In my own humble opinion, Te Wai Pounamu (The South Island) is by far the better of both islands. Why? Aside from its breathtaking scenery, blockbuster-famous mountains, and abundance of wildlife, the food scenes down there are pretty impressive – especially as the whole population of the island is still less than Auckland alone. To prove the food scene of the south is something worthy of contention, I’ve compiled a list of the best lower South Island food spots that alone show why this is New Zealand’s favourite isle.
1. Lake Matheson Cafe
Is there anything better than sitting down for a hot cup of joe on a cold winter’s day? Yes, actually. When that hot cup of Joe comes with post-card perfect views of Aoraki and Horokoau (Mount Tasman). Lake Matheson Cafe is the perfect pit stop for those long trips down the West Coast, and serves up some delicious treats to go with that hot drink you so desperately need to warm up! Oh, they’ve also got a little selection of trinkets from local artists for a great holiday souvenir.
2. Burrito Craft
Normally people flock to Wanaka for their awesome hikes, thrilling mountain bike tracks, and alpine activities – but not me. I come here for one thing and one thing only; burritos. Last year I was introduced to Burrito Craft by a good friend, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. Sat in amongst a circle of other tantalising food trucks, Burrito Craft serves up killer Mexican food that feeds the belly, heart & soul. My top pick is their fish burrito; it may sound weird having fish in a burrito, but believe me, those breaded fillets fit the flavours better than carnitas any day!
3. Francesca’s Italian
Summer and Winter activities may differ, but one thing stays the same; you need a damn big serving of carbs after a whole day of them. Luckily, after you’ve set down the skis (water & snow), Francescas is right there to fill that ginormous hole in your stomach. Whether your preference is a plate of saucy pasta or a whole family-sized pizza, Francesca’s serves a huge bounty of both of these dishes to the highest quality, so you can tuck into your favourite feast knowing a flavour volcano is about to erupt.
4. Gibbston Valley Cheese Cafe
Who, and I mean WHO, doesn’t love cheese? Even if you stick to a strict vegan or dairy-free diet, I’m almost positive you can be swayed by a good chunk of cheese. The Gibbston Valley Cheese Cafe is set within the storybook-esque Arrowtown and serves up an array of award-winning cheeses to hungry punters. Not only have they created a fine selection of cheeses to take home, they’ve also curated a whole menu based on their best-sellers. Think gooey Mac & cheese, stuffed baguette, and of course, the famous Southland cheese roll!
5. Nest Kitchen
We’re kicking things up a notch with this hillside haven. Imagine sitting in a beautiful scandi-inspired restaurant, fire blazing, old-fashioned in hand admiring the gorgeous views of the remarkable reflected in Lake Wakatipu. At Nest, you can live this fantasy. Part of the Kamana Resort, this high-altitude restaurant offers drool-worthy a-la-carte and degustation menus for their diners to relish. With supporting seasonality & local produce being a huge ideology here, you’ll never have the same menu two months in a row, but you’ll always enjoy the highest quality ingredients.
6. Ferg Burger
Along with soaking up remarkable views, getting stuck into alpine activities, and thrashing the luge lanes, there’s a reason people flock to the shores of Queenstown – and that’s to get their hungry mitts on one of Ferg Burger’s stacks. Over its 20 years of operating, this place has become QT’s busiest attraction, garnering lines & waits of up to 2 hours during peak season – but patience does not go without reward at this place. The burgers are big, beautiful, and full of bold flavours that keep you coming back for more.
7. Bespoke Kitchen
If Nadia Lim gets her coffee here, you know it’s good. Vegan, vegetarian, dairy & gluten-free people rejoice, as this hideout at the foothill of the gondola has all of your best interests at heart (& stomach!). Dining here is like sensory overload; from a superbly stocked cabinet that features everyone’s favourite sandwiches, bakes & cakes, to a menu full of cult-favourite classics with a bespoke twist. I recommend coming here for brunch after a long day (or night) and replenishing your energy with a big plate of pancakes and one of their fresh, fruity & rejuvenating juices.
