Sylvia's Sunset Beach in Port Waikato

By: Jill Malcolm, Photography by: Jill Malcolm


sylvia Sylvia's sunset beach sylvia
The service counter The service counter The service counter
Tthe engine room and service counter The engine room and service counter Tthe engine room and service counter
The sweet selection all made on the premises The sweet selection, all made on the premises The sweet selection all made on the premises
flowers feature in the presentation Flowers feature in the presentation flowers feature in the presentation
IMG 3939 Sylvia's sunset beach IMG 3939
The colourful courtyard 2 The colourful courtyard The colourful courtyard 2
The colourful courtyard The colourful courtyard The colourful courtyard

The cafe/restaurant, simply called Sylvia’s, is tucked in behind the sand dunes just a stone’s throw from Sunset Beach

New food styles seem to emerge every week. Reading about Paleo, vegan, reducetarian, and something called lacto-ovo-pescatarian, I came across the term ‘traceable cuisine’, which led me to discover a cafe in the beachside hamlet on the southern head of the Waikato River. And I’m very glad I did.

Port Waikato is wedged between the coast and river’s vast estuary. The cafe/restaurant, simply called Sylvia’s, is tucked in behind the sand dunes just a stone’s throw from Sunset Beach.

Meet the owner

Sylvia -Dwen-

The restaurant’s enthusiastic creator (whose name, not surprisingly, is Sylvia) explained to me the meaning of traceable cuisine. "It’s about knowing where your food was grown and how it was handled and prepared," she said. "We use that philosophy here. I source most produce from the districts around us and locals who grow their own also bring it to me."

Sylvia Dwen grew up 10 minutes’ drive up the road. She was 24 years of age when she enrolled in a cooking school in Auckland and discovered she was in the right place.

She later became a sous chef at Ponsonby Road Bistro before deciding to head for England hell-bent on working for River Cottage, which employs ethical principles that match her own. A lucky break landed her a job with the company and nine months of valuable learning.

Then another break; a phone call from home announced that the local fish ‘n’ chip shop on Sunset Beach was for sale. It was an opportunity on a plate.

"I was 29. I needed a future," she said. "I jumped in the deep end, bought the place, and came home."

She’d hit the spot and turned a humble chippie into a restaurant that at peak times needs eight staff to keep it ticking over smoothly. The place is as popular as her famous chicken and bacon hamburgers.

"I never envisaged it would take off like this," Sylvia said. The restaurant has a beachy, retro character with well-worn tables and lounge suites, and ‘cable’ tables in the courtyard.

The -cafe 's -homely -interior-

You can bring your sandy feet in here and nobody notices. The flowers bring good cheer and there’s a sense of humour in quirky bits of memorabilia.

In keeping with Sylvia’s traceable philosophy, all the food is made on-site, even the bread. The dishes are innovative but not elaborate—just honest, nutritious, and tasting like good food should. I had paprika spiced calamari with a delicious chipotle mayo sauce and leafy greens.

I followed it up with a custard square, the thought of which still haunts me when I’m hungry. It’s an attractive drive to Port Waikato. The road follows the river through the unruly countryside. The distance doesn’t deter those in the know because the proximity of the beach, the feel-easy ambience of Sylvia’s, and the excellent food at the end of the journey is a recipe for a weekend or a good day out.

Motorhomers and caravanners can stay at the charming and immaculately manicured Port Waikato Holiday Park just down the road.

Win a lunch at Sylivia's

Fancy trying Sylvia’s famously good food? We have a lunch voucher for two to give away.

To win, enter our competition before 8 February 2018. We’ll ask our lucky winner to provide a short review of their experience, which will be published in a later issue of Motorhomes, Caravans and Destinations magazine.

Stopping in Waikato for a weekend? Read more articles on NZMCD on things to do and see in the Waikato region.

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