There’s a thrill in flying as far south in New Zealand as you can, over the Southern Alps and almost into the blue beyond. The plane swoops in with distant views of the Takitimu Mountains (our country’s most southerly range) and over grassy farms, over the beaches lining Foveaux Strait to land in Invercargill / Waihōpai. For far too long the bountiful region of Southland / Murihiku has been overlooked by all but adventurous travellers who head to majestic Fiordland National Park for the classic great walks of the Kepler, Milford and Routeburn Tracks, an array of cruises on the Sounds and breathtaking scenery that is possibly unequalled on the planet.

But this is one of the country’s crucial food bowls as, starting in those Takitimu foothills in the west, fertile plains march right across to the eastern coast. The milder weather here than the region to the immediate north, makes excellent conditions for the abundant pastoral and arable farming that has been traditional in the region for more than 150 years. Invercargill / Waihōpai , at the centre of the south, is currently reinvigorating itself with new construction and renovations, and the city’s food scene is being shaken up by several passionate food-driven changemakers.


Mention the food of the south and it’s been hard to look past the traditionally recognised dairying, delicious meats and root crops exported from the region around the country and to the world. Being a city dweller all my life, until this recent trip I had never understood the difference between pastoral and arable farming. But it was obvious: a large and growing number of Southland farmers are dedicated arable farmers, growing vast paddocks of oats, barley, wheat and other vital crops, seeds, nuts and grains, and now dedicated to adding value to their harvest with new ideas for produce such as gin, aromatic oils and artisan goodies. It’s a far cry from their original pursuit of growing feed for animals or sending their oats away to Harraways (formerly in Southland / Murihiku) for porridge.

In every region there’s always a hero figure or a small group who lead the way, setting the stage for the local producers and chefs to awaken to what’s around them and emphasise unique seasonal and artisan food. Locals in this part of the world are mostly a loyal and mainly conservative bunch, and it’s fascinating to observe that those who travel away have such a connection to the land that many return and settle back where their roots are. In the Invercargill / Waihōpai region there are three outstanding changemakers. Kate French who owns The Batch Café is a local lass who puts an ever-changing Southland / Murihiku plate as the weekly feature item on her extremely popular menu. This showcases locally grown vegetables, fresh-from-the-farm meat or fish and some of the clever artisan food products from the region. This is the place to begin tasting Southland as the coffee is also perfect and Kate’s kitchen staff make the best-in-town classic cheese rolls.

Ethan Flack is a brilliant, energetic chef who spent six years working at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire. Now he is dedicated to pushing local Southland food to the fore. With his wife, Josie, Ethan runs Kitchen Table and other regular dinner events by reservation only in a purpose-built space at the back of a community store, The Pantry. His intimate dinners are an exemplary showcase of everything available and grown locally. The wintry swede dish with hand-cut swede noodles in a creamy, warm swede broth with local bread was one of the outstanding courses on a sensational set menu.

Haylee (Hayz) Simeon, the effervescent chef at Hayz @ the Anchorage on the waterfront in Bluff / Motupōhue, draws her inspiration from the daily catch landed from the waters of the deep south and Stewart Island / Rakiura at the port opposite to her restaurant. Haylee’s vision is to connect people with food by offering a wealth of regional kaimoana, serving dishes of restaurant quality with careful respect paid to the traditional Māori kai she grew up with. Do not miss her feasting platter filled with delicacies such as pāua, blue cod, oysters, salmon, tītī and mussels and topped with half a crayfish.

Elsewhere around Invercargill / Waihōpai, find good coffee at Groove Espresso opposite Queen’s Park which has a busy, buzzy vibe all day. The Black Shag, a coffee roaster and blender in the middle of the city, is a popular brunch and lunch stop during weekdays. And for dinner choices, Koji ( is a delightful restaurant in the city, just a block from Invercargill Central complex, and offers an extensive menu of Japanese specialties. Meld (, the newest restaurant in town, is found in a courtyard adjacent to the Langlands Hotel and has an eclectic, pan-Asian menu.


The central city boasts a new hotel, The Langlands (, with modern, bright, tastefully furnished rooms and an accompanying complex with eight food-and-drink outlets. Recommended in this complex are 360, a rooftop bar with great views and an outdoor balcony for warmer nights, and the hotel’s signature courtyard restaurant, Meld.

The Lodges at Transport World ( offers eight luxury apartments in the city with easy access to the transport collections.

Eleven years of restoration and clever refurbishment have gone into The Church 1914, a luxury B&B with four roomy suites and an event space suitable for weddings and functions. Ascot Park Hotel ( is a popular city hotel with a range of keenly priced rooms, a restaurant Emberz, and a convention centre.


There’s been a ton of recent construction to rejuvenate the city. The brand new Invercargill Central complex ( has fascinating detail and incorporates careful retention of some wonderful old building facades. It has excellent shopping and food outlets and don’t miss the bronze sculptures of flounder, pāua, inanga and more that have been placed on the pavement in the surrounding streetscaping on adjacent Esk St.

