Regional produce and homespun recipes define menus along the West Coast. This remote realm of New Zealand's South Island is a locavore's banquet… dig in!
On the South Island's windswept West Coast, the food pairs beautifully with the rugged setting. Seafood tastes smashing next to a wave-gouged stretch of coast, and sausages are even heartier when munched in the midst of fog-draped forests. As for whitebait fritters, patties of tiny fish fry bound together with egg, they're best consumed in a pub within earshot of local fisherfolk. Listen closely to their banter – they're almost certainly keeping the best fishing spots to themselves.
The West Coast, a region of glaciers, rocky coves and temperate rainforest, has long attracted hardy, enterprising characters. The original Māori inhabitants were drawn to the coast's teeming waters and abundant pounamu (greenstone). European settlers arrived in the mid-19th century to build fortunes from timber and coal. West Coasters are still tough types, only now they're farmers, pilots and small business operators – many of them making inventive use of local produce.
With abundant farmland, and lakes that flicker with trout and salmon, it's no surprise that lamb, dairy and fish take pride of place on West Coast menus. Some of the best produce is gobbled at takeaways or packed into picnics, while craft beers and ciders are gulped down in snug local pubs.
Start in cute-as-a-button Hokitika, a former gold-mining outpost that's now a surfy town with a sparkling food scene. Next drive north along the coast, taking the Taylorville Rd exit to Blackball for purveyors of salami and a curiously named gastropub. Backtrack southwest, then follow Arnold Valley Rd south to Moana for an uncommonly scenic train station cafe, before returning west to the coast and finishing in Greymouth's marvellous brewery. This road trip unlocks the flavours of a lesser-trodden part of New Zealand, accompanied by views that will linger long in the memory.
In need of a few tasty recommendations? Here are seven seriously delicious places to get you started:
No trip to NZ would be complete without a warm, paper-wrapped parcel of deep-fried goodies. In Hokitika, Dulcie's is the local favourite for fish 'n' chips. Order crumbed hoki, blue cod, squid rings or even sweet fritters. A scoop of chips is the classic accompaniment though kumara (sweet potato) chips are very moreish. It's barely five minutes' walk from Dulcie's to Sunset Point, a scenic place to unwrap the precious package and scoff down its contents
Gibson Quay, Hokitika; 03-756 8018; www.facebook.com/dulciestakeaways; 11am-8.30pm
Sweet Alice's Fudge Kitchen
Just 10 minutes' walk east of Sunset Point, Hokitika's own Willy Wonka is preparing fudge in a little confectioner's shop on Tancred St. On a whim, Peter and Andrea Bowden took over the shop in April 2018 and gave it a zesty green-and-white makeover. Front and centre are the ever-changing varieties of fudge. The owners' favourites? Ginger for Andrea, and after-dinner mint for Pete, but there's plenty to munch through: classics like chocolate flavour and rich Russian fudge, two dairy-free options, and seasonally changing variations such as strawberry and passionfruit. Local suggestions add to the menu: you can thank an imaginative customer for the Caramilk fudge (caramelised white chocolate). Mix it up with hard candies, made on a 200-year-old drop-candy machine, or icecream in a homemade waffle cone. Then sit back and enjoy the sugar high.
27 Tancred St, Hokitika; 027 858 0802; 10.30am-4.30pm
Fat Pipi Pizza
Slightly north of Sweet Alice's lies Fat Pipi Pizza, legendary for its generous seafood toppings and uncommon flavour combos. Smoked salmon and heaps of mussels top the seafood pizzas, and the veggie options are equally substantial (opt for "The Punk", piled with caramelised pumpkin, feta and cashews). During the West Coast's whitebait season (September to mid-November), tiny fish create a sensation among Hokitika's diners and fishing enthusiasts. The most popular delicacy is a whitebait fritter, in which fish fry are bound into an omelette. Fat Pipi's riffs on this classic by using an eggy whitebait mixture to coat a garlicky, butter-laced base, with added tang from capers and lemon.
89 Revell St, Hokitika; 03-755 6373; noon-2.30pm Thu-Sun & 5-8pm nightly, hours vary seasonally
Formerly The Blackball Hilton
On the second day, drive north along the coast to Greymouth, turning southeast for the road to Blackball. This town of 300-odd people was established by coal miners who arrived after a short-lived wave of migration during the gold rush.
