After 20 hours and three flights (brutal, but so worth it) I found myself at the start of a two week journey through New Zealand and Australia.
The trip started and will end in Auckland, which is located in the North Island. I was told not to expect much more than the typical bustling working city. I was delighted and surprised to really enjoy it, even on the rainy days.
Auckland and the surrounding islands combine some of the best elements of many places that I have visited. The buildings are close and compact and sit on hills edging the water that is home to hundreds of sail boats and ferries, much like Seattle, Washington. It even has the Sky Tower, similar to the Space Needle. The clean streets are intertwined with green parks, much like Portland, Oregon. The surrounding islands are outlined in crashing cliffs like those in Ireland, and covered in tropical green trees like those found in Hawaii. Like Ireland, Portland, and Seattle, the overcast days covered the city in a blanket of mist.
The restaurants are tucked away in city corners and along the Princes Wharf, and the nightlife at local bars seems to be lively with young professionals on any given night.
My first day in the city had no agenda, so I walked along the water looking for a place to grab something to eat. I made my way to a trendy area further into the city, the Britomart. The Britomart had a West-Coast vibe with unique local restaurants and high end shops. Professionals took their lunch break at the various healthy artisan restaurants, ladies walked past with shopping bags, and friends gathered on bean bags in a nearby park.
The Store is based mainly on local Kiwi food, a delicious cuisine consisting of locally sourced food created into healthy dishes. Fresh pressed juices, coffee with buffalo or macadamia milk (unfortunately I did not see the milk options until after ordering), and fresh dishes filled the menu. I ordered the ricotta hot cakes with green tea and lemon curd. Adorned with delicate flowers and artistically designed, the plate was almost too pretty to eat… almost.
Run, don’t walk off of the plane straight to The Store. It is that good.
My only negative comment is that they close in the afternoon! Good news, their sister restaurant, Ortolana, next door is open for dinner. Also, if you cannot stay for a full meal be sure to grab a snack at their to-go counter.
After grabbing brunch I walked around to get a feel for the city. I made sure to stop by the Nespresso shop where you can sample free espresso (yes – free espresso!!) I opted for the chocolate and berry blend espressos, which were equally delicious.
Auckland does not have a wide variety of tourist attractions, but the restaurants and city life are great to explore and immerse yourself in for a couple of days. I really enjoyed the “City of Sails.”
For dinner I tried DeBrett’s Kitchen, another gem I found while researching the trip. The restaurant is tucked down a side street in the DeBrett Hotel, near the University of Auckland. Although it is very hard to find, it is worth the effort. Again with local Kiwi cuisine, the food is fresh and delicious. I had spinach ricotta ravioli topped with crusty parmesan cheese. Well worth the walk from Princes Wharf!
After the long flights and rainy weather I called it a night.
The following day I took the ferry for a 30 minute ride over to Waiheke Island. It was hard to believe that an island so close to the city could be so drastically different. Waiheke boasts a tropical village vibe. It is best known for the many vineyards that rest on the hills of the island.
Before my trip I booked a small group food and wine tour of Waiheke, which was led by David, a Waiheke local for over 20 years. The tour began with a visit to a local farm that produced olive oil. We tasted various award winning oils and local Manuka honey, which were light and flavorful.
Next, we visited our first winery, Thomas’s Bach, and tasted a few wines paired with local raw oysters. The wine was decent, but the view and local food was the real treat. The dining room opened to beautiful green rolling hills lined with grape vines.
We later made our way to the second winery, Peacock Sky, which incorporated small pairings with each wine. This was the least favorite of the three wineries we visited, but still good. Finally, we stopped at Stoney Ridge for more wine and lunch. This was by far the best winery stop and we were given lunch, which was a delectable assortment of locally sourced dips, cheeses, and charcuterie items.
I would highly recommend the food and wine tour. If you cannot schedule time for that, given it is a good half day at the least, I would absolutely take the ferry to Waiheke to see the tropical village town. The tour was great, but our local guide David really made it special offering a great history and insight to the island’s culture. We ended the day on Waiheke with some hand made gelato, per David’s suggestion.
If you only have a day or two in Auckland be sure to ferry over to Waiheke. Also make sure to stroll around the Britomart to grab brunch or just hang out on one of their bean bags while sipping coffee (and be sure to try that buffalo milk for me).