Everyone has a favourite fish and chips spot. I discovered mine about six months ago in Kawhia. It sits across from the wharf, not far from the pohutukawa that marks the landing of the Tainui waka. We were packing up after a completely unsuccessful fishing trip and fancied a quick lunch. I was entirely unprepared to have my world shaken by such faultless fish and chips, which we ate sitting on the grass by the weatherboard museum, watching the birds dive into the water. Kawhia is remote, and perhaps too far for some to go just for fish and chips. But this is definitely food that is worth the trip.
102 Omimiti Street, Kawhia 3900 Phone: 07 871 0712

“The little places get forgotten about,” says Abi King, who, along with husband, head chef and owner Alex Rawles, runs HUHU café in Waitomo (as well as Stoked Eatery down the road in Te Kūiti). They’ve done some hard yards since taking over the business back in 2010, but with a menu featuring showstoppers like peanut butter parfait with butterscotch and crème anglaise, the result of that hard work is evident. “I like that we blow people away,” adds Abi. Grab a seat on the terrace and enjoy the best view (above ground, at least) that Waitomo has to offer.
10 Waitomo Caves Road, Waitomo 3943 Phone: 07 878 6674 

Similarly hard yards are being put in by many other cafés, restaurants and shops all over the region. Driving down Tīrau’s main drag in the early hours of the morning you might spy the lights on in a tiny, ten-by-two metre shop – a sign that The Baker’s bakers are hard at work. “How we do it I don’t really know,” admits owner Kathy Kearns, but the overwhelming support of locals – who stop by to drop off baskets of veges from their gardens – certainly helps. Grab a pie to go, or sit out front sipping a coffee from the custom-made Lil Ceramics mugs and savouring an impeccable custard square. Get in early for the scones: they go quickly.
35 Main Road, Tīrau 3410 Phone: 07 883 1434 

You’re beginning to get the picture: wherever you end up in the Waikato, there will be somewhere worth stopping. If you have time to linger on a trip through Pirongia, spend some time at The Nest. A bright dining room, dominated by a handsome copper-domed espresso machine, spills out onto a rambling garden in summer. If you don’t have time to linger, grab a date and walnut scone and contemplate moving to Pirongia just to be able to have one every day.
765 Franklin Street, Pirongia 3802 Phone: 07 871 9675 

Ōtorohanga’s newly opened The Fat Kiwi – surely a nod to the town’s most famous tourist attraction – has a jolly name that belies an elegant, bustling café with tempting cabinet food, T2 teas and a something-for-everyone menu. A mere 40km further south in Piopio, another café – also sporting a rotund avian namesake – The Fat Pigeon is famous for its Sunday breakfasts served in a pretty, airy room lined with shelves heaving with goodies to take away.
The Fat Kiwi 10 Te Kanawa Street, Ōtorohanga, 3900 Phone: 07 214 6300
The Fat Pigeon 41 Moa Street, Piopio 3912 Phone: 07 877 8822 

Te Awamutu’s The Red Kitchen is the sort of place you dream of on a Saturday morning, if what you’re after is a place to have a killer pie, pick up a gift for a discerning friend and get the last few bits of shopping done all at the same time. The addition of first-rate Expleo Butchery next door turns this little corner into even more of a must.
69/51 Mahoe Street, Te Awamutu 3800 Phone: 07 871 8715 

If you’ve travelled further east to summit the mighty Mount Te Aroha and soothe your muscles in the mineral spas, you can continue the wellness buzz at Villa Nine, a converted villa housing a café and organic shop. Bask in the exactitude of the extremely  pleasing frieze of wooden- handled utensils lining the  walls, and enjoy whatever smoothie the team are blending up that day. And if you’re after something more substantial, nearby Matamata is home to one of four branches of Osteria, an Italian eatery serving up really exceptional fare with service to match. 9 Lawrence Avenue, Te Aroha 3320 Phone: 07 884 9696 

All of these gems should be a reminder to stop, to try something new-to-you, and to take an interest in the in-between places. When you stop to eat in a place, you get to know it, you get to have a chat with people, you get to support business owners where they live. But most importantly, if you don’t, you’ll miss out on some really great food.

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