Lauraine Jacobs gathers all the ingredients for a perfect trip to Southland.
Lauraine Jacobs has the recipe for a perfect trip to Southland.
There’s a thrill in flying as far south in New Zealand as you can, over the Southern Alps and almost into the blue beyond. The plane swoops in with distant views of the Takitimu Mountains (our country’s most southerly range) and over grassy farms, over the beaches lining Foveaux Strait to land in Invercargill / Waihōpai. For far too long the bountiful region of Southland / Murihiku has been overlooked by all but adventurous travellers who head to majestic Fiordland National Park for the classic great walks of the Kepler, Milford and Routeburn Tracks, an array of cruises on the Sounds and breathtaking scenery that is possibly unequalled on the planet.
But this is one of the country’s crucial food bowls as, starting in those Takitimu foothills in the west, fertile plains march right across to the eastern coast. The milder weather here than the region to the immediate north, makes excellent conditions for the abundant pastoral and arable farming that has been traditional in the region for more than 150 years. Invercargill / Waihōpai , at the centre of the south, is currently reinvigorating itself with new construction and renovations, and the city’s food scene is being shaken up by several passionate food-driven changemakers.
TASTING THE SOUTH
Mention the food of the south and it’s been hard to look past the traditionally recognised dairying, delicious meats and root crops exported from the region around the country and to the world. Being a city dweller all my life, until this recent trip I had never understood the difference between pastoral and arable farming. But it was obvious: a large and growing number of Southland farmers are dedicated arable farmers, growing vast paddocks of oats, barley, wheat and other vital crops, seeds, nuts and grains, and now dedicated to adding value to their harvest with new ideas for produce such as gin, aromatic oils and artisan goodies. It’s a far cry from their original pursuit of growing feed for animals or sending their oats away to Harraways (formerly in Southland / Murihiku) for porridge.
In every region there’s always a hero figure or a small group who lead the way, setting the stage for the local producers and chefs to awaken to what’s around them and emphasise unique seasonal and artisan food. Locals in this part of the world are mostly a loyal and mainly conservative bunch, and it’s fascinating to observe that those who travel away have such a connection to the land that many return and settle back where their roots are. In the Invercargill / Waihōpai region there are three outstanding changemakers. Kate French who owns The Batch Café is a local lass who puts an ever-changing Southland / Murihiku plate as the weekly feature item on her extremely popular menu. This showcases locally grown vegetables, fresh-from-the-farm meat or fish and some of the clever artisan food products from the region. This is the place to begin tasting Southland as the coffee is also perfect and Kate’s kitchen staff make the best-in-town classic cheese rolls. facebook.com/batchcafe
Ethan Flack is a brilliant, energetic chef who spent six years working at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’saisons in Oxfordshire. Now he is dedicated to pushing local Southland food to the fore. With his wife, Josie, Ethan runs Kitchen Table and other regular dinner events by reservation only in a purpose-built space at the back of a community store, The Pantry. His intimate dinners are an exemplary showcase of everything available and grown locally. The wintry swede dish with hand-cut swede noodles in a creamy, warm swede broth with local bread was one of the outstanding courses on a sensational set menu. ethanflack.co.nz/kitchen-table
Haylee (Hayz) Simeon, the effervescent chef at Hayz @ the Anchorage on the waterfront in Bluff / Motupōhue, draws her inspiration from the daily catch landed from the waters of the deep south and Stewart Island / Rakiura at the port opposite to her restaurant. Haylee’s vision is to connect people with food by offering a wealth of regional kaimoana, serving dishes of restaurant quality with careful respect paid to the traditional Māori kai she grew up with. Do not miss her feasting platter filled with delicacies such as pāua, blue cod, oysters, salmon, tītī and mussels and topped with half a crayfish. hayzattheanchorage.com
Elsewhere around Invercargill / Waihōpai, find good coffee at Groove Espresso opposite Queen’s Park which has a busy, buzzy vibe all day. The Black Shag (blackshag.co.nz), a coffee roaster and blender in the middle of the city, is a popular brunch and lunch stop during weekdays. And for dinner choices, Koji (kojiinvercargill.co.nz) is a delightful restaurant in the city, just a block from Invercargill Central complex, and offers an extensive menu of Japanese specialties. Meld (thelanglands.co.nz/meld), the newest restaurant in town, is found in a courtyard adjacent to the Langlands Hotel and has an eclectic, pan-asian menu.
The central city boasts a new hotel,
The Langlands (thelanglands.co.nz), with modern, bright, tastefully furnished rooms and an accompanying complex with eight food-and-drink outlets. Recommended in this complex are
360, a rooftop bar with great views and an outdoor balcony for warmer nights, and the hotel’s signature courtyard restaurant, Meld.
The Lodges at Transport World (lodgestransportworld.nz) offers eight luxury apartments in the city with easy access to the transport collections.
Eleven years of restoration and clever refurbishment have gone into
The Church 1914, a luxury B&B with four roomy suites and an event space suitable for weddings and functions.
Ascot Park Hotel (ascotparkhotel.co.nz) is a popular city hotel with a range of keenly priced rooms, a restaurant
Emberz, and a convention centre.
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