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Where to eat this ski season

Build up your appetite on the slopes. Photo/Getty.

A trip to the snow doesn’t have to mean a diet of hot chips and sad hotdogs. Food writer Kate Richards, contributing writers and some friendly mountain folk recommend off-piste food and drinks in our top ski towns, from high-end bistros to low-brow bakeries – and even a gourmet ice-cream shop.

Jump to: Queenstown | Wanaka | Christchurch and Lincoln | Taupo | Ohakune 

By Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown in the early morning.


With its dramatic views of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables, Queenstown has long been a must-see destination for both overseas visitors and New Zealanders alike. Sadly, for years the town was bereft of quality dining options. However, recent tourism boom times and an influx of new residents has seen the standard of cafes, bars and restaurants dramatically improve. So long, watered-down, student-priced beers and mango on pizza; hello, foraged, seasonal food and independently roasted coffee.


Amisfield Winery was always a lovely place for lunch, but it became far more exciting three years ago when the impressively pedigreed Vaughan Mabee took over the pans. His resume includes a stint at a Michelin three-starred restaurant in San Sebastian before a year at Noma in Copenhagen (see a review of a pop-up Noma here), arguably the world’s most-lauded restaurant. Now he’s in Queenstown, celebrating the region’s best on his ever-changing à la carte and “trust the chef” menus. Bookings essential. 10 Arrowtown-Lake Hayes Rd, Frankton

Vudu Cafe & Larder. Photo/Tom Rees.

Vudu Cafe & Larder 

The baking at this lakeside outfit is impressive, and comes adorned with edible flowers, candied fruit slices, and swirls of this and that; it tastes good too. Style and substance also apply on the short à la carte menu, which is intriguing and contemporary, but safe enough for more conservative diners. 16 Rees St, Queenstown 

The Empanada Kitchen 

Almost (almost) better than a classic New Zealand pie – and a very fine hangover cure – empanadas are a Spanish stuffed pastry also popular in South America and the Philippines.  The Empanada Kitchen is a hole-in-the-wall serving these pasty-like snacks, either hot to eat on the spot or frozen to take away, with an oft-changing array of fillings. There is coffee, and owners Mauro and Rebecca Viale make spicy dipping sauces and chimichurri, too. 60 Beach St, Queenstown

Seasonal dishes at Sherwood, Queenstown. Photo/David Straight.


Prettily illustrated menus showcase food grown in on-site gardens and local farms, and foraged from the surrounding hills and lakeside. The owners of this community-minded boutique hotel, with its tastefully decorated rooms, teepees and yoga studio, are part of the crew who opened Auckland’s Golden Dawn Tavern of Power (now closed) and it shows in their pared-back approach. Each dish typically comprises only a few seasonal ingredients, deftly treated and uncomplicatedly plated, but it’s food that challenges as much as it delights. The dining room feels uniquely earthy, all hand-thrown ceramics, woven cushions and soft lighting fixtures, adding to the sense of calm enveloping the whole property. Food is accompanied by a two-page list of natural wines (minimal additives or intervention), plus seasonal cocktails and small-batch beers. 554 Frankton Rd, Queenstown

Good for kids

It’s true you can’t talk eating and skiing in Queenstown without someone piping up, “Fergburger!” This tiny takeaway, an institution since 2001, nearly always has a queue of locals and tourists stretching down Shotover St waiting for their goods. The burgers are as big as your head and great value to boot. Next door at Fergbaker, the pies are a flaky, meaty treat and warm up cold, post-ski hands nicely, with the option of a sweet-treat chaser to follow. 40 & 42 Shotover St, Queenstown

Cardrona Hotel. Photo/Getty.


