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A great time for the whole community. (Image: Archi Banal)
A great time for the whole community. (Image: Archi Banal)

SocietyDecember 16, 2023

At the Kaitaia market, the vibes are impeccable

A great time for the whole community. (Image: Archi Banal)
A great time for the whole community. (Image: Archi Banal)

If you find yourself in the Far North on a Saturday morning, swing by the Kaitaia markets for delicious food, a wide array of unique products, and a wholesome good time. 

As soon as we entered the Kaitaia market last Saturday, my dad – an Ahipara homeowner since 1996 – spotted someone he knew. “Hello Barbara!” he bellowed, while my 18-month-old waddled off to play with a nearby plant. I joined a semicircle of kids captivated by a pair of Great Danes; one enormous adult and a puppy with paws already the size of large apples. The air smelled like mini donuts and a buff older man was belting out Michael Jackson covers, busking for coins.

Welcome to the Kaitaia market. Running every Saturday from 7am to 12pm in a council carpark in town, it’s one of the best ways to spend a morning in the Far North. Strolling through the 40+ stalls, it felt as though half the town had shown up: there were women with moko kauae, impossibly cute kids, pākehā retirees, surly teens, and tradies in hi vis – plus the dogs, of course, from Great Danes to Pekingese to Pitbulls. The vibes were impeccable. 

“The market has been in operation in Kaitaia for over 25 years,” said Shirley Williams, a “Kaitaia girl” and the market organiser. “It’s a valued asset for the community.”

If you want plants, second-hand kids toys, a massage, a pocket knife, a free bible course, or a live chicken, it’s all here. (Photo: Madeleine Holden)

Shirley took over running the market in April 2022, and while she insisted several times “it’s not about me,” she is responsible for several positive changes to its operation. The chaotic array of dogs must now be on leads, and there’s a successful new waste system that recycles 75% of the market’s rubbish and provides compost for local school gardens. But Shirley is most proud of one particular addition: an array of simple plastic outdoor furniture, situated in the middle of the market and available for everyone to use. “I’ve always wanted to have a chat tent, so that was personally my reason for having tables and chairs,” she said. “It provides that engagement for people to chat and catch up a little bit longer.”

Here’s just a smattering of what was on offer the day we visited. Mirimiri Māori massage, for “Head Pain, Neck Pain, Back Pain, and Pain in the Rs,” according to the sign. Great slabs of emerald pounamu. Second-hand specialty knives; expertly-weaved kete; vintage pots. More plants than I could shake a stick at, including a whole stall dedicated to banana palms. Second-hand kids toys, “Cannabis Essential Remedy”, skull rings, and homemade cards. One produce stall had three live chickens for sale ($25 each). Attendees could sign up for free bible courses courtesy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Te Kai Kart. (Photo: Madeleine Holden)

Then there was the food. My boyfriend and I opted for the Kai Kart Burger at a food truck owned by local Pam Fisher, containing roast pork belly, bacon, egg, onion, lettuce and aioli on fried bread. (Yum.) A local Indian restaurant had two huge pots of butter chicken and mutton korma on offer, and the produce stalls were heaving with fresh fruit and veg, including fat, ripe avos ($1 each) and enormous punnets of blueberries ($9). There was a specialty bread store, mini donuts, and a fishmonger offering oysters, kina, and smoked kahawai and salmon (three for $20). You could buy locally produced chilli sauce and honey, plus coffee from a boutique roastery in Doubtless Bay. 

Most popular of all was the hāngī stall. For $10, you got a hāngī meal including fry bread, with apple pie available as an extra for anyone with room for dessert. I got chatting to Angela, the woman running the stall. She told me that every Friday afternoon, her brother starts prepping the vegetables and meat at his shop, MJ’z Seafood and Whanau Kai. Then at 2am, he starts the fire and puts the hāngī down. Angela swings by at 6am every Saturday to pick up 100 cooked meals, and brings them straight to the market to sell. 

As we were speaking, two kids rushed up and asked to buy a meal. “You got the last one,” Angela told the beaming kids. I asked her if that happens often. “Yes, yes,” she replied. “We always sell out at the market.”

Without quite meaning to, we found ourselves making our way home with a new kete, a second-hand pocket knife, a baguette, and enough blueberries to feed a small army (or one ravenous 18-month-old). The food was a real drawcard at the Kaitaia market, but as Shirley stressed to me, there’s much more on offer. “I don’t call it a farmer’s market, I call it a community market,” she said. “Because that’s what it’s all about.” 

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