Chasing the vegan burger

What’s the furthest you’ve travelled for a burger? Before last weekend, I probably couldn’t tell you my personal best. Now, though, I can say with a mixture of pride and self-razzing, that I have clocked up a personal best of nearly 600kms for the round trip. Yep, travelling this far for a burger was all kinds of ridiculous – which was pretty much the plan. ‘Sensible’ had no part of this excursion. However, things can change rapidly, and by the time the weekend was over, ‘sensible’ was back on the agenda for the foreseeable future. Just a week ago, it still seemed like simpler times – but maybe the truly simpler times are yet to come?

Zen’s Kitchen in Murchison had long intrigued me, since a traveller first posted about it on a vegan Facebook page some time ago. A vegan food truck in a small country farming town, with a population of 500? What’s not to be intrigued about that? Murchison is strategically placed amongst four rivers around 300kms north of Christchurch, and is the self-titled “whitewater adventure capital” of New Zealand. With State Highway 6 running through it, it’s also a tourist and travellers’ route between one side of the South Island and the other. In 2016, a guy named Zendeck from the Czech Republic spotted the opportunity, and opened a vegan food truck. I definitely had to go there, and do that burger.

Zen of Zen's Kitchen
Zen, of Zen’s Kitchen.

The nephew, who works from home like I do, and is a fellow nerd, was game for an impromptu trip with me. I couldn’t help but notice that he had about 10% of the luggage I had – none of which was food. As a legal-beagle, he knows that some laws are immutable, such as when riding with an auntie, food just appears. The nephew considers himself a flexitarian, in that he eats mainly vegetarian food at home, but will eat animal-meat when he’s out, if he feels that social politeness calls for it. I’d like to cure him of this bad habit. However, when with his vegan auntie, he’s happily vegan, if she’s providing.

The nephew making a quick bite for us to eat between rain showers (decidedly ‘boy’ sandwich making skills).

Naturally, the weather didn’t play nice. It wasn’t total crap, but it did mean that a whitewater rafting experience was off the agenda for a couple of pussies from the city (not too sure how pleased the nephew would be at being included in that description, although he does love cats). Actually, it wasn’t on the agenda to start with – the only thing on the agenda was a burger. I didn’t even really know that Murchison was apparently the whitewater adventure capital of NZ – ignorance much! – I just knew I could get a vegan burger there. I have been whitewater rafting before as a tourist elsewhere, and it’s a lot of fun, but clearly I have bum local knowledge.

Because we went in my car, I drove. I have ‘tiny’ control issues over letting someone else drive my car when I’m in it. This is rather annoying, seeing as I quite like being driven. On the way, the nephew scarfed down a banana (provided by auntie), and proceeded to carefully fold and tuck the banana skin into a compartment under the dashboard, for disposal later. “Chuck it out the window” I said. “That’s littering” he replied. “No, it’s not” I answered back, “it’s biodegradable”. With such irrefutable logic, plus it’s my car, he wound down the window and tossed it. It didn’t make it to the grass verge. It landed on the road short of it. ‘What kind of piss-weak throw was that?” I demanded. Whereupon the nephew, after trying out a couple of excuses, admitted that it was a pretty weak-armed throw. Then followed ten minutes of discussion about whether an animal or bird might stop to pick it up, become road-kill, and he would be a murderer by proxy.

Regardless of weather and banana skins on the road, the scenery is always awesome. It gets me every time. Part of the route to Murchison is also on the way to Westport, where my sister lives, so I know it quite well, but not well enough to ever get tired of it. We’re really are lucky to have this on our doorstep, which makes it even more heartbreaking to know how irresponsible farming and dairying practises have compromised so much of it.

Lewis Pass scenery
The Canterbury side of Lewis Pass.

Finally, Murchison arrived late in the afternoon. We spent the night at Off the Beaten Track – which was not off the beaten track at all, but just around the corner from the main drag. After settling in, we spent a minute wondering whether to check out Saturday night at the local boozer, but inertia and “been there, done that, won’t bother again” won – well, it won for me.  Besides, we had our phones, laptops, and books, as dedicated nerds do.  Sunday morning, before Zen opened up, we checked out what Murchison had to offer that wasn’t a whitewater adventure in the rain. Okay, so that didn’t take long, because there wasn’t much there, and some of that wasn’t open. But the woman who owns and runs Somebody’s Treasures – a pawn-broker and second-hand shop, with a rabbit warren of rooms – kept us entertained for some time with her story-telling. And I bought an adjustable spanner and some Allen/Hex keys there.

Then we ate. And it was worth the trip. Not from a financial point of view, because then that burger would have needed gold dust in it. But it was a mighty fine burger, in a mighty fine setting. At some stage in the future, when we’re free to travel anywhere again on a whim, I’d like to seek out more vegan food in unexpected places, so do tell if you know of any.


Zen burger
Tastes much better than it looks 🙂

Here’s few more pictures, if you’re interested –

Somewhere along the way
Somewhere along the way to Murchison.
Waiau River
The Waiau River – or rather a small section of it in the bottom third of the pic.
Frog Rock
The inimitable Frog Rock at Weka Pass.  Guess why it’s called “Frog” Rock?
Lindsay outside NZDA hut, Lewis Pass, 22nd March 2020
The nephew, outside the NZDA hut in Lewis Pass – taken thirty years after the shot below.
Lindsay and Megan at NZDA hut New Years Eve 1988-89 (2)
The nephew (and a niece) – New Years Eve 1989 at the NZDA hut.  Confession – my partner at the time was a hunter, and as a member of the NZ Deer Stalkers Assn (much puke now!) had access to their hut.  Some of the whanau gathered there for a few days over New Year 1988/89.




4 thoughts on “Chasing the vegan burger

    1. Haha – thanks. Hunting down a decent vegan burger is as good a reason for a road trip as any, I reckon 🙂 Oh, Texas would be amazing to visit! Such big spaces, big sky, and so very different to what we have here.


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