Prepare to appease those wild hunger pangs.
Whitebait, crayfish and other delectable seafood, fresh water fish and curious wild foods. Wherever hunger strikes on New Zealand’s bountiful West Coast, nature provides from the sea, rivers, lakes and hills. And, if you’re not into hunting or fishing, there are talented, hospitable locals who have you covered.
Travel tip: Fishing for whitebait — the juveniles of six different fish species — is limited to a two-month fishing season (1 September to 31 October) so, if you want to try them fresh, spring is the season to visit.
For a gourmet experience, the Karamea Village Hotel has earned a tightly-held reputation for serving up some of the best whitebait on the West Coast. Under current owner Diana Storer and her family, the historic hotel (dating back to 1876) has been recognised among New Zealand’s top country hotels — a classic West Coast pub serving food that’s anything but basic. The whitebait sandwich is a good place to start.
Everything grows in luscious, sub-tropical Karamea so it’s no surprise that the little village boasts a cluster of fine little eateries and food outlets serving wholesome food: Vinnie’s for pies, sandwiches, great coffee, the Last Resort’s licensed bar, restaurant and cafe for casual meals and fine dining (including the Last Resort Whitebait Fritter).
Fritter, patty, sandwich or omelette style, you’ll find the proverbial whitebait on menus everywhere on the West Coast. There’s even a pizza dedicated to the delectable little fish.
Chow down on an exceptional whitebait experience. Unique to Hokitika, Fat Pipi’s Whitebait Pizza is a wondrous handmade pizza crust covered with garlic butter, mozzarella and 140 gm of whitebait, capers, Parmesan and lemon on the side. The reviews are outstanding and, if Naples ever gets to hear about this, look out Hokitika!
Along with other more classic pizzas, Fat Pipi owners Mike and Pam also serve their own ‘Far Canal’ wine. If you dine in, be sure to ask Mike about the origins of that curious appellation.
Someone once said that a standard three-course meal on the West Coast is ‘a pie and two beers’. It’s always hard to pass up a good crust, and it would be a tragedy to pass Westport without dropping in on the Coast’s very own ‘pie lady’.
Auckland’s loss is Westport’s gain with pie-maker supreme Emily Lucas of West Coast Pies. In a past life Emily has owned restaurants and cooked up fine wedding feasts but now she’s on a mission to bake ‘a better pie’. And, her range of premium pies created with heavenly handmade pastry and brimming with divine, small batch wild game fillings are taking pie-making to a whole new level.
Better means great eating because wild game meat is tastier, leaner and better for you. It also means naturally better because by eating wild meat, you contribute to protecting the biodiversity of New Zealand’s native habitats. Stop in at the little Westport cafe and you’ll likely find Emily behind the counter.
Looking for a long lunch? Head to the end of the road, south from Haast, to Jackson Bay — a sleepy little seaside village where you can watch the fishing boats landing their fresh catch on the long, iconic wharf. This is the only natural deep-water wharf on the West Coast and the main catch is crayfish, otherwise known as Fiordland lobster, blue cod, groper and tarakihi.
On the waterfront at the end of the wharf, The Craypot is a simple little brightly-painted caravan trailer with outdoor tables and great views. Here, hospitable locals and sisters Nicole and Dayna Buchanan serve up a huge welcome.
On the menu: whole crayfish tail or crayfish salad, blue cod fish and chips, seafood chowder, whitebait patties, and vegetarian options. It’s licensed and open for lunches from September until Easter. Watch out for rare Fiordland crested penguins wandering past and tiny Hector’s dolphins in the waves.
A legend in their own lunchtime … back in the day, the 1908 strike by Blackball’s coal miners reclaiming a decent lunch break, became New Zealand’s first-ever strike action. They won their longer lunch break and launched the New Zealand Labour movement.
So, it seems appropriate that the little town of Blackball remains a lunchtime favourite with the tasty small deli goods that originate from Blackball Salami. Established 30 years ago (long after the miners left) and now in the capable hands of Phil and Debbie Russ, this artisan butchery produces 40-something variations of handcrafted salami and sausages. Find them right opposite the Blackball Inn & 08 Cafe.
If you’re planning to walk or bike the nearby Paparoa Track, stop in to sample the naturally cured and smoked salamis, cooked sausages and their famous black pudding. There’s even a white pudding made with pork and leeks.
You could catch your own salmon but there’s another easier option. Feed the fish from the viewing platform then reward yourself with a meal of delicious cold-smoked premium salmon at the South Westland Salmon Farm. Half-way between Fox Glacier and Haast, on the edge of the Paringa River, the salmon farm is perfectly placed for a stretch-your-legs, gourmet break.
South Westland salmon are raised on the property in freshwater ponds fed by water from the Southern Alps, then cold-smoked and slow-cured on site. Choose from the all-day menu or fresh premium fillets, smoked salmon (whitebait and sashimi when in season) to take out.
The Monk family established the salmon farm in the 90s, built the smoker, developed the processing and then opened the cafe in 1995. It’s now run by second generation son Ben Monk. There’s also cosy cottage accommodation.
If you’re in Karamea, watch out for Diane Anderson’s award-winning cheeses. Dairy farmer Diane is only just working towards opening her commercial cheesemaking facility but, as an amateur cheesemaker, she’s already scooped some national prizes for her ‘Pine Ash Bloomy rind’ and halloumi. The cheeses come out for various local fundraising events including the annual Karamea Cheese Night (held in March) which also features other cheeses, breads, crackers and condiments made by locals.
Classic. A couple of mates from Blackball (Sam and Wayne) had a good idea over a couple of beers … the result is the West Coast’s latest gourmet experience: Blackball Black Garlic — a delicious, natural superfood, sometimes described as ‘a umami tsunami’. It takes 5 weeks to turn fresh garlic into black garlic, slow cooked at a super low heat in a special oven that Sam and Wayne built. Well worth getting your hands on a couple of pots to take home.
Meanwhile, Tony and Kate Buckley of Westland Cranberries, near Hokitika, are the only cranberry growers in New Zealand — a boutique business growing and producing delicious artisan-made relish, sauce, compote and traditional cranberry jelly. Cranberries are a superfood so keep an eye out for these products (in local establishments like Monteith’s Brewery, Greymouth) and nationwide in a handful of speciality food outlets (e.g. Farro in Auckland, and Moore Wilson’s in Wellington).
For the taste sensation to top them all, check in to the Wildfoods Festival in Hokitika where just about anything and everything is on the table.
The next edition of New Zealand’s leading indigenous wild foods festival will take place on Saturday, 9 March, 2024, promising a feast of tasty, sometimes outrageous, gastronomic delights. The Coast’s biggest day out is the place to be if you’ve ever hankered to try huhu grubs served ‘au naturel’ or grilled, Westcargots (yes, that’s West Coast garden snails), wasp larvae ice cream and gorse flower wine … to name just a few of the odd gourmet delicacies from past festivals.
With around 50 stall holders on the job, there will be something to keep everyone fed and watered, including the more traditional offerings of whitebait patties, seafood, venison, wine and beer, along with vegetarian, vegan and dishes inspired by foraged ingredients.