Every Sunday morning from 9.30am to 1.30pm, the Southern Farmers Market ( sets up in Leven St in front of the Railway Station. Local growers bring seasonal vegetables, mushrooms, baking, hand-spun wool, plants and trays of the famous Southland cheese rolls to take home and freeze. Catch a bite of Korean Chicken at The Saucy Chook (, or check out hot samosas and bhaji, Thai specialities and hot coffee.

Take a walk around the stunning gardens at Queen’s Park, a short distance from the main streets, and do not miss Bill Richardson Transport World ( Set aside at least two hours to enjoy this unequalled collection of cars and trucks, and the companion collection at Classic Motorcycle Mecca (

You can’t visit Invercargill / Waihōpai without going to Bluff / Motupōhue – only 20 minutes away (look for the longest stretch of curved road in the country) – to take the obligatory snap of the sign at the end of the world or climb the lookout to view Stewart Island / Rakiura and Foveaux Strait. Dine at Hayz @ the Anchorage ( or a food truck on the shore front.

For a day away from the city, venture out to the places where Invercargill folk have holiday cribs. Riverton is a short drive: stop at Beach House Restaurant ( overlooking the ocean, or Orepuki Beach Café ( where the food is from the garden, including its own lambs for the lamb burger. Take the 15-minute walk at Round Hill for spectacular views.

The Catlins is not to be missed for the drive through rolling farmland and gentle yet dramatic scenery that’s pure New Zealand, with a compulsory stop, whatever the weather, at Nugget Point to walk the narrow track to the lighthouse for a view of the Southern Ocean meeting the Pacific Ocean.

Te Anau, a well-organised tourist centre, is the jumping off point for Fiordland cruises and boat trips, glow-worm caves and is the start of several walking tracks. Eat at the Fat Duck Café (


Scott Richardson was a treasured teacher and mentor at Southland Boys High (SBH) until his untimely death, inspiring a plethora of young men to pursue careers in the world of cooking and hospitality. Some big names around the country and overseas have made their way in the chef world encouraged by Scott’s guidance, including Zane Neustroski (Mr Morris, Auckland), Brenden Baucke (The Langham, London), Nico Parry (Tītī, Dunedin), Isaac Cross (Inati, Christchurch) and many more. Local Invercargill chef and SBH alumni Ethan Flack joined forces with Scott’s artist son, Lee Richardson, to establish a scholarship in Scott Richardson’s name enabling budding Southland food enthusiasts to travel.

I had flown south to sit on the Scott Richardson Memorial Trust assessment panel and was excited to play a part in awarding the first scholarship to a self-taught young local woman, Brit MacDonald. Brit has created the first-ever dedicated sourdough bread business in Southland, growing from a small operation in her garage at home. Her first bread sold at the weekly Southland Farmers Market, but Brit has now moved into commercial premises in the centre of the city. Her breads are extraordinary and it will be great for Southland when she returns from working with some of her hero bakers around the world (

As part of this admirable initiative, Ethan and Lee produced a magnificent dinner to announce the winner and to raise funds for the scholarship. Contributions from many members of the local community, coupled with an army of supporters and volunteers from Southern Institute of Technology and local schools, demonstrated the awareness, importance and growing passion in the south for all things food.


Look for these to take home or order online.


Jody and Blair Drysdale, arable farmers in Balfour, grow grains and oats for Harraways, peas for garden seeds, tulips and canola, and produce a fine array of hemp products including a nutty, flavoursome hemp oil which is perfect for salad dressings and drizzles.


A family-owned business with a range of wild-harvest, small-batched, single-source honey from Bluff, Fiordland and Southland, including the delicious white clover honey, creamed like the honey many Kiwis grew up with.


At Makarewa on the city fringe, Donna and Andrew Davis grow a handsome orchard of hazelnut trees, producing a prolific crop for their kitchen products: hazelnut butter, oil, flour, granola, brittle, pesto and other sweet nutty treats.


Toni and Rob Auld are passionate arable farmers who grow oats, barley and wheat. The inspired gin collection produced at their distillery includes Ocean’s Keep (with an oat base) capturing flavours of Bluff oysters, Endless Fields (with a barley base) reminiscent of sweet hay and grassy aromas, and Summit’s Reach (a wheat base) encapsulating the clean, crisp mountain air. Look for their unique ‘Usquebaugh’ a Forgotten Single Malt Elixir, and Ageing Whisky Samplers.


Bill and Sue French produce fine cuts of tender, grass-raised lamb on their Invercargill / Waihōpai farm, that are favoured by chefs and gourmet cooks around the country. Packs can be ordered online for chilled home delivery.


A must-stop in Invercargill / Waihōpai for James Owen’s astonishing array of imaginative pies, from classic mince and cheese to a ‘nude seafood’ number crammed with fish and shellfish in a creamy sauce. Join the monthly Pie Club for delivery of pies shipped fresh and frozen around New Zealand.


Also try Robbie’s Pickles in Gore for some award-winning pantry delights ( and Gathered Game’s venison charcuterie in Lumsden (