Fill up your carry bag with tomatoes, doughnuts, cheese and nuts at Parnell Farmers' Market, says Hayley McLarin. Just watch out for those dogs.

A "real" farmers' market, by definition of the Farmers Markets of New Zealand Association, must follow "three golden rules".

Firstly, primarily food is sold (no arts, crafts or bric-a-brac) although plants and flowers are acceptable. The food sold must be produced locally and the vendors must be directly involved in growing or producing it.

Why am I telling you this? Many of those most-frequented markets, including some in this series, would fail that criteria.

Photo / Hayley McLarin
Photo / Hayley McLarin

The Parnell Farmers' Market is a real-life authentic association member. And while I wouldn't be keen to eat a cake of handmade lavender soap and the kale stems I bought were for a vase, almost all the vendors are food-based – and are well-acquainted with their products.

Not to be confused with the more well-known La Cigale markets, also in Parnell, this collective of more than more than 30 stalls proves to be a one-stop-shop. There's baking galore from Bread & Butter, Philippe's and Pukeko, along with Te Kouka olive oil, three free-range egg stalls, numerous avocado sellers, Clif's Gardens' spray-free vegetables and Fresh Gardens' Asian greens, herbs and salad leaves. Oh and a well-stocked fishmonger and The Salmon Man too.

Snooze, you lose: Go early if you're a fan of Grownup Donuts. Daniel and Annie have expanded and moved into a bigger kitchen premises to cope with the demand for their sugar-crusted, pillowy donuts. Now a regular at several markets, their growth hasn't affected quality. Flavours include mocha cream, passionfruit curd, Belgian chocolate and orange, and homemade strawberry jam and vanilla bean custard. They are so delicious they usually sell out well before the market closes.

Photo / Hayley McLarin
Photo / Hayley McLarin

Top toms:

The early bird will also be able to nab multicoloured heirloom tomatoes. From red-speckled yellow minis through to large sunset-orange and the sweetest green tomatoes I have tried, these were a great base for a mozzarella and basil trifecta. And right behind me was a restaurateur who bought the remaining kilos from the West Auckland growers Eighty4, leaving everyone else disappointed. Tip: check their Facebook page. Their tomatoes are weather dependent so they don't make it every week.

Hide and seek: Alas the Il Casaro cheesemonger was positioned in direct sun, so they had to put up a tarpaulin to protect their hand-crafted cow's milk cheeses. The result was that they were somewhat hidden from shoppers. Take the time to seek out this artisan cheese company. Based in Glenfield, Massimiliano hails from Puglia and makes cheese in true Italian style. For something unusual, try the smoked mozzarella, or the aged cacioricotta (a slightly tangy ricotta that has a drier texture and is delicious on pizza).

Tea or coffee? For a bubbly cold brew, there's Batchwell kombucha. Made with organic fruit and vegetables, this brand is on the rise, and seen in all the right bars and cafes. Get yours to take home, in three flavours – beetroot; pineapple and ginger; and braeburn.

If you are like me and need a caffeine fix, Aotea coffee cart makes a good cup with Kokado organic beans.

Photo / Hayley McLarin
Photo / Hayley McLarin

Go nuts:

Oh wow, those Mahurangi macadamias are incredible. Natural, covered in dark chocolate, sweet and spicy, brittle, wasabi coated … the challenge will be to choose just one! Jan spends weekdays baking the nuts and Parnell is her only market. They are worth the trek across town.

Meat your maker: Farm Gate cannot really be described as local, as they are based in Southland, but given the quality we should overlook that wee fact. The range includes free-range pork, aged beef and cured meats – and this stall provides generous samples of their gluten-free and preservative-free sausages to entice you.

Guilty pleasures: Take a seat under the central gazebo, and savour homemade treats from Sonja's Taste of Austria. We couldn't decide on sweet over savoury, so we opted for a venison ragout pie and then we shared a custard slice – creme Schnitten – and a generous slice of apple and plum strudel. Another must-try is Gozleme. The flat breads are stretched and shaped in front of you, then filled to order with combinations such as lamb and feta, or eggplant and caramelised onion, before being toasted.

Photo / Hayley McLarin
Photo / Hayley McLarin

Paws for thought:

While this market is roomy enough to take your much-loved pooch, do you have to? It's not fair for on dogs to be paraded through what must be delicious smells right at nose-height. The day we went there were two humungous newfoundland dogs creating a rather large road block that seemed to always be in front of us. You cannot traipse them through a supermarket, so why is it okay in this environment?

While you're there: Take in some history and scenery with a walk at Judges Bay – where St Stephen's Chapel has a churchyard dating back to 1844. From here you can walk on the overbridge at the Parnell Baths and along the waterfront. Or, if you're still in a shopping mood, the precinct has some exclusive homewares and Newmarket is just next door.

Parking: Is within easy walking distance. There is a carpark behind, and ample street parking.

Verdict: Definitely worth a visit – there is everything you need here, and the vendors are a lovely bunch.

Lowdown: Parnell Farmers' Market, Saturdays, 8am-noon, Parnell Rd (behind the Blind Institute)