WaiPIEata – a tiny town with a big draw

Siobhan Downes



Stuff NZ Newspapers



In the remote Ma¯ niatoto region of Central Otago, with a permanent population of no more than 20, Waipiata is just a dot on the map – a place many have probably never heard of. But what this tiny settlement lacks in size, it makes up for with enormous pies. These pastry heavyweights can be found at the Waipiata Country Hotel – the town’s one and only pub, which has been around since 1899. It is your quintessential Southern country pub, with dirty gumboots left at the door, and the Speight’s logo featured prominently. But in recent years, it has also built a reputation as a full-blown foodie destination, offering quality versions of pub favourites – gourmet pizzas and burgers, blue cod and steak meals, and regularly changing curries. And, of course, those pies. Mark Button and his wife Nikki have owned the Waipiata Country Hotel since 2015. They already had a lodge serving riders on the Otago Central Rail Trail, which passes through Waipiata, and buying the pub enabled them to offer food as well as accommodation. It was there they came up with the Waipiata Pie Co. ‘‘You’ve got to have a reason to come to a pub,’’ Button says. ‘‘We tried a few different things and then thought we would try pies.’’ It started with a couple of leftover lamb shanks, which they thought would go well in pastry (‘‘because everything’s good in pastry’’). They made a few, but didn’t advertise them – they didn’t have to, because the delicious aroma was already wafting over the Rail Trail, across the road. ‘‘Cyclists coming into the hotel were asking, ‘what’s that smell?’ We told them ‘it’s our new pie’, and away it went.’’ While the lamb shank pie remains their signature offering, over the years they have developed a long list of mouth-watering fillings, from wild venison to pumpkin, ricotta and spinach. Pies can be ordered with ‘‘the full monty’’ – chips and salad, or mash and vegetables – for $22, or enjoyed by itself for $14. There is a meal in every mouthful – the perfectly golden, flaky cases are filled to the brim with hot, oozing gravy and generous chunks of meat and veges. Each pie weighs between 400 grams and 480g, making them the ideal fuel for those passing through on the trail, but plenty more hungry travellers make special trips to Waipiata just to try the pies. The peak summer period can see them churning out more than 2000 pies a week. Once you have discovered this little slice of pie heaven, there will be no forgetting the name Waipiata – or as it is cheekily dubbed on magnets, T-shirts and hats for sale in the pub, WaiPIEata.