We visit unique eateries in and around Auckland. Today, we visit a tea house in Waikato at the country’s only tea plantation.
Mention Waikato and what usually first comes to mind are cow-filled paddocks, a long river and a university.
But in a plantation away from its main roads and dairy farms, you can sip what could be the purest tea in the world and dine on tea-infused savouries and fresh flavoured delicacies amid the sound of sweetly chirping birds.
Zealong Tea Estate, the country's only tea plantation, has a restaurant that offers a dining experience like no other.
Getting to the estate means a 90-minute drive for Aucklander Melinda Zhang, 28, but that didn't stop her from taking her parents there for lunch.
"Dining here is like a page from a fairy tale storybook coming alive, that's probably my best description of it," said Miss Zhang.
"Sitting among tea plants, drinking tea freshly brewed in front of you and eating fresh produce from the farms here, it's like a dream coming true."
Zealong, a 48ha farm just north of Hamilton, was started by Taiwanese-born Vincent Chen.
Tea at Zealong is grown organically and the plantation is certified to produce tea to food safety standards.
"My aim is that people who come here can experience the true traditional Chinese and Taiwanese tea culture," said Mr Chen.
The Chen family have invested more than $10 million in the venture, inspired after they saw how camellia trees flourished in Waikato's pasturelands.
Tea comes from a species of camellia, and the plants that are on the farm had been propagated from 130 premium quality seedlings imported from Taiwan in 1996.
Gigi Crawford, the estate's deputy general manager, said the tea house was set up to capitalise on the plantation's ambience. Its breezy outdoor seating overlooks rows of the plantation and the tea house offers beautifully presented tiffin high tea.
The $39 signature tiffin 10-item high tea includes venison sphere with dark tea and natural yoghurt raita, tea smoked New Zealand king salmon tartlet, chicken breast cigars and sweet desserts such as white chocolate tart with dark tea sweet short crust pastry and freeze-dried fruit.
For $10 more, tiffin diners can partake in a "Discover Tea Experience" which takes you on a two-hour journey to see how tea is made, experience a traditional tea experience and pose for a souvenir photo in traditional tea-picking garb.
Zealong Tea Estate
Where: 495 Gordonton Rd, Hamilton
When: Seven days a week over summer, 10am to 5pm
Must try: Tiffins - with choice of Zealong tea and a selection of tea-infused savouries, venison spheres, chicken breast cigars, Waikato Scotch fillet and Zealong sweets platter.
For more information: zealong.com