We arrive to a bit of sunshine and some dark cloud off in the horizon. We are number 36 for departure and expect to get off at about 8:30 … which is no big deal as we can’t even drop our bags at our hotel till after 2pm. About 8:20, when we have not heard any announcements for 20 minutes, we head down from breakfast on 14 to level 4 and ask security what number they are on. Only to find out they are on 31 still and there is huge line. She kindly asks our number and then opens the gate right at the exit and we are gone.
There is a Luggage Hotel just off the exit from where we pick up our luggage so that couldn’t have worked better. And we are off for a coffee then the Hop On Hop Off. We opt for the one with a partial open deck and two routes. We start off on the red route after about a 15-minute wait but unfortunately it starts to rain part way through. Luckily enough people early on, in anticipation, when down below and we were able to stay up top but under cover. Of course, when it really starts to pour it makes for terrible pictures.
Fortunately, it does not last long and by the time we complete the red route the sun is shining, and it is quite hot. But as typically happens on Hop On Hop Offs now, we wait to get on the next route. We actually queue for almost 45 minutes and when the blue bus finally comes then let people on first who just got off the red. As you can imagine people are pissed, including us who had been at the front of the line. Now the push, shove, block and practically tackle beings and we manage to squeeze our way on to the bus and get one of the last few seats up top. Not very impressed on the lack of organization.
The blue route is a bit of a bust, not much to see, more about getting to certain destinations but it does help us decide to head to Auckland Domain, the major park, on one of our days here. It is also gives us our first look at the Ponsonby area where we are going to be staying. It is a funky area with great old homes, sadly many in disrepair, that is slowly revitalizing with shops, restaurants and bars. It reminds me a bit of Commercial drive.
Finally, we are back toward the Harbour and under the Auckland version of the Harbour bridge. Not nearly as high as Sydney’s but with its own bridge climb. The bus drops us in Wynyard Quarter, a stop only available when cruise ships are in town as it is the close to where they dock and gives easy access to dozens of bars and restaurants right on the water.
As luck would have it as we go to check out somewhere for lunch we run into Nick and Jayne who have just finished lunch. We agree that it would be fun to have dinner together on their last day and arrange a time to meet the next evening.
We have a lovely lunch and decide to just sit and have some wine in the shade right along the pier until it is time for us to check-in. As we walk back to the Luggage Hotel, we find ourselves amongst huge yachts and sailboats. This party and restaurant zone were once the mooring point for the America’s Cup Yachts the last time Auckland hosted. Behind the bars and restaurants are now luxury hotels and apartments that once housed the sailing crews.
At the luggage hotel they arrange an Uber for us, and we are quickly headed up the hill. Really it turns out to be about a 35-minute walk, depending on traffic lights from our hotel to the waterfront … all downhill. I say depending on traffic lights because they seem extraordinarily long here.
Our hotel is well located, descent size, not huge but all we need, and the price was right compared to a hotel down at the waterfront. We drop our bags and head out to explore Ponsonby street. It is pretty cool. High end shops of shoes, clothing and trendy furniture. All kinds of different ethnic restaurants and eclectic bars. Some of the bars are no more then the size of a living room and many are tucked down into alleyways that hold multiple small hidden courtyard places. We stop first at the Chapel with its pews and stained glass. There is an interesting neon sign with Jesus (see the picture). We have a small bite as the light lunch has sustained us and then move on.
Next the Hopped Bar and Peculiar Garden, and peculiar it is. Odd and unique collectables including your Funk and Wagnall encyclopedias cover every wall and shelf. The place is jammed packed for a Tuesday night and we end up sitting at the bar.
We head back to change for dinner and head just around the corner to Pane e Vino, of course Italian. It is in the old council chambers/fire hall back from the turn of the century. All in brick it is tiny but has two levels, outside seating and a large upstairs party room for big groups. Everyone who works here is Italian and the food is delicious. If we get a chance we will come back.
Tonight, I find myself a bit rocking and rolling in bed, feeling like I am still on the ship, a typical phenomenon when you get off a cruise. The morning brings another beautiful day and we have booked a wine tour on Waiheke Island. We need to be on the 10 am ferry and there are typically long lines so we start off early not at this point in time, knowing how long the trek will take us.
In the end we arrive shortly before 9 and decide to take that ferry and have coffee and something to eat on the island, just to ensure we make it. The trip over is brilliant, the breeze keeps it cool and the scenery is stunning. Great views back at Auckland and fun watching the comings and goings in the harbour.
There are many boats and at one point we are following a naval ship out, as a Cruise ship comes in and some idiot in a kayak is right between the two. The trip takes about 50 minutes, as this particular trip stopped first at Devonport, so we now have about 45 minutes to wait for our tour. Just enough time to have something to eat and takes some pictures.
Along route you see many of the 50 volcanos in the Auckland area. Not tall in stature but plentiful. The youngest and one most likely to erupt is Rangitoto which is a desolate piece of land between Auckland and Waiheke.
