World famous in New Zealand: Zealong Tea House and Estate, Waikato
All thanks to a thriving camellia spotted in a neighbor’s Waikato garden. Seeing it grow so well there, Vincent Chen decided in 1996 to go into the tea business.
Of hundreds of Camellia sinensis seedlings imported from Taiwan, only 130 survived quarantine, but after years of perseverance and patience, the Zealong Tea Estate now has over 1.2 million shrubs.
Each is harvested by hand, three times a year, only the tender upper leaves and buds selected for the long and painstaking process of sun-drying, withering, brewing, oxidizing and rolling to produce three types of tea : green, oolong and black. The whole process takes place on site and is totally organic.
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Because it’s closer than Harrods. You can buy Zealong tea at this high-end store in London – and, of course, in New Zealand – but it’s always satisfying to go to the source. In the retail shop, resembling a science lab, you can taste and choose from a range of teas to find the perfect one for you, all with expert advice. There are also beautiful tea items on sale.
There’s more to enjoy on the outside. The cleanliness of the tea plantations continues in the manicured gardens surrounding the teahouse, which feature numerous copper sculptures, all relating to the history of tea and its place in New Zealand. A stroll along the trails is a lovely way to unwind before or after your indulgence at the restaurant.
Regular visits to the estate are currently suspended, but will resume soon. On June 18, there will be a special ‘Explore Zealong’ behind-the-scenes tour of the estate and factory, as well as a tasting. New accommodations are available on the estate.
On the way/nearby
In summer, it’s fun to visit Taupiri Sunflower Farm for a burst of yellow, or Whitbourne Lavender for a fragrant purple. Clandon Daffodils is also just up the road, selling flowers and bulbs of many different varieties. In July, August and September, they make rounds through their fields.
The Cornerstone Alpaca Stud is another Gordonton attraction, where you can get up close to these friendly, chubby-faced creatures on one of the many tours, as well as purchase a range of products made from their ultra-fine wool – from a beanie to a duvet, and many in between.
Woodlands Estate is also nearby: a historic estate with a cafe, set in beautiful gardens where strolling is always a pleasure, and where occasional events are held, such as antique fairs and treasure hunts.
The Signature High Tea is $65 per person. Changing with the seasons, it features a tiered stand with a variety of sweet and savory treats like a curried roast chicken sandwich, smoked salmon pie, Mexican corn roll, panna cotta, macaroons and cake of opera. Lunch is also on the menu.
Best time to go
All winter long, the restaurant and shop are open Wednesday to Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Book your table in advance and ask for an outdoor table if the weather is nice.
To see: zealong.com
Stay safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions on covid19.govt.nz.