Eating your way around Cambridge is a difficult business.
The Waikato town is so over-endowed with culinary offerings, a person would need several days or a second stomach to comprehensively tackle the task.
So serious food-hunters need to start early and shoulder their way past the hefty oak and elm trees on the leafy edge of Victoria Square to find the Saturday morning farmer's market.
On a clear winter's morning, a plucky musician sits and sings while shoppers stamp cold feet, warming their hands with the resident barista's offerings. The guitarist is ringed by stalls offering smoked salmon and fresh ricotta cheese, inky black ribbons of pasta, free-range eggs, and paper bags full of locally dug potatoes, as well as gloriously crusty sourdough and almond-covered croissants. The bread and pastries are made in Hamilton by clever Volare bakers; they also supply a small shop in downtown Cambridge for those who suddenly realise they really do need that extra chocolate chip biscuit made with ground almonds. The bakery also stocks bags of wickedly indulgent macadamia nut muesli, made in nearby Ōhaupō.
Former Liverpudlians Jan and Steve Dolan arrived in New Zealand 13 years ago and have spent the past three years in Cambridge, making old-school cultured butter from a commercial kitchen inside the shipping container next to their suburban garage. Last year, they added clotted cream to a repertoire that includes buttermilk, creme fraiche and a manuka honey-infused ghee.
"Our old people knew what they were doing," Jan says of the couple's traditional approach to butter-making. "We're taking it back to the way things were done."
The Dolans have picked up a slew of awards for their Bellefield Butter Co products, which are made using north Waikato cream. Some are available at the newly opened Fill Good wholefoods grocery store, where shoppers can fill their own containers with everything from bubble bath to honey and find earth-friendly gifts and treats. Owner Caitlyn Calder knows the provenance of everything; chocolate made by hand in Raglan, bliss balls from Hamilton, luscious moisturiser from Te Awamutu, laundry soap from Palmerston North. Should you overindulge in those bliss balls, there's a fitness studio attached.
Cambridge does healthy eating options well thanks partly to its resident athletes, with the velodrome drawing top cyclists to one side of town and Rowing NZ in the other direction. Expect to find superfood smoothies, seed-laden salads and vegan dessert treats on plenty of menus, alongside more hearty fuel. Paddock cafe in the middle of town has all that, as well as burgers, bowls and big breakfasts, served to eager daily crowds. So does Bikery, inside the velodrome building a short drive – or a very pleasant 15 minute off-road cycle trail ride – from central Cambridge.
Boatshed Karapiro is slightly further away but absolutely worth the detour off SH1, down a country lane, to the lake's edge. On weekends, the fairy-lit function venue becomes a cafe that dishes up a changing array of brunch offerings as well as a couple of curry choices and what may be the prettiest roast vege salad anywhere. Servings are generous – a deep, fudgy slab of brownie rather than a wee triangle - and no dish is more than $20.
Foodie duo Kim Moodie and Ali Foers are the co-owners of Gourmet Delicious catering company. They were meant to be in Tokyo feeding New Zealand's Olympic rowing team in August; instead, they are juggling a catering company, four cafes and a gourmet fish and chip shop that all lie outside Cambridge's central business district. Their first cafe, Suburban Kitchen, opened five years ago and does a mean ginger gem cake, but three of their culinary enterprises have opened this year, all shortly before or after Covid-19 lockdown restrictions hit. The latest is Ophelia, an old villa in Leamington that is heaving with weekend brunchers perched at mismatched tables to devour scrambled egg and cheesy scones.
Save room for dinner at another local favourite, though. As the temperature drops, Alpino restaurant's Italian maitre'd sets the tone by warmly greeting every guest who enters the sprawling 1908 post office building. Don't miss their Cook Strait octopus and fennel salad. Book ahead and cross fingers for the sole table for two in a glassed-in alcove by the front door, which affords excellent people-watching opportunities.
A short walk north, inside another grand historic edifice, smoked potato ravioli is the must-have dish at Alpha Street Kitchen and Bar. The bistro has an impressive wine list, a selection of gourmet ingredients to ogle or buy and that pillowy pasta dish, doused in brown butter and parmesan.
Best way to end the day? On a still Waikato night, stroll towards Te Koutu Lake Domain and listen for the cry of the resident ruru. Perhaps ignore his advice though; after hours spent grazing through Cambridge, no-one will need "more pork".