Round the Mountain Food Focus

Words by Amber Mathew

Vibrant, contemporary, and buzzing with copious things to do, see, eat, and experience, Taranaki is a mecca for outdoor adventurers, foodies, families, and arts and culture enthusiasts. 

With an exciting array of upcoming summer events like LAB, Synthony and WOMAD, Taranaki will be humming this summer!

LIVE’s new food writer, AMBER MATHEW, hit the road for a decadent day trip around the Taranaki Maunga and divulges the most incredible eats you won’t want to miss on your very own Round-the-Mountain Road Trip. 

It was an early morning start down the Surf Highway from New Plymouth, stopping first for breakfast in Whalers Gate at The Backyard Café. 

Tucked away off the beaten path, you’ll find this beautiful café that is creating one mouth-watering dish after another! However, there was one dish in particular that had me intrigued: the Sun-dried Tomato French Toast.

A large croissant is submerged in a sun-dried tomato and egg mix, also soaking up the flavours of garlic and thyme, before being toasted. Then the French Toast is placed onto a vibrant tomato pesto before being topped with grilled halloumi, basil, and a sprinkle of pine nuts. If you’re after more of a sweet start to the morning, try the grilled banana bread. Two thick slices of banana bread are toasted to perfection and then covered with walnuts and a drizzle of sweet, buttery toffee sauce.

Just past Oakura was my first exercise stop at Lucy’s Gully, followed by a trip to the historic (and incredibly photogenic) Cape Egmont Lighthouse & Museum before finding myself pausing for morning tea at the Sugar Juice Café in Opunake. This quirky main street favourite was bustling with business. As I made my way to the counter, I spotted a yummy-looking treat I had never tried – a neenish tart. It turned out to be one of the best pastries I’ve ever had! The crisp shortbread case was filled with a lemon and condensed milk cream, then topped with smooth vanilla and rich chocolate icing. 

I also tried their carrot cake — perfectly spiced and instead of putting nuts in the cake, the cream cheese icing was generously covered in walnuts and dried fruit. 

Two desserts, zero regrets!

Next stop, Hawera, where I visited the Quirky Fox Art Gallery and King Edward Park before lunch at the Upside Down Eatery. Not wanting to overstuff myself before getting back on the road, I ordered the avocado toast that was served on locally made Baked By Blanche sourdough. 

Along with the smashed avocado was halloumi, fresh greens, tomatoes, wasabi peas, and a lovely beet relish. Their beet relish is made in-house and spiced with carraway seeds and fresh homegrown chilis. Another fantastic dish I couldn’t resist was their Kiwi-classic traditional fish and chips. The flaky beer-battered fish fillets were served with hot chips and a fresh salad tossed in a tangy vinaigrette. I cannot wait to go back for their well-known customer favourite, the Austrian Schnitzel!

Leaving the Surf Highway and continuing onto State Highway 3, I took a detour to see the magnificent Dawson Falls. Another great stop in this area is the Percy Thomson Art Gallery, which is celebrating 20 years. Their latest exhibition, The Art of Resilience, opens on the 18th Dec until 30th Jan (see story page 104).

Next stop was Inglewood for afternoon tea at Oscars Kiwi Café for one of their mince and cheese pies, a gluten-free brownie, and a strawberry milkshake. The pie had a buttery, flaky crust and was loaded with well-seasoned beef mince and a mixture of cheeses. The brownie was fudgy perfection, complete with bits of white chocolate and the milkshake was frothy, thick, and bursting with berry flavour! 

Having done so much driving and indulgent eating, I was ready for a good stretch and long walk. Pukekura Park was the perfect place to hit the trail and enjoy a vast array of natural beauty. By the time I had walked all over the park, it was time for dinner. Laughing Buddha was the last place left to visit on my Round-the-Mountain Road Trip. 

Craving a little heat led me to order the Szechuan chicken. Crispy, golden strips of chicken are stir-fried with a plentiful portion of dried red chilis, Szechuan peppercorns, and green onions. If your palette doesn’t care to be hot and bothered, just skip eating the red chilis. 

Another must-have at Laughing Buddha is their Crispy Pork Belly Fried Rice. As a side or a main, you can’t go wrong tucking into this flavourful dish. Fluffy rice is stir-fried with fried egg, a light soy sauce, and loads of veggies. Served with thin slices of pork belly that is crispy and crunchy on the top, whilst the rest is tender and juicy. If you have room for dessert, their mango pillow is the ideal sweet treat to indulge in before your head hits the bed.

All of the restaurants I visited were family friendly, served a variety of dishes to meet special dietary requirements, and had remarkable service. I hope this summer, you’ll take advantage of all that our beautiful region has to offer and get on the road to find out what’s Tasty in Taranaki!

To explore more tasty things grown, produced, and cooked in Taranaki, go to tastyintaranaki.com and follow Amber’s delicious adventures on Instagram and Facebook @tastyintaranaki.

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