Travel: A foodie tour through Wellington
DARNED if those cheeky Kiwis haven't done it again. Not content with poaching pavlova, they've gone and one-upped us on another of our icons.
Vegemite, beef, burger. That salty pop, that juicy patty. So simple, so unexpectedly genius, and it took the bloke at Wellington's Burger Liquor to make it happen.
With New Zealand's cool capital claiming more cafes, bars and restaurants per capita than New York, it was high time I checked out the culinary competition.
It takes only three and a half hours in the air to reach Wellington's conveniently compact attractions, so the trip is very doable in one well-stuffed weekend. And from August 11-27 is the time to do it. That's when the city's formidable foodies are united under the region-wide tastebud takeover known as Visa Wellington on a Plate.
Sure it's a tad nippy outside (max average around 12C and I hear it can get a little windy), but what better excuse to feast inside four cosy walls?
Upon touching tarmac it's worth taking time out to get your bearings.
Usually that would involve making a beeline for a lookout or other lofty vantage - in Wellington, the gourmet geography is best mapped on a food tour.
With limited time on the ground, only a local can tell you where to buy the world's best salted caramel cookies (Leeds Street Bakery) or which coffee will have the baristas back home brewing with envy (if you see a sign for Mojo Coffee, stop). Zest Food Tours is only too happy to spill the beans.
My guide's advice helps narrow down the options in WOAP's staggeringly long line-up, from food trucks to fine dining, pop-ups to prison fare (bites behind bars with all food prepared and served by prisoners at Rimutaka Prison).
Then there's Pop Goes the Weasel - five courses of pests on a plate to help the NZ Government in its quest to create a predator-free New Zealand by 2050.
The aforementioned Vegemite burger is just one entrant in Burger Wellington, this year serving up 123 examples of exactly how creative you can get between two buns.
It's the most innovative, intriguing, all-consuming program I have ever seen in a food festival.
With fond memories of gorging on pineapple lumps on past road trips, I made a point of previewing Dragonfly's special festival cocktail. The modern Asian restaurant, which unfolds from Courtenay Place into an Alice-in-Wonderland portioned courtyard, is spruiking sweet nostalgia with its Tips and Lumps cocktail. Inspired by a Jelly Tip ice cream, the barman balances Chambord jelly in a Whittaker's chocolate cup on a creamy blend of vanilla vodka and creme de cacao.
A rum-marinated pineapple chocolate lump completes the tribute.
While craft beer fans will find plenty to froth over in Wellington, Beervana is the holy ale grail. At NZ's national beer event at Westpac Stadium hundreds of brews are served up alongside tables from top eateries. To seal the deal, there are beer-matched silent discos, colourful beer cocktails and cheeseburger spring rolls.
The writer was a guest of wellingtonnz.com.
IF YOU GO
Fly direct from Brisbane to Wellington with Air New Zealand or Virgin Australia. The flight is around three and a half hours. A taxi from Wellington Airport to the city takes about 20 minutes, or jump on one of the public buses.
Wellington on a Plate runs from August 11-27. For the full program, visit visawoap.com
The Copthorne Wellington Oriental Bay is a four-star apartment hotel with knockout views. It is within an easy walk of many WOAP events. Go to millenniumhotels.com.