Unless you've been seriously out of the loop, you'll know that "New Zealand cuisine" is no longer an unthinkable string of words, and that there's more to the country's larder than frozen lamb and vast slabs of bland cheddar cheese. The past 20 years have seen an explosion of creativity among Kiwi chefs, restaurateurs and winemakers, as well as growing appreciation of the purity of the country's produce a bankable quality in these times of genetic tomfoolery and junk food.
Gourmands heading south over the next few months will be in for a treat, as New Zealand enters its season of food and wine festivals. These kick off on Nov. 16 in the wine region of Martinborough, with the Toast Martinborough drinkathon. Your chances of attending are slim, if last year is anything to go by the 10,500 tickets for the 2002 event sold out in less than an hour.
Console yourself with the Great Fitzroy Mussel Fest (a vast mussel bake on Great Barrier Island on Jan. 10, 2004), or Wellington's Pinot Noir 2004 a taste-and-talk fest for lovers of the trendy varietal from Jan. 28-Jan. 31. The Hawkes Bay Festival (Feb. 6-Feb. 9) sees open house, if not open bar, at 25 wineries in the country's best-known wine region, plus a program of supporting events such as concerts, art exhibitions, farmers' markets and picnics.
The season draws to a close in March, with Hooked on Seafood, held in Nelson on March 13, and the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival celebrating Maori cuisine scheduled for the same day. On the Wildfoods menu are seagull egg, cricket, mako shark, muttonbird and manuka pork. Not a chunk of flavorless cheddar in sight.