Food and drink adventures on the West Coast

The West Coast isn't just about untamed natural wilderness. It's also a place to explore flavours, textures and aromas that are simply sensational.

Wherever you go in the West Coast region, there are local restaurants, pubs and bars ready to keep your engines stoked for optimal touristing. On days when you're clocking up the kilometres on foot, in a kayak or on a mountain bike, you'll find hearty eating and drinking that really hits the spot. And when you're dallying in small historic towns - checking out the antique shops, museums and galleries - you'll find character-rich cafés, craft brewers and distillers ready to introduce you to some of the region's unique food and beverage products.

During a distillery tour and tasting session you can find out about the legendary 'Little Biddy', a diminutive lady prospector who smoked a pipe and worked like a man twice her size.

The West Coast's best sandwiches

The word 'sandwich' is an understatement when you're referring to the masterpieces put together by the Hokitika Sandwich Company. In the peak season, when there are more travellers about, queues have been known to go out the door and down the street.

Once you take a bite of a freshly-made New York-style ciabatta sandwich that's bulging with delectable fillings, it's easy to understand how this place has a cult following. The bread's made locally and all the sandwich ingredients are sourced from New Zealand's best suppliers, right down to the tangy sauerkraut, mortadella salami and provolone cheese. This place is also famous for its delectable smoothies, Fairtrade coffee and milk shakes made with Lewis Road Creamery ice cream. Recently the Hokitika Sandwich Company received New Zealand's 'best toastie' award.

Other highly-regarded Hokitika restaurants include Fat Pipi Pizza, Kitchen, Woodstock Hotel and Stumpers Bar and Café.

A distillation of happiness

The charming historic town of Reefton has always attracted travellers who want to imagine the gold rush days, ferret through antique shops and investigate colonial buildings, some of which date back to the 1870s. And now there's an extra reason to visit Reefton - locally made artisan gin, fruit liqueur and whiskey. Describing themselves as 'crafters of untamed spirits', the Reefton Distilling Company fits right in with this town's historic vibe.

During a Reefton distillery tour and tasting session you can hear about the legendary 'Little Biddy', a diminutive lady prospector who smoked a pipe and worked like a man twice her size. You might also meet the MacKay twins, the botanical prospectors who forage for the distilling company's unique flavourings in lush rainforests nearby. Out the front, the distillery's distinctive Model A Ford tells you you've come to the right place.

Lakeside deliciousness

Beautiful Lake Brunner is a glorious location for walking and trout fishing. It's also a food destination, thanks to the Kingfisher Restaurant and Bar. Located in the original Lake Brunner Hotel, the Kingfisher gets great reviews for casual alfresco eating during the day and relaxed ala carte dining at night. You can also pick up takeaway food here, then wander along one of the nearby trails to find the perfect picnic spot.

Hearty hospitality after hiking and biking

North from Hokitika, around Seddonville and Karamea, you can hike up a frenzy during the day, then recover with a hearty down-home meal at night. If you're not into the hiking part, go straight for the restaurants and give your eyes a workout looking at the menu.

Rough and Tumble Lodge at the western end of the Old Ghost Road runs a café during the day and everything's homemade or locally produced. They also carry a big selection of craft beers and ciders from West Coast Brewery. If you're staying at the lodge, where every suite comes with views of virgin native rainforest and the Glasgow Range, a substantial two-course meal in the river-view dining room will be one of the highlights of your day. If it's autumn, spring or winter, there'll be a roaring open fire for rustic ambiance.  

In Karamea, gateway to walks in the Oparara Basin and Kahurangi National Park, the Last Resort makes a great start and finish to your daytime forays into the wilderness. There's a choice of accommodation styles here, from backpacker rooms to self-contained cottages, as well as a café, restaurant and bar.

Glacier towns for a warm welcome

Franz Josef is the name of both a glacier and a town. The glacier offers incredible on-ice experiences, such as guided heli-hikes, glacier valley walks, ice climbs and scenic flights. The town is built around the needs of travellers, so it has a range of accommodation options and some excellent places to eat.

Monsoon Bar and Restaurant is one of Franz Josef's best options for a food experience that's compatible with the grandeur of the glacier. Located within Rainforest Retreat, it features a welcoming open fire and a large semi-alfresco space for casual dining. The log-cabin rustic décor is complemented by a menu full of favourites - sticky Asian pork belly, wrap-your-own tortillas, gourmet pizzas and burgers, lamb shanks and much more.

South from Franz Josef is Fox Glacier, another immense river of ice for glacial adventures. Fox Glacier township has several much-loved eateries, including The Last Kitchen, Matheson Café, Bigfoot Bar and Restaurant, and Café Neve.

A food festival that celebrates the wilderness

Hokitika's legendary Wildfoods Festival happens every year in early March. If you can fit this into your South Island itinerary, do it! This food event is a once-in-a-lifetime experience where you can try dishes that are at the extreme end of unique. How about some wasp larvae ice cream, grilled huhu grubs, chocolate worm truffles, colostrum shots and a glass of gorse flower wine? Who knows what will be on offer next time around. A Feral Fashion competition is another aspect of this wild food festival, so your unexpected eats come with a side dish of outrageous visual entertainment.  

Keep exploring the West Coast