Okay, so it’s winter. You guessed it, another grey and grisly day. But, as we say, ill-tempered weather should never stop a search for good real New Zealand food. Head to the Kaipara Coast, on the western coast, north of Auckland and south of Whangarei. There you’ll find some dramatic winter scenery and plenty of real New Zealand food, including this country’s unofficial national vegetable. Yes, we’re off to New Zealand’s kūmara capital.
Travelling the Kaipara Coast
It’s a big stretch of water, the Kaipara Harbour. And, on a winter’s day, and following the Kaipara coastline north, you’ll be in a land of flat plains close to salty seas and sneaky inlets. Mangroves, saltwater rushes and New Zealand’s “feather sticks”, the toi toi, are everywhere. And it’s very damp underfoot, no shortage of winter’s rainfall here.
While the harbour is a pretty large affair, for most of this journey you follow a swollen and mighty river, the Wairoa, leading the way for you to Dargaville. Its colour, in the winter rainfall, has a remarkable red stain, bringing to mind those red kūmara the region is indisputably famous for.
The Kaipara region is named after the eating quality (kai) of the king fern (para), a large and robust tree fern, with fronds up to 5 metres tall, rising from a starchy base that was a traditional Māori food. And there are local walks, including a climb up the Tokatoka peak - a real pointy peak so obvious no map is needed to point it out - where the local scenery, and flora and fauna, abound.
And, while you’re there, make some new friends.
Goat meat along the way
We said flat plains close to salty seas. And at the southerly half of the Kaipara Harbour, in Tauhoa, close to Port Albert - another area steeped in local history - there’s a very special stop, at the wonderful aptly named Salty River Farm.
At the farm, if you pre-order your spoils, you might be lucky enough to meet Louise, a fantastic ambassador for locally produced traceable meat. The farm has its own source of goat. It’s true that even today, world-wide, more people eat goat meat than from any other meat. And working closely with other local heritage farmers, the farm arranges some traceable and very interesting beef and lamb options.
There’s free range eggs at the farm gate too. And free range indeed they were - roaming happily about the place, minding their own business, and leaving farm visitors to theirs.
A Ruawai bacon selection
Journeying a long flat road, Ruawai, and Long Flat Bacon, await.
Ruawai is a small rural township, its name (translating to “two waters”) literally referencing the oh so close Wairoa River and Kaipara Harbour.
Pop in to grab some bacon (with other pork options available), and get back on those long flat straights to find yourself in kūmara heaven.
And look, the kūmara is unmissable. And very happy.
You’re in no doubt you’ve reached the home of the Kaipara kūmara, champions for agility, stamina, energy, endurance, vitality and strength.
You’ll see the most kūmara signage anywhere in the world, be spoilt for choice with roadside stalls staffed by happy kūmara and honesty boxes, and can take your own 20 kilo bag home if you really want to.
Stumbling upon a riverside produce stall in nearby Dargaville completed the food gathering picture - organic “New Zealand spinach”, also known as Cook’s cabbage and sea spinach. This one’s a great scurvy saviour, with a slightly different shape and coarser texture than you might have come to expect from traditional spinach.
Take the Kaipara’s bounty
And for the journey onwards, take the Kaipara’s offerings with you. With the Long Flat Bacon’s finest, along with that New Zealand spinach and winter’s tree tomato, the New Zealand tamarillo, you can enjoy it all again at home. To see a simple and classic favourite winter bacon butty idea, a delicious breakfast, lunch or easy supper, click here.
But it wasn't only the bacon that shined that day. We loved our Salty River Farm goat, and look out for more on that soon...