The outdoors is where many New Zealanders feel at home. Searching farmers’ markets and roadside stalls for local produce is often followed by plenty of barbecue time outside your campervan.
In this blog, we take a look at motorhome cooking the New Zealand way. We’ll also chat about Kiwis’ favourite foods and drinks, and how best to shop for food in Aotearoa.
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Cooking the New Zealand way
New Zealanders love a good barbecue — or barbie as it’s colloquially known. When long summers offer sunlight that can linger about until well after 9pm and there’s quality roadside produce to indulge in, the barbie is your cooking apparatus of choice.
Your campervan or motorhome rental operator may include a barbecue with your hire. Some motorhomes have one built into the outside of the vehicle. Others have separate barbecue units that are stored in lockable outdoor storage compartments when not in use.
Advantages of cooking with a barbecue
Compared to cooking inside, barbecuing outdoors has its advantages, such as:
- Space — making it easy for you to prepare meals on the road
- Nature — enjoying native birdlife while creating your food masterpieces
- Less mess — keeping all your dirty utensils and cooking smells outside of the motorhome.
Embrace your outdoor cooking spirit and ensure you have access to a barbecue on your campervan adventure.
What to barbecue in New Zealand?
The season you decide to travel will influence what you’re able to barbecue at a reasonable price. Whether you’re a surf ‘n’ turf type or you prefer a lighter vegetarian option, you’ll find fresh seasonal produce year round.
Popular barbecue meats produced throughout the country include beef, lamb, chicken and pork. They’re widely available but prices vary across the year.
Sausages created from these base meats from a specialist butcher are another option — and could even help start up a conversation with some locals while camping.
Seafood is less common on the barbecue in New Zealand but is easy to source. A delicacy you might find throughout spring and even summer is whitebait. Fritters created with whitebait are a Kiwi specialty and are easily cooked on a barbecue grill plate.
Fresh vegetables to add to your barbecue feast include potatoes, kumara, courgettes and mushrooms. Check roadside stalls as you travel for the freshest local produce.
Check out these motorhome barbecuing tips.
Alfresco dining in bad weather
The weather doesn’t always play ball so a barbecue may not be the smartest choice. But you can still enjoy an alfresco-style dinner by opening up all your campervan’s windows and the habitation door.
High-end motorhomes usually have fly screens installed even for the door. You won’t have to worry about flies or other insects entering your camper.
Alternatively, if your motorhome hire has a retractable awning that’ll provide shade and shelter from light drizzle, set up your dining table and chairs outdoors.
Discover our top tips for cooking on a road trip.
Indulging in New Zealand’s favourite food and drink
Kiwis are incredibly lucky to have a huge variety of locally grown seafood, meats and vegetables — and they’re keen to share these fresh foods with travellers.
Whether your taste is suited to blue cod, hoki (blue hake) or snapper, there are plentiful choices of fish to cook. The country is awash with fish ‘n’ chip shops and it still proves to be a popular pastime for many New Zealanders.
One of the best experiences in the Auckland region is to enjoy your takeaway on the black sand beach at Piha while watching the sunset.
Commonly known as abalone, Paua is found across the country but is more frequently eaten in the North Island. Visit local Saturday or Sunday markets and you may find a vendor cooking up paua fritters.
For an amazing paua pie experience, head to Cafe 35 at Tokomaru Bay.
Green-lipped mussels are the ones to search for. They’re:
- Unique to New Zealand
- Grown in the seas around both the North and South Islands
- Farmed in a few places — such as Havelock.
Visit the Havelock Mussel and Seafood Festival if you’re in the area in March.
A worldwide delicacy, crayfish can be caught around the country but is most easily purchased and enjoyed in certain locations, such as:
- The West Coast — plenty of eateries sell crayfish on the Coast and a number of locals also catch their own off the rocks.
- Coromandel Smoking Co. — which also sells smoked fish, eel and mussels in Coromandel Town.
- The Kaikoura coastline — with a name that literally translates to eat crayfish, Kaikoura is probably the premium place to try it.
One of the country’s original and most photographed food trucks is Nins Bin where you can order a half or whole cooked cray and eat it by the ocean.
Salmon and trout
South Island rivers and lakes can hide a few delicious surprises — not least of all the abundance of fresh salmon and trout.
Both require a licence to catch them so will likely be out of reach for many travellers, however you can purchase Salmon from various locations. To try New Zealand trout, you may have to make friends with the right person in your campground.
Stop in at High Country Salmon near Twizel to buy fresh salmon and other gourmet products — and to even take part in a catch-a-fish experience.
The bottom of the South Island is home to the Bluff oyster — which is considered to be one of the best in the world. Also known as dredge oysters, they’re harvested wild in Foveaux Strait between March and August.
If you’re travelling in mid-autumn, try to get here for the Bluff Oyster and Food Festival.
New Zealand lamb has a well-respected international reputation. It’s also a favourite local dish served roasted or barbecued.
