Northland, New Zealand

By / Magazine / August 31st, 2011 / Like

Northland. The word conjures up images of polar bears and parkas, doesn’t it? But, when you actually reach this point on the compass, you might find that you’re not exactly where you expected to be. Instead, you’ll be where Kiwis frolic around tall trees that lived with the dinosaurs. Northland is the northernmost wine region in New Zealand, and it is actually the hottest place in the country. It was here that the very first settlers laid anchor. It was also here that the country’s award-winning wine industry was born. Welcome to the land of tomorrow.

Claudia Tasker, Media Advisor at Tourism New Zealand, says, “Nowhere in Northland is far from the sea. Seafood is definitely the way to go here.” It turns out that one particularly iconic food experience is made-to-order fish and chips. That wasn’t much of a surprise to me. I always had the impression that New Zealand’s cuisine could be defined as a happy salute to an ever-present British heritage. Well, I have to admit that I was wrong. As if melt-in-your mouth seafood weren’t enough, Northland also boasts unique Maori dishes. You’ll be able to snap up specialties like Hangi (meat and vegetables cooked in an underground oven), Rewena (bread made from potatoes) and Paua Fritters (fried sea snail). Neighbouring Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam have contributed their own ingredients and traditions to the mix, too. And those sheep … In Northland, like the rest of New Zealand, sheep outnumber people by about 13 to one. So, enjoy that juicy lamb chop and a few slices of sharp and tangy sheep’s milk cheese, too. The artisanal products emerging from Northland consistently bring home top awards.

eat here
Duke of Marlborough Hotel, Russel
Waikokopu Café, Paihia
Kamakura, Russel
Copthorne Hotel and Resort, Bay of Islands
The Mongonui Fish Shop, Far North

food fests
September: Taste Bay of Islands, Paihia
November: Savouring the Source, Waimate
February: Taste Northland, Whanegarei

claudia’s classic pavlova
Pavlova is a meringue baked to a marshmallow-like consistency and adorned with fresh fruit, whipped cream or ice cream. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was actually invented in New Zealand in honour of a Russian ballet dancer. No wonder it’s considered the country’s national dessert.

4 egg whites
1 cup of granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp of vanilla essence
1 tsp of white vinegar
1 cup 35% cream, whipped
Fresh fruit (kiwifruit, strawberries, raspberries)

Using an electric beater, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and beat well. Then beat in the vanilla essence and vinegar.
Cover a baking tray with parchment paper. Pile meringue mixture onto the tray and shape into a circle (about two inches high) pulling the edges up with a knife to square off the edges. Bake at 320°F for about 40 minutes, or until pavlova feels crisp on top. Turn oven off and leave pavlova in oven to cool. (It may crack on top but don’t worry — you will be covering this with cream). Cover with whipped cream; then top with fresh fruit. Cut into wedges and serve.

Northland has always had wine in its soul. More than 200 years ago, James Busby, a British Government Representative, planted vines and pressed the country’s first wine. Soon after, a missionary, Reverend Samuel Marsden, began his own vine and wine enterprise. Finally, Croatian settlers, experts themselves at making fortified wine, added their own skills to the mix. Were it not for these (and later) intrepid winemakers, the industry might never have become the going concern it is today.

Northland’s hot and wet climate makes farming tricky. It has a tendency to leave some grape varieties (and winemakers) feeling a tad stressed out. But Kiwis are nothing if not resourceful. First, they planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, grapes that don’t mind the heat at all. Then, they adjusted their farming practices according to what the grapes had to dig their roots into: clay, clay-sand, sand or free-draining volcanic; all four types of soil can be found in the region’s 13,780 km area. These days, they’ve set their sights on experimenting with other grape varieties, like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Malbec.

try this
Taking part in a general tasting is a great way to get to know the wines of a particular area. Collect some of the wines listed below, and see if you can discern differences in colour, aroma and taste. Northland is the smallest wine region in New Zealand, consisting of about a dozen wineries situated near Kaitaia, Bay of Islands and Whangarei, Northland’s largest city.

Karikari Estate Hell Hole 2008
Omata Estate Merlot 2009
Lochiel Estate Merlot/Malbec 2008

Okahu Chardonnay 2007
Cottle Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Fat Pig Pinot Gris 2010

“Hang out with the locals, enjoy a barbecue with friends” says Tasker. It’s a great way to fully appreciate Northlanders’ warm and laid-back lifestyle. Lie on the beach for a while or go fishing and diving. The locals know that there’s little else better than catching your own fresh dinner. Relaxing with nature is the activity of choice here. Surrounded by a clean, sandy coastline, Northland is the place to see whales or swim with the dolphins. Looking for something a little less aquatic? The Northern tip of New Zealand is the place to hug the kauri, Earth’s most ancient trees. Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) is the oldest of these. It stands 51 meters tall with a girth of almost 14 meters, and is thought to be between 1500 and 2000 years old. Want to go exploring? There are tour operators aplenty ready to help you commune with nature, travel the wine trail and tuck into the local fare. Northland is known as the “winterless North” because of its mild winters, but Tasker suggests that October to May is the best time to visit.

packing tips
Sunblock and hat
Shorts and sandals
Rain gear

“Stories abound that on a clear day, from the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge, you can see New Zealand — or from the 300-metre-plus Auckland Tower, the South Pole. Neither is true, but both (much like the fact that New Zealanders get to experience tomorrow before anyone else in the world) bring folksy focus to a country that is a long plane ride from almost anywhere, but serves up treasures that are as unique as the difference between its north and south islands.” Duncan Holmes

what to do
Dolphin and whale watching at Ninety Mile Beach
Diving at the Poor Knights Marine Reserve
Hiking through the Bay of Islands

fun facts
There are no traffic lights or high rise buildings north of Whangarei.
Ninety Mile beach is actually only 55 miles long (88 km).
Twin Coast Discovery highway visits all the highlights on both the east and west coasts.


Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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