The main landmark is Formerly The Blackball Hilton. Originally named The Dominion when it opened in 1910, the hotel went into decline in the '60s after the closure of the mine. Later, a certain hotel chain caught whiff of its name-change to The Blackball Hilton; a payout eventually followed, and "Formerly the Blackball Hilton" was born. Chef Scotty Newcombe ensures that the menu ventures beyond the usual pub mainstays, with dishes such as grilled venison brightened by a blueberry jus and classic, comforting desserts, such as sticky date pudding, turned out to perfection. "We always have some retro, nostalgic dishes on the menu," explains Cynthia Robins, who, together with Phil Lemmon, owns the hotel. "I love our chef's signature dish of pan-fried fish with a passionfruit beurre blanc sauce," says Cynthia. "Light but satisfying."
26 Hart St, Blackball; 03-732 4705 www.blackballhilton.co.nz; noon- 2.30pm & dinner from 6pm
Blackball Salami Co
Only a few steps northwest of Formerly the Blackball Hilton is an unmissable stop for picnic supplies: Blackball Salami Co. "We smoke the salamis for a period of time, slowly on a cold smoke," explains Phillip Russ, half of the husband-and-wife team behind Blackball Salami Co. "It brings out the flavour and enhances it." If you're self-catering, take away their smoked bacon or black pudding, made from an old Scottish recipe, or their award-winning "white pudding" (a blood-free version of the grainy meat pud). Blackball Salami Co also make some of the classiest snags around, in flavours from paprika-laced Hungarian style to pork and pineapple. "The beef and lamb sausages are my favourite," adds Phillip.
11 Hilton St, Blackball; 03-732 411 www.blackballsalami.co.nz; 8am- 4pm Mon-Fri, 9am-2pm Sat
A half-hour drive south from Blackball, along the Taylorville – Blackball Rd and Arnold Valley Rd, reaches sleepy Moana. At the north shore of Lake Brunner, Moana is a stop along New Zealand's scenic TranzAlpine train route, and it's a top spot for family holidays. Enjoy the serenity with excellent cafe grub – toasted sandwiches, crispy battered fish, whitebait fritters (in season), carrot cake – at Stationhouse Cafe, opposite the train station.
40 Koe St, Moana; 03-738 0158; www.lakebrunner.net; 9.30am-late
Return to Greymouth, a 35-minute drive northwest, to finish at sleek Monteith's. Brewing beers since 1868, Monteith's offers tours of the facilities, affording thirsty visitors a glimpse of its polished vats, along with lungfuls of hoppy air and tastings of the finished products. After learning about brewing techniques and working up a thirst, hang around in the lively bar. Snacks such as beer-battered fries and aioli, cider-spiked saucy ribs, and buttermilk chicken burgers are designed to pair beautifully with the award-winning craft beers.
60 Herbert St, Greymouth; 03-768 4149; www.thebrewery.co.nz; 11am-9pm
WHERE TO STAY
Drifting Sands, Hokitika
This friendly B&B has talk-your-ear-off hosts, elegantly weathered furniture and a restful lounge with fireplace. Mornings are spent enjoying jams and freshly baked bread, while evenings pass all too quickly in the seaside hammock.
Global Village, Greymouth
A cheap and colourful hostel in Greymouth with eclectic decor (Persian-style rugs, zebra print bedspreads) and free-to-hire fishing rods and kayaks.
WHAT TO DO
The Old Ghost Road Trail
There's a pulse-racing range of activities on the West Coast, from rafting and sea kayaking to hikes and horse trekking. But The Old Ghost Road Trail combines gold-mining history with high-energy exertions. An 85km ( 53 miles) backcountry cycling adventure rated Grade 4 (read: thighs of steel), the rewards are spellbinding mountain panoramas and glimpses of 19th-century history.
Are those insect legs between your teeth? The region's wackiest food event is Hokitika's inimitable Wildfoods Festival. Daredevil gastronomy won it fame (beetle larvae, deep- fried grasshoppers...) but Wildfoods is also adored for its feral fashions. If you prefer your food a little less, well, wriggly, there are also New Zealand classics such as whitebait patties, venison, and hokey pokey ice cream.
Reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet Gourmet Trails Australia and New Zealand © 2021. lonelyplanet.com.
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