where a sophisticated menu complements the historic charm of the stately home setting.
The chef weaves his magic with local venison, lamb and tender beef and of course scallops, blue cod, and, in season, oysters. These are available three ways: natural, beer-battered or with a delicious lemon infused creme fraiche.
Invercargill has been served by a licensing trust for the past 60-odd years and their restaurants are always good for a casual meal. The Saucy Chef at The Northern on St Andrew St is known for its excellent menu options, from battered sweetbreads to a traditional surf and turf with eton mess or baked alaska for dessert.
Outside the city you'll find plenty of eateries well worth the drive.
In Lochiel near Winton, the aptly named The Hideaway offers smart, cosmopolitan food in idyllic surroundings while at Yesteryears museum and cafe in Tuatapere you can enjoy a hot chocolate or toasted sandwich to the accompaniment of Elvis, on vinyl, rotating on a vintage radiogram.
Over in Gore, see if you can score an invitation from an RSA member to dine at their club where Kiwi cuisine reigns supreme and if you're lucky, somewhere along the way you might score a feed of whitebait fritters.
Back in Invercargill, check out the fabulous new Bill Richardson Transport World and enjoy a snack in charmingly recreated interiors of genuine 1970s houses with Formica tables, padded kitchen chairs and vintage accessories.
And you can't leave Southland without sampling a couple of buttery cheese rolls from The Copper Kettle cafe at H&J Smith's department store, where Kiwi classics such as lamingtons, custard slice and lolly cake, are also on offer.
Many lively discussions about the best recipe for cheese rolls have been had but while you can actually make them anywhere, believe me when I say that they'll never taste as good as those created and consumed beneath southern skies.
Savour the South
From sheep's milk to sweetbreads, swedes to seaweed, salmon to saison, Southland is a foodie's dream. Visit one of the cafes, delis, restaurants or taverns for a southern take on some of the finest and freshest ingredients in the world.
Grown slowly in the cool, clean waters of Foveaux Strait, the Bluff oyster is a New Zealand delicacy. In May the Bluff Oyster and Food Festival celebrates this southern delight with a day-long event full of great local food, entertainment and more.
Take a guided tour through the Invercargill Brewery and discover that good beer is so much more than just bending your elbow. Visit Blue River Dairy, Southland's sheep milk cafe, where you can taste cheeses and the best cheese roll in Southland. Try your hand at chocolate making at the Seriously Good Chocolate Company.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies from Auckland to Invercargill via Wellington or Christchurch.