These days I find cafes make a hard trade-off between style or substance – but not the guys at Yonder! They prove that you can have the insta-worthy interiors AND serve up dishes that knock your woolen socks off. Whether you’re feeling like a spot of brunch, a dash of dinner, or a night on the cocktails – this place exceeds any of your wining and dining needs.
What would you get if a more sophisticated Willy Wonka set up shop on the shores of Lake Wakatipu? Patagonia – that’s what. This chocolate shop is one of QT’s foodie hotspots, and if its gorgeous Aspen exteriors don’t lull you inside, then the crowds of chocoholics chowing down their signature ice creams in the streets will! Choose from over 10 award-winning flavours to create your own bespoke ice cream, or if you’re beating the cold then grab one of their decadent hot chocolates to warm your heart and soul.
10. Beam me up bagels
I can’t say I’ve ever been jealous of Southern scarfie uni students, but that all changed when I had my first ever feed from Beam Me Up Bagels. How lucky they are to have this awesome little bagel shop right on the doorstep of their campus is almost infuriating to me. Here we’ve been under the impression Best Ugly Bagels is the top dog in NZ when these guys have been showing their Dunedin audience just how bagels should be done! For just $15 you can get yourself a super-stacked bagel you can barely fit in your mouth, or your stomach for that fact, that’ll keep your tummy quiet for the rest of the day.
11. Let them Eat Vegan
I know lots of plant-based people always promise “you won’t even miss the meat” when they share their dishes and sometimes that’s a down-right lie, but at Let them Eat Vegan, I can assure you this claim is 100% true. Making all their meat & cheese alternatives in-house, they’ve mastered their recipes so these ingredients look, smell, feel and taste exactly like the real things. How? I Don’t know. But after chowing down one of their teriyaki “chicken” Baguettes, I found that it’s better to ask fewer questions and just enjoy the delicious dairy-free, meat-free, cafe classics they serve up!
12. Fleurs Place
This is Rick Stein’s favourite seafood restaurant in the world, and now it’s mine too. Humble, unassuming, and underrated are just 3 words to describe this seaside haven. Tucked away on the shores of Moeraki, this restaurant attracts all kinds of different holidaymakers that have just 1 thing in common; they all were blown away by their experience at Fleur’s Place. The chefs here not only nail the classic seafood dishes, but they also like to experiment with other locally sourced ingredients you may have never tried, like the famous Titi/mutton bird (which looks like duck but tastes a lot like anchovies!).
13. Riverside Market
Can’t decide on what you want to eat? Why not try it all! Riverside Market is a newly build hub of all things food & drink right next to Christchurch’s Avon River. The best thing about this food court is that all its vendors cover cuisines from every continent, so you can fill that meal-shaped hole in your soul with your fave international dish! Feeling like a fajita? You can get it here. Craving a creamy carbonara? Again, right here. Longing for a laksa? Need I say it again – you’ll find one right here!
Now this place is somewhere I hold close to my heart, not just because its vibe, people, and food are all stunning, but because it exceedingly satisfied my hunger after a 4-hour journey to Christchurch. Set in one of the only heritage buildings in the South Island capital, Miro takes you back in time atmospherically, but when it comes to their flavours & techniques, they’re all 21st century. The star of the show has to be their breakfast tasting board, which features small servings of all their best-selling dishes, so you can experience all the enjoyment of brunch at Miro without any of the food envy.
15. Hello Sunday
Another place that I hold high praise for, for the sole reason of gratifying my growling stomach. Hello Sunday is like a fairytale cottage crossed with a Michelin Star restaurant; Charming, cozy, and above all, a culinary delight. We came here expecting your bog-standard brunch food but left impressed with the unique dishes they featured on the menu and inspired to try to recreate the gorgeous flavours we experienced ourselves. The team here has created something truly magical with this establishment, as when you go out to dine here it somehow feels like you’re coming home for one of your mum’s heartiest meals.