New Zealand is a country that offers experiences for all tastes. If you are looking for something cultural, you can visit a Maori Village; for the adventurers, there´s plenty of bungee jumping and water rafting waiting for you; the athletic and nature lovers have numerous breathtaking hiking options; for the animal lovers, this country is a dream offering different encounters with dolphins, whales and the famous kiwi bird. I have to say that out of all of these possibilities, I could have never guessed that, the only activity I chose for the sake of filling in a free day, would be one of the coolest things I did in New Zealand: visiting a kiwi farm. And I don´t didn´t even like kiwi!
Since we were staying in Rotorua and planning a day trip to Tauranga, we thought it made sense to make a stop in between in order to see how kiwis are grown in the country that is famous for it. This region, the Bay of Plenty, is responsible for 80% of all of the kiwi production in New Zealand. So we knew we were in the right place for the best fruit tour we could have. Though I wasn´t honestly expecting much of this activity, I´m always curious about getting to know more of a country´s main products, history and culinary. This tour would cover all this in 1 hour.
We chose the Kiwifruit Country Farm for the simple reason that it is really well rated on Trip Advisor , as well as better rated than other farms. The tour costs NZ$ 20 and runs everyday on the hour during main (September 1st to April 30th) and harvest season (May 1st to June 30th). Tours during winter time are only arranged on demand. The visit can be booked by email, but you pay on the spot before boarding the kiwi shaped trolley. Yep, you will visit the farm on board of a giant kiwi on wheels. How dare people say farms are dull?!
Our tour was led by Simon, who is definitely an expert on the fruit. He took us through the 60-hectare orchard telling us about the history of the kiwi. Did you know that it actually comes from China? It was baptized as kiwi, a Maori name, only about 45 years later the first harvested fruit in New Zealand, in 1910.
Kiwi is grown on vines, just as grapes, which makes the sight of such a big plantation absolutely beautiful! At some point we were all allowed to step outside and continue our tour under a huge vine loaded with kiwis. The canopy was high enough that we could fit inside without bending our heads. It was like swimming upside down in a sea of kiwis…
Simon lectured us about the export of the fruit and the competition with other countries who are also able to grow this product. It was then that I found out that every country I have lived in and where I have tried kiwi, the fruit was supplied by Italy or Chile. So, though kiwis are known as the national fruit of New Zealand, I had actually never tried a kiwi from New Zealand – and I was eager to do so at the end of the tour! We also had a chance to see how big these fruits can actually be. The sad thing is that we might never see it again: the biggest berries are shipped to Japan, where Simon says size does, apparently, matter.
The Kiwifruit Country grows both Zespri Green and Zespri Gold kiwi fruit. Therefore, we were also able to see the difference between the production of both. Unlike the former, the golden kiwis grow on tent-like canopies, which allow them to receive more sunlight. Their skin is a lot smoother than the green ones, and the taste a lot sweeter. By the way, golden kiwis were originally developed right here, in Te Puke, a neighbor town of Paengaroa, where Kiwifruit Country stands. Simon also shared with us that agro engineers are now working on the development of the red kiwi, a hybrid, which could be on the market as soon as next year! They are becoming quite colorful!
At the end of the tour, it´s time to say goodbye to the fruit shaped trolley and hello to the tasting! To be very honest, I was interested but not that excited. I never liked the sourness of this fruit, but I was willing to finally try one from New Zealand. And let me tell you the truth: you have never really tried a kiwi before eating one from this country.
I was expecting to be given only a few slices of kiwi, but instead we were able to savor also the dried versions of the fruit, juices, jams, chocolates…I loved everything (really!), but what impressed me the most was the green kiwi. It tasted a bit sweet and a lot (LOT!) less sour than all the ones I tried before. I couldn´t stop eating it! The golden kiwi was deliciously sweet, with some honey notes. We were also introduced to the cute kiwi berry, a baby version of the green one, but also very sweet and with the difference that you can actually eat the skin. They make great healthy snacks!
We ended up leaving the farm´s store a lot heavier than when we entered: we bought jams, juices, and berries to bring back home. We devoured half of the products before they could even make it into the plane… One can say that though kiwi is known as a sour fruit, this experience in New Zealand was nothing but sweet for us.