Why Waipū? Anna King Shahab has a few reasons…
It wasn't too long ago that all supplies would need to be brought in when heading to the beach/bach/weekend getaway. Notable exceptions that could be reliably sourced included fish 'n' chips, ice creams, and if you were lucky, pies. Over the past decade, the situation in so many holiday destinations has changed radically, for the better. Encompassing both the picturesque cove boasting a magnificent white sand beach and, if you hit it on a good day, decent surf, and the township a short drive north from Auckland, Waipū exemplifies this kind of culinary progression.
Right across the road from the beach carpark, surf school set-up, and those vital red and yellow flags, if it's a good beach day, Cove is always heaving with customers. Sprayfree and organic produce from the owners' own farm are on the extensive menu, including burgers, pizzas, and even crispy duck leg confit. Meats like smoked beef brisket and slow-cooked lamb shoulder are delivered from sister site Dune in nearby Mangawhai, where the smoker goes on twice a day. Cove is a great spot for families, with impressive kids' menus.
En route in or out, or just a short drive to the hill at the northern end of Lang's Beach, Zippy's is a local legend for real fruit icecream, coffee, and a pile of hula hoops to have a hoon with on the grassy knoll overlooking the beach. Raspberry and boysenberry are lovely, of course, but if you spy tamarillo on the fruit icecream board, trust me and pick that – it's revelationary.
With opening hours morning and then again in the late arvo after a siesta (or, as the sign declares 'Randomly closed, unless open'), Feoh Espresso at the northern end of Waipū Township has you covered for excellent coffee with a side of eclectic steampunk design, and engaging conversation with owner Riki Taiaroa.
Taiaroa roasts beans of various provenances, the machinery tucked up against the counter with a notebook full of scrawled notes on each batch – with coffee extraction the precise focus here, don't expect alternative milks; dairy rules, and it's beautiful stuff – organic A2 jersey milk from Durham Farms up the road.
The list of special coffees (or ca phe) draws inspiration from Vietnam, motherland of Taiaroa's wife Nina Quan. Quan and Taiaroa put on an occasional pop-up Vietnamese-style feast, and having browsed the menu of an event I had just missed by a week – an espresso martini to start, a series of street food favourites from Quan's childhood, matched with local beer and wine – I am determined to make it along to the next gig. In the meantime, Southland cheese rolls suffice – a nod to Taiaroa's roots.
McLeod's Brewery and Pizza Barn has come up trumps on our numerous visits, no matter the brief: from quick pint to long lunch with a rowdy group of families.
At peak times the wait can be lengthy, but once orders are taken, the kitchen's whip-smart action ensures rumbling tums are soon sated with generously loaded woodfired pizzas. The brewery has won numerous awards and everything is bottled or kegged on site. The Northern Light Lager is a great lighter pick, a crisp 2.3% beer that ensures the rest of the afternoon isn't dulled, but if you're up for some tasting there's loads to explore including sensational seasonal brews including twists on Belgian classics, unfiltered pale ales, and sours like the delicious Wicker Basket Solberry Sour, made with berries from nearby Maungatapere.
Having been tipped off by Taiaroa about a small local goat's cheese-maker, Belle Chevre Creamery, I take a punt and call through to see if we can visit and purchase some cheese. Owner and cheesemaker Jennifer Rodrigue invites us up to taste her wares and, if we time it right, meet the kids – the baby goat variety, that is.
Soon we're being massaged by the hooves of a dozen or so inquisitive and beautiful, lop-eared, bell-wearing Anglo-Nubian kids. When they're not ushered into this pen beside Californian emigres Jennifer and David's home and small milking shed-cheese factory, the kids and their folks are free-ranging on the hillside property just off SH1 a couple of minute's north of Waipū, grazing on what takes their fancy from a variety of pasture, shrubs and trees.
The herd of 18 is milked once a day and within three hours, the milk is being processed. Jennifer invites us into the tasting room and takes us through her range. There's feta, a marinated soft cheese, halloumi-style Zalloumi, the Valencay-style Manaia Ma (hugely popular and sold out when we visit), chocolate-coated raspberry-dusted chevre bonbons, and the soft and simple chevre log.
If you've dismissed goat's cheese as too... well, goaty, think again – Belle Chevre's range is remarkably un-goaty, sweet, and deliciously rich. The plain chevre on its own is akin to a New York baked cheesecake – heavenly.
For a goat's cheese fiend like me, this is my most exciting food discovery in a long time. With production very small-scale, labour-intensive, and the mama goats breaking from milking April to August, Belle Chevre cheeses aren't yet widely stocked. Best to keep an eye on their social channels for where to buy – including at Waipū's clever new Roving Rural Market, which pops ups on farms and onsite at local producers.