Kiwifruit Day 2021

Posted: 6 January 2022

A BRIEF HISTORY OF KIWIFRUIT

DID you know we can thank an adventurous New Zealand teacher for the kiwifruit?

In 1904 Isabel Fraser, headmistress of the Wanganui Girls’ College, set sail from the Land of the Long White Cloud to visit her sister in China and returned from her visit to the Yangtze Valley with a pocket full of kiwi seeds.

She passed the precious pellets to neighbour Alexander Allison, who planted the seeds at his property to the south of Isabel’s North Island school, and the fruit then called the Chinese gooseberry thrived in the coastal conditions.

While Alexander gets credit for growing the first plants, another New Zealander grabbed the glory for developing the green nuggets of goodness.

Avondale farmer Hayward Wright cultivated the variety known as “the Hayward” in 1924 and nurtured his plants ready to be discovered by American soldiers stationed in New Zealand during World War Two.

Good story, hey?

So, what else can we tell you about the humble kiwifruit?

Did you know today is National Kiwifruit Day? Yep, December 21 – the date that marks the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere – is National Kiwi Day.

And we can’t think of a better reason than that to learn more about the fruit that started out as the Chinese gooseberry before forging a long-term link with New Zealand.

BUT FIRST, WHAT’S IN A NAME?

There were a couple of steps between Chinese gooseberry and kiwifruit, with the Chinese calling these tangy gems the sunny peach and the New Zealanders considering melonette before settling on the current name in 1959.

That was right about the time entrepreneurial Kiwis started exporting the fruit to America, and those nostalgic former soldiers, with the dispatching nation’s nickname quickly adopted.

And we are so glad they did, as a kiwifruit by any other name would not smell – or taste – as sweet.

 SO, WHERE IS KIWIFRUIT GROWN?

The enclave on the eastern side of the Tasman Sea is perfect for growing kiwifruit. A combination of tepid summers and chilly winters, an abundance of soft sunshine, regular refreshing rains, and suitable soil providing ideal conditions.

So perfect that the New Zealand growing season is up to 240 days long every year, with vines typically producing between April and November.

Commercial crops are now cultivated in China, Japan and South Korea but Zespri – New Zealand’s giant kiwi cooperative – relies on a cluster of Italian and French orchards to fill the gap between December and February which guarantees year-round supply.

GREEN VERSUS GOLD

While most of us remember growing up with the green kiwi, the development of the golden type is seeing that variety becoming increasingly popular.

There is a subtle difference on the outside, with the newer version slightly less fuzzy than the classic green, while inside the golden fruit features fewer seeds and is sweeter than the tangy green eggs.

When New Zealand’s lucrative crop was decimated by disease last decade the yellow variety was credited with saving the industry.

Zespri spent millions of dollars developing an innovative disease-resistant alternative with thousands of varieties shortlisted to 40, four making it to the orchard, and Gold3 emerging the best to become the beloved Sungold kiwifruit.

According to one newspaper, it held the “holy grail of kiwi properties”. It was not only “robust and attractive on the shelf, sweet with a pleasant tang, rich in vitamin C, cheap and plentiful to grow” but repelled the vine canker that robbed the industry of more than $NZD900 million in just a few years.

BEST FOOD TO EAT IN NEW ZEALAND

Well, the kiwifruit, obviously. But there’s more to the Land of the Long White Cloud’s culinary attractions than the Chinese gooseberry, with enough gourmet goodies to keep every traveller comfortably grazing.

The country boasts more than 14,000km of coastline, so there’s an abundance of seafood with cray never going out of style, and New Zealand lamb is world famous.

The destination is a leading producer of artisan cheese, hokey pokey is the signature ice-cream, and the debate about the pavlova’s origins also means the dessert should be in the dining diary.

Travellers should also take the time to experience a Maori hangi – a meal cooked the traditional way, in the steam of an underground earth oven – with pork, mutton, pumpkin and sweet potato core ingredients.

HITTING THE KIWI HIGHWAY WITH AAT KINGS

While it’s unlikely the kiwifruit will be a key motivator for many trips across the Tasman, AAT Kings aids travellers to take a taste during a guided holiday.

New Zealand Uncovered is an epic 17-day jaunt that treks from top to toe and pauses at Kiwifruit Country – on the road between Auckland and Tauranga – during the third day of touring.

Expert guides take travellers on tour around the Fleming family’s 65ha orchard to share stories about farming the green, gold and red versions of the product they call “the world’s healthiest fruit”.

The clan’s Longridge Orchard grows 30-canopy hectares of Zespri green and gold kiwifruit and is one of the Bay of Plenty’s larger growers, with this bucolic North Island region contributing 80 per cent to the country’s crop.

Travellers with a little less time up their sleeve need not sacrifice the kiwi experience with Iconic North, a seven-day sojourn along the North Island from Auckland to Wellington, also visits Kiwifruit Country to taste-test the delightful dumplings.

By AAT Kings
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