Walking through the arrivals hall in Christchurch airport offers a clear understanding of two main sources of revenue in New Zealand – sheep and cows. Pictures and sounds of these friendly farm animals greet you at almost every turn. And as a vegan, it becomes clear that life might soon be very difficult!
However, despite the tremendous amount of dairy produced and milk products consumed, and the presence of many, many sheep farms producing wool and lamb, it is a very easy place to thrive as a plant-based consumer. There appears to be an increasing awareness of alternative dietary requirements and small businesses are blossoming to meet the demand. Since our visit five years prior, the choice and range of products available to vegans has increased dramatically.
Although New Zealand is an isolated country, there is a tremendous variety of fresh produce and fruit sold at both supermarkets and farmers markets across the country. Most of this is grown locally and is beautifully fresh and delicious. There are imported options, but the prices reflect the hefty surcharge to bring these goods into the country from far away lands. An exception to this is perhaps bananas, which are comparable in price to what we pay in North America.
All the larger supermarket chains carry a wide variety of products to support a plant-based diet. These include non-dairy milk and yoghurt options, grains, legumes, nut butters, cereals, soy products, meat substitutes like tempeh and veggie sausages, and breads. In larger cities and towns you’ll find at least one health food store offering everything you could possibly wish for from kombucha to flax seeds. Prices are more expensive than supermarket sundries but many of these products are locally produced and organic. Here are a few options in key centres, many offering freshly prepared vegan food and baking too:
Generally we shopped at the Countdown supermarket chain for our regular groceries and did not have any trouble finding everything we needed there. Fruit and vegetables seem to be of better quality and cheaper price at produce markets, but the supermarkets are perfectly fine too for variety and freshness. Whenever possible we purchased fruit and vegetables at road side stalls and even had the chance to pick our own cherries! We also were treated to gorgeous fresh vegetables, herbs and berries from my brother’s garden in Christchurch, making us long for a garden of our own!
We mostly cooked for ourselves during our three months in New Zealand as we had wonderful kitchen facilities when staying with family and friends on both North and South islands. When we were travelling and camping we usually had access to communal kitchens or used the camp cooking gear we borrowed from my brother. We had a lot of fun trying out new recipes with our family and we especially had fun baking vegan pies, cookies and muffins with our little nephew.
We did enjoy a few meals out as well as the odd take-out feast with the ethnic flavours of Thailand or India being quite common. Most restaurants are familiar with what vegans eat and are happy to accommodate. Eating out in New Zealand is quite expensive, and our backpackers’ budget struggled to cope with the high cost. In an average restaurant, it’s not uncommon to pay $18-25 for a main meal. Lunch items are a bit cheaper, with coffee and pastry items running around $4 each.
We were also afforded the opportunity through my brother’s generosity and interest, to sample a variety of wonderful local vegan wines. It was very impressive to see that wine makers in New Zealand include information on the component used in the fining process to make wine. Often these components are animal-based, but sometimes a synthetic or plant-based option is utilized. It was very refreshing to find such a wide variety of wines that were vegan and labelled as such.
In summary, New Zealand was an incredibly easy country to navigate as vegans. It would be even easier to enjoy if budget was not a consideration, as there are many wonderful dining options that could easily cater to plant-based requirements, from lunch time food carts through to boutique bistros.