Rather surprisingly given the prevalence of early frosts, olives for olive oil are grown all over New Zealand from Waihiki Bay in the north to Duneden in the south. The first plantings took place about ten years ago and gradually increased as more people realised the possibility of olives as a good crop. Most of the plantings are relatively small with groves of 500 to 5,000 trees, but one or two larger estates with 30,000 to 40,000 trees have been planted more recently. Almost all the olives are pressed for oil and there is little table olive production.
In the early days Italian varieties predominated with Barnea, an Israeli variety, also taking a prime role. However, nurseries here have been quiteadventurous in the varieties they have imported and now you will find more than twenty different varieties around the country. This together with the many different terraines and micro-climates means that there is good range of tastes and flavours on offer.
Because of the relatively cool climate and the fear of frost the olives tend to be picked quite early in the ripening cycle and as a result the oils are often quite pungent and peppery. So far quantities have been small but the quality is good and getting better. Growers take a great deal of care and the results are rewarding.