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Monday, March 12, 2018

Traveling Cowboys: A Party in a Paddock at the 2018 Wairarapa Harvest Festival in New Zealand


Liz Pollock, the organiser of the annual Wairarapa Harvest Festival, referred to it as the party in a paddock. That was too modest. It was gourmet on the grass!

Sean Toohey of WilliamsWarn arranged with Liz for the last two highly sought-after media passes. The Cowboys were the lucky recipients. Now we could experience what rural New Zealand food festival life’s is all about. We were invited into the inner circle of rustic gastronomy. We thought we'd seen it all after covering countless food events around the globe. What we found was an absolute adventure in gourmet food and wine - in a paddock! It could easily have been a chef-hosted event on Granville Island. The produce, cooking and creativity were that good.


The event took place at the sheltered riverside setting known as “The Cliffs” on the banks of the Ruamahunga River. It is a remote setting, amongst vineyards and under ancient trees. Remote enough for a noisy pino-lubricated hunger party, but also close enough for Wellingtonians to make the trek up the road for a little culture. Masterton and Carterton are both a stone’s throw away.

If you go by the numbers, it is not a massive festival. Around twenty-three eateries and wineries participated in the day-long festivities. They hosted just over two-thousand hungry and thirsty patrons. The tickets are limited we were told, to keep the festival small and personal. Everyone is guaranteed a sampling of what was on offer. There indeed was enough food and wine for everyone. Chairs and tables were in short supply. Locals knew that, so they brought their chairs, blankets and picnic cutlery.

The event sold out within two hours of tickets going on sale. It happened months ago already. The Harvest Festival is not an event you will likely get to, as an outsider occasionally passing through New Zealand. As with many of these top-class occurrences, you have to rely on a local punter or sponsor within a secret food society, to part with a select few highly sought-after tickets for sneaking you into the inner gourmet circle of the best of New Zealand.

When it came to the food, they spared no expense. Only the best made it to the serving table. It offered nothing pretentious and everything hearty. Only the best fresh local ingredients made it into the dishes that included whitebait fritters, lamb pie, salted beef, spicy wedges and Pinot Noir. All were familiar favourites that came with a creative twist as the restaurants battled to outdo each other.


We've said it before. Food festivals must have lots of food. Far too often we’ve seen food festivals turn into taster festivals. At the Wairarapa Harvest Festival, they know how to throw a party with enough food and wine for everyone.

What stood out was the quality and variety of the produce and the lengths the businesses went to serve the perfect dish. Our favourite was the lamb cutlet pies and a little Pinot with the whitebait fritters and the Chardonnay a close second. It was simple and hearty and utterly the best of rural New Zealand.

Thank you for the invite Sean, and Liz. We would love to see you next year again!

Hendrik van Wyk
Food Festival Cowboy

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