Some restaurants serve a fixed-price dinner, but the majority are à la carte. Remember that "entrée" in Kiwi English is the equivalent of an appetizer. It's wise to make a reservation and inquire if the restaurant has a liquor license or is "BYOB" or "BYO" (Bring Your Own Bottle)—many places have both. This only pertains to wine, not bottles of beer or liquor. Be prepared to pay a corkage fee, which is usually a couple of dollars.
Many restaurants add a 15% surcharge on public holidays. Employers are required by law to pay staff a higher wage during these. This amount will be itemized separately on your bill.
New Zealand's Cuisine magazine has a special annual issue devoted to restaurants throughout the country; hit their Web site if you'd like to get a copy before your trip. There are also a few helpful New Zealand dining Web sites worth a look. Through some, you can make online reservations. These include Cup, an independent nationwide café guide; Dine Out, a national database with customer reviews; and Menus, which posts photos and menus of restaurants in Auckland and Wellington.
Cuisine Magazine (www.cuisine.co.nz.)
Dine Out (www.dineout.co.nz.)
Burgers and Bacon
Burgers are a staple for a quick bite. However, you'll find there's a whole lot more than two all-beef patties and a bun—two of the most popular toppings are beetroot and a fried egg. Cheese on burgers (and sandwiches) is often grated bits sprinkled atop. Another Kiwi snack staple, meat pies, are sold just about everywhere. The classic steak-and-mince fillings are getting gussied up these days with cheese or oysters. And who could forget good ol' fish-and-chips in this former British colony? Appropriately called "greasies," this mainstay is often made of shark but called lemon fish or flake. You might notice bowls by the cash registers of take-out shops containing packets of tartar sauce or tomato sauce (catsup). These are usually not free for the taking; they cost about 50¢ each.
Be aware that "bacon" might consist of a thick blubbery slice of ham or a processed fatty, pink, spongy substance. If you love your bacon streaky and crisp, politely inquire what kind of bacon they serve before ordering a BLT.
When in New Zealand, have a little lamb. No matter where you go in the country, it's sure to be on the menu. Cervena, or farm-raised venison, is another local delicacy available all over New Zealand, and farmed ostrich is gaining popularity as well.
Lemon & Paeroa, otherwise known as L&P, is New Zealand's most famous soft drink. Keep in mind that if you order a lemonade you will be served a carbonated lemon-flavored drink. If you've a sweet tooth, nibble a chocolate fish, a chocolate-covered fish-shaped marshmallow. This treat has become so popular in New Zealand that it's now synonymous with success. You'll often hear someone say, "you deserve a chocolate fish!" in place of "job well done!" Hokey pokey, a lacy honey toffee, is another favorite candy. And if you're traveling in the heat of the summer, don't leave town until you've tried a hokey pokey ice cream, another New Zealand mainstay. If you want to try a truly unique bit of New Zealand grub, and we do mean grub, taste the larvae of the huhu beetle.
Don't miss a Maori hangi. This culinary experience can be loosely compared to a family barbecue (hosted by a family that likes to do a lot of dancing and singing). The traditional preparation involves steaming meat, seafood, and vegetables in a large underground pit, and the meal is accompanied by Maori performances. Also be sure to try kumara, an indigenous sweet potato that's sacred to the Maori. Many Kiwis view muttonbird as a special treat, but some outsiders balk at its peculiar smell and unusual flavor. It is an acquired taste, but if you're an adventurous eater it's definitely one to try.
Of course, seafood is a specialty, and much of the fish is not exported so this is your chance to try it! The tastiest fish around is snapper in the North, and blue cod (not a true cod relative) in the South. Grouper (often listed by its Maori name of hapuku), flounder, and salmon are also menu toppers, as is whitebait, the juvenile of several fish species, in spring. As for shellfish: try the Bluff oysters (in season March-August), Greenshell mussels (also known as green-lipped or New Zealand green mussels), scallops, crayfish (spiny lobster), and local clamlike shellfish, pipi and tuatua.
In New Zealand restaurants, many vegetables have two names, used interchangeably. Eggplants are often called aubergines, zucchini are also known as courgettes. The vegetable North Americans know as a bell pepper is a capsicum here. The tropical fruit papaya is known by its British name, pawpaw.
Restaurants serve breakfast roughly between 7 and 9:30. Lunch usually starts about noon and is over by 2. Dinners are usually served from 5 pm, but the most popular dining time is around 7. Restaurants in cities and resort areas will serve dinner well into the night, but some places in small towns or rural areas still shut their doors at around 8.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed in this guide are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants and cafés. There are exceptions to this rule, so check first. In some areas, American Express and Diners Club cards are accepted far less frequently than MasterCard and Visa.
Reservations and Dress
We only mention reservations specifically when they're essential or when they are not accepted. For popular restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (often 30 days) and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy. We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.
Attire countrywide is pretty casual; unless you're planning to dine at the finest of places, men won't need to bring a jacket and tie. At the same time, the most common dinner attire is usually a notch above jeans and T-shirts.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
New Zealand is best known for its white wines, particularly sauvignon blanc, Riesling, and chardonnay. The country is now gaining a reputation for red wines such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, and merlot. The main wine-producing areas are West Auckland, Hawke's Bay, Martinborough, Marlborough, and Nelson. Emerging regions include Canterbury and Central Otago. Restaurants almost without exception serve New Zealand products on their wine list.
When ordering a beer, you'll get either a handle (mug) or a one-liter jug (pitcher). In some Southland country pubs you'll see all the blokes drinking "big botts" of Speight's (500 ml). To get beer served in a glass, you usually have to request it. Monteith's Brewery and Macs are South Island-based breweries that distribute around the country and have a strong local following. Steinlager, probably the most famous (but not the tastiest) of New Zealand beers, is brewed by Lion Breweries and widely available. There are a number of boutique microbreweries in New Zealand, some of which have won international beer awards, such as Tuatara, West Coast Brewing, and Emersons; each brand has its own fan base. Most restaurants and liquor stores sell beers from Australia, the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world. Some of the beer in New Zealand is stronger than the 4% alcohol per volume brew that is the norm in the United States. Many go up to 7% or 8% alcohol per volume, so check that number before downing your usual number of drinks.
New Zealand only has a couple of spirits it can really call its own. One is Wilson's Whisky, distilled in Dunedin—a city with a strong Scottish heritage. Another popular drink is 42 Below. With its claim to fame as "the world's southernmost vodka," 42 Below incorporates local flavors: feijoa, manuka honey, passion fruit, and kiwifruit. Most inner-city bars will have it on the menu if you want to try before you buy a bottle; and having won a slew of gold and silver medals at international wine and spirit competitions around the world, it makes a cool duty-free gift to bring to vodka connoisseurs back home. You'll also sometimes find sticky-sweet kiwifruit or feijoa liqueurs.
Use your judgment about ordering "off the drinks menu." If you're in a South Island country pub, don't try to order an umbrella cocktail. By insisting on a margarita from an establishment that doesn't have the mix, the recipe, or the right glass, you're not gaining anything except a lousy margarita and a reputation as an obnoxious customer.
Since 1999 it has been possible to purchase beer and wine in supermarkets as well as specialized shops and to do so seven days a week. People under 18 are not permitted by law to purchase alcohol, and shops, bars, and restaurants strictly enforce this. If you look younger than you are, carry photo identification to prove your age.
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