March 30, 2021
New Zealand undeniably has some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world. But although they’re a treat for the eyes, they’re rarely a treat for the tastebuds. With the typical food consumed on a tramp being canned or dehydrated, hiking hardly seems like an appealing activity for a fussy eater.
That is, unless you’re embarking on a tour with Southern Wilderness, a hiking company that strives to keep its guests well fed with fresh, nutritious and delicious food. Southern Wilderness specialises in guided walks of the Heaphy Track, Old Ghost Road and throughout the Nelson Lakes and Abel Tasman National Parks.
The guides carry fresh ingredients, which they then prepare at the Department of Conservation huts along the route. The hiking menus are created by the company’s managing director, Angus McKenzie. He took over the business about six years ago, having previously worked for the company as a guide. Although there was a gourmet aspect to the business before he started running it, McKenzie says he has ramped it up. “It was always gourmet guided walks, but we just made it a little bit fresher and a little bit tastier,” he says.
McKenzie has always had a passion for food and has a background in commercial cooking. To pay his way through university, McKenzie worked in the kitchen in several cafés and restaurants, starting by washing dishes and working his way up from there.
He also worked in a café when he first moved to Nelson, where Southern Wilderness is based. “But I couldn’t handle actually working in a commercial kitchen because it’s indoors and quite small and working nights, so it never really worked for me,” he explains. “When I was working as a guide, it just sort of clicked and I realised it’s what I want to be doing.”
Each of the tracks Southern Wilderness operates walks along has its own menu, allowing returning clients to try new meals when they experience different routes. Southern Wilderness hires guides, not chefs – they don’t need to have formal training or experience in cooking – but they do need to have an interest in food. “We hire guides, because that’s what they need to be able to do. We’re still out in the wilderness, so they need to be really good at the safety side of things and assessing the don’t bring in many products from overseas; most of what we get is local cheese, local veggies and local meats.”
McKenzie also encourages his Southern Wilderness guests to visit the Nelson Market after their tour. “They can go around and collect all the different foods they’ve had on the trip, which is quite nice.”
It’s local cuisine for local people – about 95 per cent of Southern Wilderness’ guests are New Zealanders. “That’s one of the main reasons we like to do what we do with our food, because Kiwis love food, and they love local food. So we really stress that local side of things.”