Cardrona Hotel

Sitting on the Crown Range Rd between Queenstown and Wānaka, this iconic red and yellow hotel is a favourite photo-stop for tourists, who pose outside. The menu is simple, as you might expect in a country pub, but there’s something comforting about steak and chips washed down with a pint of Speight’s. 2312 Cardrona Valley Rd, Wānaka

Big Fig

What better to sustain you on the mountain than a serve of hearty, intricately spiced Middle Eastern meat, scooped up with warm house-made pita bread and salad? And what better to follow all that than a miso-tahini brownie and expertly made Allpress coffee? Bigfig.co.nz, 105 Ardmore St, Wānaka


Understated, progressive, tapas-style dishes, main courses and house-made gelatos complemented by a drinks list that champions some of the best local and international wine, beer and spirits. kika.nz2 Dunmore St, Wānaka

Rhyme and Reason Brewery

If $1-off pints from 4pm to 6pm isn’t reason enough to stop off at the brewery, then pop in for the sunny – if chilly – outdoor beer garden or weekend food trucks. If you’re on a tight budget but getting a bit of cabin fever, BYO food is not only accepted but encouraged. You won’t feel out of place, either: apparently a family once turned up with an entire roast dinner. 17 Gordon Rd, Wānaka

Federal Diner
Good for kids

Discover a thoughtful kids’ menu with the kind of dishes your ideal domestic goddess-self would whip up at home: lamb burger with fries, spaghetti with tomato sauce and parmesan, a chicken roti wrap – and absolutely no nuggets or hotdogs. federaldiner.co.nz47 Helwick St, Wānaka

Black Peak Gelato
Good for kids

Handmade gelato in a cacophony of flavours: ginger, amaretto, pavlova, pistachio... Black Peak is a great place to have up your sleeve as a bribe because, as we all know, kids are never too cold to eat ice cream. Shop 5, 123 Ardmore St, Wānaka

A Smash Palace burger.

Christchurch and Lincoln

Smash Palace

Big juicy burgers, slung from an old bus, for a fraction of the price you’d pay at a trendier outfit. thesmashpalace.co.nz172 High St, Christchurch

The Laboratory

Staying in Lincoln? Lucky you! It’s the only place in the whole country where you can sample the English-style ales made at this brewpub, which has a restaurant on site and regularly features live music. Puddings are all wintery and decadent, and include apple crumble with custard and ice cream, Baileys chocolate mousse, and a chocolate brownie sundae. 17 West Belt, Lincoln

Red Light District

A sultry downtown parlour, disguised as a laundromat. The bespoke drinks are excellent (and strong), the lighting kind, and the eclectic playlist very good. redlightdistrict.nz, 123 Victoria St, Christchurch              



A great place to stop for lunch on the Auckland to Ruapehu slog, Storehouse is a cafe, clothing shop and general store all in one. A split-level, converted mechanics garage, it’s open from 7am weekdays and 8am on weekends for American-influenced breakfast and lunch fare, and Kōkako organic coffee. Eat in, recharge, and grab a baked treat or sandwich for later. 14 Runanga St, Taupō

The main street of ski town Ohakune. Photo/Getty.


Johnny Nation’s Chocolate Eclair Shop

This Ōhakune-famous bakery is open only for the ski season, but that doesn’t impede its popularity. There are typically queues out the door from 6.30am on Queen’s Birthday weekend until closing day, six months later. Head baker Allan Nation’s specialties use recipes passed down from his father Steve and include cream buns, jam-filled doughnuts, pies and sinful éclairs, still cooked in the shop’s original oven, installed in 1939. 36 Clyde St, Ōhakune

Magic Chilli

It doesn’t look like much, what with the plastic gingham tablecloths and unflattering fluorescent lighting, but they’ll do you a decent, affordable meal at Ōhakune’s most popular Indian restaurant. Magic Chilli may be slightly pricier than other comparable joints around the country – curries hover around the $20 mark, slightly more for seafood – but it’s one of the better options in a town where good food is in short supply, and it’s fantastic for vegetarian/vegan diners. 68 Clyde St, Ōhakune

Captain Kune’s

Kune’s is basic, but what you get is a relatively inexpensive hot fish-and-chip feed, a burger, fritter or cheesy toasted sammy – and, after a cold day’s skiing, that’s pretty hard to whinge about. 57 Clyde St, Ōhakune

Mizzoni Pizza
Good for kids

Woodfired pizzas served from a shipping container make for an easy post-slopes meal. Toppings run from basic (Hawaiian) to grown-up (lightly cured pork belly; pear, prosciutto and honey) and they all come in large or small sizes, which means everyone can have their own. mizzoni.co.nz, 24 Goldfinch St, Ōhakune

This article was first published in the August 2018 issue of North & South.