Get Around Good Grub, Here's the Best Things to Eat in the Waitaki Region

Waiter at Cucina holding a cauliflower dish.

These dishes come from some of the area’s most loved dining establishments and all represent the region in a uniquely different way.

Words by: Olivia Sisson

Photography by: Nancy Zhou

Even in the dead of winter, the Waitaki landscape is full of colour - the sea a sparkly blue, the paddocks a vibrant green and the hillsides awash with different flowers and native grasses. These vistas aren’t just beautiful year round, they’re also incredibly bountiful. 

Ōamaru and the surrounding regions are full of farms big and small that produce delicious dairy, award winning sheep and beef and stunning produce, too. Luckily this region is also home to a fair few chefs, bakers, butchers, fishmongers, cheese makers and otherwise food obsessed individuals who know how to make the most out of all these vibrant ingredients. 

Whitestone Cheese Co.

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469 Thames Highway, Oamaru North, Oamaru

The folks at Whitestone Cheese are, simply put, ‘really good cheese people’ and they have been since the business started nearly 35 years ago. Their cheeses are ‘handcrafted to be destroyed’ and while you may have had one or two before you should definitely drop in for one of their famous platters. These provide an opportunity to try a bit of everything at once, in the very place where these artisanal wheels and wedges are made. If you have time, take the hour long tour which walks through the history of cheese and the history of this prized local business. At the end you’ll be treated to a sampling platter which includes Whitestone favourites like the Brie, Creamy Havarti and Aged Airedale. This wee cheese board features the full spectrum, from stinky to sublime, crumbly to creamy - it’s a little ‘homage to fromage’. While this alone is certainly a treat many visitors seem to be just getting started at this stage. If that’s you, simply head through to the cheese cafe and order up any of the larger Whitestone platters.

Cucina

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1 Tees Street, South Hill, Oamaru

Cucina is a showcase for flavours of South America and the Mediterranean. Owner operators, Pablo and Yanina, grew up in Argentina and love sharing the flavours they grew up with. They’re pretty serious about it, too. So much so that at Cucina, one of their three Ōamaru restaurants, there’s a dedicated pasta making room. If you visit at the right time you might catch Pablo and his team of chefs handcrafting these starchy treasures. But they don’t stop there. Every pasta dish at Cucina is bursting with colour and flavour. Pablo changes the menu almost weekly to feature the best of local, seasonal ingredients alongside these pastas. One past favourite, the beetroot gemelli, featured deep purple noodles with chunky spinach and kale pesto, chilli, garlic, charred beetroot, torn mozzarella, fresh herbs, parmesan and hazelnuts. With almost every colour represented on one plate this dish was a treat even before the first taste and the expertly layered flavours did not pale in comparison. It’s rare to find dishes that are as delicious as they are instagrammable but at Cucina flavour and presentation are given equal weight on every plate.

The FishWife

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145 Haven Street, Moeraki

Fush and chups are a cornerstone of Kiwi cuisine but let’s face it not every basket was created equal. After a few (repeat) visits to The Fishwife, however, we can confirm these guys quite possibly whip up the best fish and chips in all of Aotearoa New Zealand. The Fishwife method isn’t some kind of long guarded family fish fry recipe though, just plain old commitment to quality and a love for the sea and the kai it provides. Owner operator, John, is a fourth generation Moeraki fisherman. He gets the blue cod used at The Fishwife straight off the Moeraki boats from his mates and serves it up at The Fishwife with partner Nicky and their team. This blue cod is prepared with care, cleaned and kept only in salty sea brine (home chefs, this tip is for you!) as harsh tap water dries the fish and strips its freshly caught flavour. From there the blue cod is delicately fried up achieving the perfect balance of crunch and sturdiness and is served with a generous scoop of chips and lemon. The end result is melt in your mouth, flaky and crispy all at the same time. True to form this stuff is best enjoyed by the sea and that’s easy here as The Fishwife is located on the Moeraki waterfront.

Riverstone Kitchen

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1431 Glenavy-Hilderthorpe Road, Waitaki Bridge

Slowwww down as you zoom along Highway 1 and pull off at Riverstone Kitchen. While cooking with local, seasonal and foraged ingredients has become rather ‘cool’ in recent years, Riverstone has been doing just that since 2005. In the bountiful, beautiful Waitaki region this just makes sense and makes for some pretty incredible dishes. While the Riverstone Kitchen menu changes often to reflect what’s growing there are some staple favourites that return, when the time is right, year after year. When we visited the hot smoked salmon was flying out the door. The delicate salmon provided the right level of smokiness - just enough to notice but not so much to dominate the dish - and the locally grown Jersey Benne potatoes were a perfect flavour vehicle while also being delicious on their own. Surrounded by fresh salad greens (grown in Riverstone’s surrounding gardens) this dish could be described as Spring on a plate. Finished off with a light creme fraiche and plenty of fresh herbs, we’re still thinking about this one.

The Fort Enfield

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625 Weston-Ngapara Road, Enfield

We reckon The Fort Enfield Tavern is the perfect foodie destination to bike to. While you can of course, drive, this spot is just twelve kilometers from Ōamaru. With only a bit of elevation gain it’s a ride the whole family can tackle - so do a bit of mahi and reward yourself with a meal at The Fort Enfield Tavern straight after. The menu features classic pub fare, simple kai done excellently - exactly the type of food you'll want to eat after working up an appetite on your bike. It’s been said that Chef Johnny and the team do the best steak in and around Ōamaru and frankly we agree. This generous cut is cooked to your liking served with your choice of sauce plus crisp chips and a crunchy side salad to round things out. Choose from homemade garlic butter, peppercorn sauce or red wine and mushroom sauce and you’ll be on your way to an unreal lunch or dinner. On the whole, The Fort is a place where all of the best aspects of the classic Kiwi pub seem to shine extra bright and everyone feels welcome.

Badger & Mackerel

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175 Thames Street, Oamaru

Badger & Mackerel Messhall is a Thames Street hub for great food, excellent service and a refreshing mix of big brekkie classics and modern brunch plates. But there's a local favourite here that sticks out more than the rest. The humble pie. These handcrafted beauties are flaky and buttery on the outside and hearty on the inside with fillings like steak and mushroom and bacon, egg and cheese. Whether you’re after one for a quick, quality takeaway or a leisurely lunch, be sure to pay them a visit.

Neat Ōamaru & Waitaki Places

Valley Views Glamping

A bedroom set inside a Glamping pod with a wooden panelled floor.
Place Ōamaru & Waitaki Editor's Pick
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Glamping with sweeping views of the Waitaki Valley, and hosts who know its every nook and cranny including the best summer swimming holes. Honeymoon, stay-cation, reunion, whatever the occasion, it’ll be best had here.

Bangkok Recipe

A close up of a plate of Thai food on a table at Bangkok Recipe Oamaru.
Place Ōamaru & Waitaki
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On the hunt for authentic and traditional Thai food in the heart of Ōamaru, then look no further than Bangkok Recipe.

Elephant Rocks

View of Elephant Rocks in the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark.
Place Ōamaru & Waitaki
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For a nice walk, a bit of bouldering or both, head to Elephant Rocks. Sculpted by wind and rain, these funky outcrops give visitors a glimpse of the limestone that make the Waitaki Valley’s terroir so unique.

Crafted

The top of shelves covered in ceramics at CRAFTED in Waitaki.
Place Ōamaru & Waitaki
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It’s hard not to be inspired by Ōamaru’s rugged coastline and fabled history. The town is home to many talented makers and artists, and at the collective gallery you can explore their work at your own pace.