How long do you think it will be before we will be shamed into not being caught carrying a supermarket plastic bag? Or being seen sipping from a waxed paper takeaway coffee cup?

I almost feel guilty for walking around the Hamilton Farmers' Market with my one-use-only cup when I notice, too late, that there are two plastic bins opposite the coffee caravan. One has clean coffee cups (the old-fashioned crockery sort), the other is where you put your dirty ones once finished.

Sitting on the same wooden trestle is a crate of reusable carry bags to borrow and return next week, that's if you don't want to buy a canvas market-branded bag or a $25 flax kete.

Photo / Hayley McLarin
Photo / Hayley McLarin

You can even take your microgreens packages back to be composted. I actually half expected to be able to eat my paper plate once I had devoured my Salsa Brava steak sandwich.


Hamilton's market is either passionate about recycling, or great at finding ways to get you to come back. They excel at both. I would certainly return again, to this showcase of 30-something stalls.

A big sister to the Cambridge market, this is managed by the same people and the majority of the artisan producers frequent both – so you have an alternative place to buy Bellefield's hand-churned flavoured butters, Soggy Bottom's range of meat, Cato's Potatoes from Pirongia, Piu Blu's handmade ravioli and Jersey Girl organic milk. But what else?

Meat me at Salsa Brava – the Argentinian steak sandwich is massive and makes for a more-ish brunch. Usually markets are the launch pad for small producers, but Ben and Ani Parodi toured New Zealand for two months, stopping in small towns to sell their chimichurri sauce into local stores. Now this lovely Argentinian couple sell the sauce at the market – as well as putting it in those colossal beef buns.

Photo / Hayley McLarin
Photo / Hayley McLarin

Seeds of success

– I would drive from Auckland to buy more Muesli Co Raspberry Road. This concoction of seeds and nuts – including decadent whole macadamias and cashews – are toasted in rice bran oil and maple syrup. Then generous portions of freeze-dried raspberries are added. Absolutely divine for breakfast or on yoghurt for dessert. You pay by weight and can take your own container to be filled. I also felt a little virtuous eating their Green & Blacks dark chocolate-dipped maple muesli bar, and it was so dense and tasty it sustained me for the day.

Fudge, where's the cheese? There's always cheese at markets right? Wrong! Not far from here are a number of sensational cheese-makers, so I was disappointed to not be able to stock up. There was also no fudge. Instead, you can appease your sweet tooth with Becky's range of handmade cakes. I nabbed a plastic (!) box with six chunky slices of a 14-ingredient fruit cake and another non-recyclable container of ginger crunch. Becky bakes like my grandmother used to, so I can easily forgive her packaging.

Rise to the occasion – Volare is the resident baker with an impressive range of breads and pastries. From fig and walnut loaf to San Francisco sourdough, pillowy soft brioche to Turkish pide. There was a big basket of crispy, flaky almond croissants – and even square cro-nuts.

Photo / Hayley McLarin
Photo / Hayley McLarin

Shots fired

– Some markets have a policy to not have vendors with duplicate stalls. Here, there are two coffee caravans. Locals congregated at Essenza, however Manuka Brothers also did a quality brew as well as take-home packs and pods. There are also two salmon-sellers, and two vendors with free-range eggs.

Go with your gut – Remember school geography and having to try canned sauerkraut? Turns out that stuff in the tin is nasty compared to the real thing. Good Bugs are the only fresh kraut-makers in Waikato, using spray-free cabbages from Ngaruawahia. A trio of friends, Good Bugs are also thought to be the only producers of dairy-free fermented pesto with green herbs, cashews and sunflower seeds. It was so tasty, I didn't miss the cheese.

To market and where else? Only 90 minutes out of Auckland, Hamilton tends to be a day trip. Rather than get up early, stay overnight so you can check out Hamilton Zoo (with most of Auckland's primates), enjoy the internationally renowned Hamilton Gardens, or spend the afternoon at Zealong Tea Estate. Plan ahead and book dinner at Palate.

Photo / Hayley McLarin
Photo / Hayley McLarin

Save your money

– same tip for Cambridge applies here. If you live in Auckland, fill up on fuel in the Waikato. You'll save almost as much as you spend at the market.

Weather options – are good, the market is held in barns at Claudlands Arena, so all stalls are under cover. But it can be muddy around the barns, so don't wear your white designer trainers.

EFT-POS is available for the standard $2 surcharge

Children – are cherished at the market, there are giant board games, plenty of foods for them to enjoy – and they learn to love the origin of their food.

Verdict: Don't wait for a reason to come to this market, make the market your reason for a weekend away. There is a small community feel to this market in the middle of one of New Zealand's larger cities.

• The Lowdown: Hamilton Farmers' Market, Claudlands, gate 3 Brooklyn Road. Sundays, 8am-midday