Throughout the country you’ll be able to easily find lamb steaks, sausages and racks in most supermarkets and butchers. Look for lamb from Silver Fern Farms or First Light Farms whose different herds are all grass-fed.
Kiwi beef is also widely available and can add plenty of flavour to your campervan meals. Cattle are grazed on grass in open pastures with freedom to roam so you can be sure you’re buying quality beef.
Fruit and veggies grow well in New Zealand’s fertile volcanic soil with lots of regional specialisations.
The local Māori word for sweet potato is kumara — and it’s been adopted widely across the country. New Zealand grows four main types of Kumara. Each one is distinctly different with its own unique flavour.
- Orange — also known as beauregard, it’s the sweetest of the lot. Try adding it to a caramelised roast veggie salad.
- Red — or Owairaka is the most recognisable. Try slicing it with the skin on and cooking it with red onions.
- Gold — also called Toka Toka, it has both a golden skin and inner. Try adding it to a creamy chicken curry.
- Purple dawn — a new variety of kumara breed. Try it in a roast kumara salad.
Kumara is a key ingredient in the traditional Māori hangi, where the meal is cooked with heated stones in a pit oven in the ground. You can take part in a cultural experience that includes a hangi buffet dinner at places like the Mitai Maori Village near Rotorua.
The Chinese gooseberry has evolved to become synonymous with New Zealand cuisine and its export markets. More commonly called kiwifruit, it’s widely available throughout the country’s food stores and farmers’ markets.
New Zealand grows three main varieties of kiwifruit.
- Green — with a vibrant, fresh taste and a tangy flavour.
- Gold — a smooth, oval kiwifruit with a vibrant yellow colour and a tropical taste.
- Red — a new kiwifruit which isn’t yet widely available.
The Bay of Plenty region is well known for its delicious kiwifruit with the town of Te Puke displaying a giant kiwifruit at Kiwi 360. Take a tour of this working orchard and snap a photo of the giant kiwifruit.
The manuka tree is indigenous to New Zealand — and the honey that’s made from its pollen has a strong taste and is said to be beneficial for your health.
One of the largest New Zealand companies producing honey is Comvita. Their visitor centre is at Paengaroa in the western Bay of Plenty. In the past, they operated guided honey tours so if you love honey, it may be worth getting in touch with them.
The traditional and widely-loved pav — does it originate from the UK, Australia or New Zealand? Kiwis will tell you that it’s a New Zealand dessert through and through. However, it’s likely to be an ongoing argument.
Pavlova is a baked meringue base typically topped with berries or kiwifruit or passionfruit — with plenty of cream on top. It’s the country’s go-to Christmas dessert.
Wine and beer
Enhance your road meals made using fresh New Zealand produce with one of the country’s highly rated wines or beers.
New Zealand winemakers produce a wide range of award-winning wines. Historically speaking, the Marlborough region at the top of the South Island has probably been the most famous wine region in the country — due to its refreshing sauvignon blanc.
The country also produces superb pinot noir particularly around Blenheim and across Central Otago’s Gibbston Valley and Bendigo — where a handful of vineyards are nestled amongst scenic hills.
The North Island’s best known region is Hawke’s Bay which offers fantastic syrah, chardonnay and pinot noir.
Martinborough in the Wairarapa region near Wellington is another wine growing area that’s worth a visit. Hire a bike and cycle from vineyard to vineyard — and buy your favourite tipple for the evening’s motorhome meal.
Locally brewed craft beers are also hugely popular with breweries dotted around the country. Many of these independent breweries will let you taste what they have on tap and fill a takeaway rigger — to enjoy with your dinner.
Follow New Zealand chef and food writer Tina Duncan on her five day foodie motorhome tour to get a few ideas for your road trip.
Food and drink shopping in New Zealand
To really get out there and enjoy the local produce on offer, research which farmers’ markets take your fancy. A few that are absolutely worth stopping at include:
- Matakana Village Farmers’ Market — a zero waste village market that’s on every Saturday morning
- Hawkes Bay Farmers’ Market — for a wide range of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, bread, eggs, pickles and preserves
- Harbourside Market — where you can buy fresh fish directly off the boat near the market
- Lyttelton Farmers Market — a popular local market in the eccentric harbourside town of Lyttelton.
Specialty food shops and roadside fruit and veggie stores are also well worth a visit. Larger towns and cities can have discount or bulk food shops such as BargainMe in Christchurch and Reduced to clear in various locations throughout the North Island.
Supermarkets are where you’ll likely purchase the majority of your food and drink while on your motorhome vacation. The main chains of New World, Countdown and PAK‘nSAVE are in most urban areas — with the latter often offering lower prices.
Supermarkets are perfect for the basics like pasta, rice and flour. But be mindful of how much you buy as you’ll have limited storage space in your campervan — and you won’t want to leave behind what you can’t eat.
Download our favourite motorhome recipes for the road to help you plan your food journey through New Zealand.