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The Spinoff Reviews New Zealand #39: Is Duck Island Ice Cream the best thing to come out of Hamilton?

We review the entire country and culture of New Zealand, one thing at a time. Today Simon Day asks: is Duck Island Ice Cream the greatest thing the Tron has ever produced? 

Hamilton has suffered from an image problem for decades. Suffocated beneath the weight of its own branding, the legendary city slogan “More than you expect” did little to move greater New Zealand’s perceptions that there is very little going on other than rampant teenage sex and boy racers doings laps of “T straight”. Despite a decent Wikipedia list of “notable people”, Hamilton’s premier claim to fame has long been its status as New Zealand’s chlamydia capital – despite this being fake news.

But now a boutique ice cream company has been sent as Hamilton’s PR saviour. Duck Island Ice Cream is a small ice cream shop in Hamilton East producing the country’s creamiest, most innovative take on the classic Kiwi dessert. Every day they have a different array of 18 flavours available from the shop. They do the classics perfectly, and they are breaking ground with unique flavours – like roasted white chocolate and miso – that are a surprisingly ideal match. They use organic milk, free range eggs and seasonal ingredients, and you can actually taste it.

Is this the greatest thing to come out of Hamilton? Photo: supplied.

To test whether Duck Island could deliver Hamilton from itself, The Spinoff pitted some of their best flavours against some of the city’s most famous people.

Roasted white chocolate and miso vs Stephen Donald

Stephen Donald and his ill fitting jersey. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Perhaps Hamilton’s most important son, Stephen Donald rescued New Zealand from deep universal depression when he pulled on that poorly fitting All Black jersey in the 2011 World Cup final and kicked the decisive penalty. However, Donald’s career had been a rollercoaster of public love and hate, superbly depicted in the made-for-TV film The Kick by his frequent trips to the Ford dealership to return the sponsor-issued Falcon each time he was dropped from the All Blacks.

From the first bite I knew my love for the roasted white chocolate and miso ice cream would be eternal. Its form is undeniable. Despite its complex flavour match, it suffers from none of the identity crises that left Donald drowning his depression in Waikato whitebait. I am confident Tony Veitch will receive no calls from the public with anything but love for Duck Island. I would hire a Ford Falcon to drive to Hamilton to buy this.

Victory: Duck Island.

Salted caramel and cacao crumb vs Helen Clark

Aunty Helen. Photo: Diego Opatowski

As the second female prime minister of New Zealand and the first woman to lead the UN Development Programme, Hamilton-born Helen Clark spent her career smashing glass ceilings.

The punnet of salted caramel and cacao crumb ice cream breaks ground in the opposite direction to Clark. The layers of cacao crumb continued to surprise me each time I was sure there couldn’t be another floor of chocolate to spoon through. While Clark eventually hit an unbreakable roof when she was knocked back for the UN Secretary General job, Duck Island’s cacao crumbs kept on giving.

For much of her career Clark was a divisive figure, and it was not until she left New Zealand politics that “Aunty Helen” found bipartisan love. Whereas Duck Island’s sweet and savoury flavour profile, and the smooth texture with the slightly bitter cacao crunch, demands cult adoration from the first mouthful.

Victory: Duck Island.

Chocolate Coconut vs Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland, best coach in the world?

Warren Gatland might just be the best coach in world rugby right now.

Duck Island’s subtle hints of coconut through their rich, dark chocolate, make this undoubtedly the best chocolate coconut ice cream in the universe.

Victory: Duck Island

Fresh mint chocolate chip vs Daniel Vettori

Daniel Vettori might be New Zealand’s best looking cricketer. Matt Roberts/Getty Images

After debuting for the Black Caps as teenager in 1997, Vettori went on to become possibly our greatest all rounder (assuming I can automatically exclude Chris Cairns from the conversation, for obvious reasons, and rule out Richard Hadlee for his self acknowledged disappointment with the bat). Vettori’s apparently incongruous pairing of a rugged unkempt beard and his Harry Potter-esque glasses also made him perhaps New Zealand’s best looking cricketer (again, Chris Cairns is ineligible).

I’ve always found the pairing of mint ice cream and chocolate chips equally, strangely enjoyable.

While it took Vettori years to embrace his potential ruggedness and pair his facial hair with his geeky-glassed boyishness, Duck Island’s fresh mint chocolate chip has immediately harnessed its rogue appeal with confidence. The chocolate chips range in size from thin shavings to giant chunks. The mint takes like the herb, not the toothpaste.

The bright (all natural!) green of Duck Island’s mint choc chip is also distinctly reminiscent of New Zealand cricket’s official use of the teal on its One Day International uniforms during Vettori’s first appearances for the Black Caps in the late 90s. However, green mint ice cream makes a lot of sense; New Zealand using teal as its national colour less so.

Victory: Duck Island

– Simon Day

Verdict: Duck Island Ice Cream is easily the best thing to come out of Hamilton.

Good or bad: Way better than you expect.

As The Spinoff tastes more Duck Island flavours we will continue to challenge more of Hamilton’s finest to a duel. Stay tuned for cinnamon smoked apple pie vs Dame Patsy Reddy, and popcorn vs Dick Quax.


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