Eating out has fresh appeal in New Zealand this winter with diverse destinations offering diners the chance to laze, graze and star gaze in exotic outdoor settings.
New Zealand’s clear skies, temperate climate and top notch food and wine make dining out-of-doors a popular pastime at any time of the year.
But this year’s mid-winter Matariki festival and heightened interest in astro-tourism have prompted some new and innovative culinary experiences - from dining under the stars at an alpine hut in the Southern Alps to eating alfresco in an ancient kauri forest in the Far North.
Mid-winter feasting has long been part of New Zealand’s ancient Māori culture when the rise of the Matariki constellation - also known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters - signalled the beginning of the Māori New Year.
Matariki is still celebrated throughout New Zealand with an extended cultural festival that not only focuses on the skies but also the ground where earth ovens provide plenty of kai for feasts.
As well as family and community gatherings, high profile events celebrating Matariki have included a gourmet hangi and open air concert at Turangawaewae Marae in the Waikato town of Ngaruawahia - hosted by Kiwi celebrity chef, Peter Gordon.
And, while guests dined under the stars for Gordon’s version of the traditional hangi, smaller scale feasting elsewhere also brings whanau / family and iwi / tribes together to enjoy indigenous foods, Māori culture and the natural environment.
Marae Stay at Te Hana
Te Hana, near Wellsford, north of Auckland a replica 17th century Māori cultural village and pa site gives visitors an insight into early Māori life.
The heritage tourism destination offersan authentic marae / Māori village experience where guests enjoy the hospitality of the local Ngati Whatua ki Kaipara Māori people.
Te Hana Te Ao Marama Marae has exceptional modern facilities that are available for hireage, tours, cultural events, conferences, educational visits, hui, weddings and noho (overnight stays). Overnight stays can feature a traditional Māori hangi, whereby food is cooked underground in an earth oven.
Alfresco forest dining
A little further north, a subtropical rainforest featuring some of the world’s last remaining stands of ancient kauri trees, is the setting for another rare dining experience.
Walking tours company Adventure Puketi has launched a forest dining experience that combines several of New Zealand’s key tourist attractions - fine foods, Māori culture and unspoilt natural environment.
In Puketi forest guests dine under a dense subtropical forest canopy of giant kauri trees that provides a dramatic outdoor ceiling.
Award-winning chef Colin Ashton, of ‘Food at Wharepuke’ in Kerikeri, has partnered with Adventure Puketi in the forest dining venture - which also features a performance by a local kapa haka group.
Destination Northland’s Cheryl Jensen says Adventure Puketi dining experiences are offered in conjunction with guided tours of the forest and each event is tailored to suit time and budget.
She says Colin Ashton’s skills as a chef are world class and, along with the lighting and forest ambience, the experience is "magical".
PurePods – Canterbury
For an exceptional, at-one-with-nature experience, PurePod is set in paradise. In this beautiful private landscape you can bid farewell to the world and immerse yourself in nature.
Found nowhere else in the world, PurePod accommodation is a first-of-its-kind glass structure made for two. The modular build, with surround glass floor, sliding walls and roof, is styled for luxurious off-the-grid comfort (queen bed with crisp linen, fabulous shower and flush toilet, compact kitchen and bbq, outdoor chairs). The night sky can be your lights for the evening providing a stunning dinner setting.
Privacy is paramount to this product so you won’t find a signpost on the road but the units are easily accessed by those in the know – just beyond Christchurch in the foothills of Banks Peninsula, or further north, in the Seaward Kaikouras above the Pacific Ocean.