The South Island is all about incredible wine, local produce, artisan cheese, and amazing seafood. There is so much to do, see, and taste on the South Island that without a little insider knowledge, you might not know where to start! I’ve put together this South Island Food Guide to help you find some of my favourite culinary gems in each region. If you’re planning a trip to the North Island, make sure you check out my North Island Food & Drink Guide, too!
The Nelson Tasman region is home to many vineyards, microbreweries and family-owned cafes serving local produce. My favourite way to experience the tasty delights of the area is by bike on Tasman’s Great Taste Trail. The entire trail can be completed in about 3 days or you can choose shorter rides if a daytrip is more your style. Don’t miss Mapua Wharf, a popular lunch stop on the cycle trail, where you can sample local produce and seafood.
Wine tasting is the thing to do in Marlborough, New Zealand’s premier wine-growing region. 76% of New Zealand’s wine is produced in the region, including many award-winning sauvignon blanc and pinot noir wines. Marlborough has perfected the cellar door experience and with over 37 cellar doors in the area, you could easily spend a week here! The region is also home to the oldest and largest wine festival in New Zealand – the Marlborough Food & Wine Festival. This is one of my favourite festivals and I highly recommend you attend if you’re visiting the South Island in February!
In addition to wine, the region is also famous for green-lipped mussels and oysters, which are grown locally in the Marlborough Sounds. It’s hard to imagine anything better than a bucket of bivalves washed down with a crisp sauvignon blanc!
The West Coast is famous for it wild landscapes and wild food! If you’ve ever wanted to try “sourcing your own food” (aka hunting), this is the place. Tour operators take intrepid gourmets deep into the forests to hunt deer and wild boar or to open river mouths to catch whitebait in wide nets. Wild foods are so famous here that there’s even a festival devoted to them each autumn. The Hokitika Wildfoods Festival is a lively event where you can challenge your sense of gastronomic adventure by sampling wild fare such as huhu grubs and fish eyes. Don’t worry – there are plenty of traditional options, like venison and pancakes, too!
Canterbury is the South Island’s most populated region and home to Christchurch, a cosmopolitan city that offers a wide variety of food experiences. Your first stop should be Re:START, a unique shopping centre made of shipping containers that sprung up after the earthquakes. This is a great place to learn about Christchurch’s post-earthquake recovery and sample some tasty dishes from enterprising chefs who are running kitchens out of caravans and food trucks!
If you enjoy sampling local foods, make sure you visit one of Canterbury’s many farmers’ markets, where local growers and artisans gather each week to sell fresh produce, cheese, bread, and more. A full list of farmers’ markets can be found here. I also recommend taking a trip to the seaside town of Akaroa. Originally a French settlement, this is the place to enjoy French food in New Zealand! Don’t miss Barry’s Bay Cheese in Akaroa, where you can sample and purchase handcrafted cheese and take a tour of the production facilities.
The delicate and refined pinot noir wines of the Otago region are a stark contrast to the rugged landscape. If Queenstown is on your itinerary, we suggest staying for an extra day so you can join a wine tour of the surrounding area. Let someone else do the driving, while you sip wine and enjoy the stunning landscape of Central Otago.
If you’re seafood lover, you’re in for a real treat! The oysters that come from Southland, known as Bluff oysters, are said to be among the tastiest in the world. There’s even a festival dedicated to these delicacies – if you’re around in May, don’t miss the Bluff Oyster Festival. There are hundreds of cafes, restaurants, and country pubs in Southland, many of them featuring Southland’s prized seafood and local produce on their menus.