Our guide Glenn is there early, and we connect with him. There are 7 others in our group, a UK couple who now live in Dubai, Steve and Marcil, a couple from Boston, Patrice and Jim, who had been on our boat, Wendy from just south in Tauranga and Jay and Angela from San Jose, who unfortunately missed the 10 am ferry. This means Glenn is going to have to double back to get them, so we head to the car ferry to pick up Wendy first. In the end we all agree to push the end time out 30-45 minutes, so we don’t miss a thing.
The island is truly beautiful with amazing views. Some towns with interesting shops but the main attractions are the wineries, over 40 in total. With incredible sea views amongst the vineyards you can understand why many people come and never leave. It is not a big island with only just over 9000 inhabitants pushed to another 3500 holiday homes in the summer. It is New Zealand’s most densely populated island and is called the ‘island of wine’.
Originally with its maritime climate it was seen as the perfect place for Bordeaux style wines. Today they are winning awards for Syrah and a couple of the wineries we visit today are those ones.
Our first stop is an organic winery, Kennedy Point, which also has great views in all directions. Their first wine, Sauvignon Blanc, is definitely not to our liking but the rest are very delightful and drinkable. A boutique winery that makes only about 2500 cases a year, remembering that their definition of case is 6 bottles.
One of the traditions here are oyster shooters. Gail, I and Boston Jim decide to give it a try, even though I do not like oysters. But how can you not when the small oyster is in a shot glass full of Sauvignon Blanc.
We end up doing two as Gail and I didn’t chew on the first one. We definitely are liking the Sauvignon Blanc better this time.
Off to our next stop but first we pass Goldie winery, the very first on the island from the early 1970’s. The owners, now well into their 80’s, have since donated the winery to the university. Today it is an important learning institute in the art of wine making and viniculture.
Our next stop is Obsidian, another small produces about the same as Kennedy Point. All hand picked from the clay soil of the area. They are one of the award-winning Syrah producers. We sit on picnic tables and sample their wines including two different Syrah. One light bodied, more Pinto Noir like, the other a new vintage of the award wine. We like the Chardonnay best and purchase a bottle to bring home.
Our last stop is Casita Miro, opened many years ago by a somewhat eccentric doctor and his wife. He a lover of wine, her of food so they have both the winery and a Spanish tapas style restaurant which will be our lunch stop.
Set on 7 acres there is a ‘Gaudi’ like atmosphere. The first thing you see is a long unfinished wall that is to become their family tree. Today only the beginning is done which has the names of their 7 children in mosaic tile. Up to the tasting bar that has is surrounded by the Gaudi style tile, 9 ½ years to complete.
The tasting is a food and wine pairing because as this is a Spanish style place, it would be rude to serve wine without tapas. The best is the focaccia with a Romanesco paste... We are guided by Meander, who is Dutch but lived in the UK prior to here and is one of those that came and never left. She is delightful and a lot of fun, telling great stories and imparting a lot of knowledge particularly as it relates to how you pair wine and food. This is a really enjoyable tasting and set in a lovely setting overlooking nothing but vineyards.
From here we head for lunch and Gail and I try a smattering of tapas washed down with their Viognier that Meander had recommended even though it was not part of our tasting. We have the required Patatas Bravos, salad, Goat cheese croquettes, too yummy, and prawns and squid in a spicy tomato sauce. All very delicious and served with fresh focaccia bread.
From here we drive around the island taking in the vistas and ending at Mudbrick Winery. Not to taste but just to see the contrast of the more well known and commercial vs the boutique ones we visited today. It is heaving with people and buses, including the Hop On. So popular that they have a two-year wait list for weddings, and it is not uncommon for a girl to book a date even before she has a potential guy.
This area is paradise, wineries, sailing, 100 km of hillside walks, stunning views, quaint shops and restaurants. Note to self: if I ever come back, staying a few days on Waiheke is high on the list.
We get back to Auckland with enough time to get home, change and hoof it down to Nick and Jayne’s hotel. We head to a little pub nearby for a drink after leaving our name at Ortolana restaurant. We had dinner with the UK gang two weeks ago and loved it so we thought it would be great to come back.
We barely get a sip before we are called that they have a table…. Couldn’t he have told us that 5 minutes ago. I slug mine back and go so that we don’t lose it and the others quickly follow. The breeze tonight has helped cool things off and we enjoy sitting outside. The food is wonderful again, have to say not as good as the first time but I think my expectations were high.
Time to say goodbye once again to Nick and Jayne and another tearful farewell.
The next morning it is hot, and we take a different route to Auckland Domain. This is huge park in the heart of the city. Here is the National War Memorial Museum, the Winter Gardens and plenty of walking trails. This is also going to be on the weekend the site of the Lantern Festival and they are madly setting up, so we get to see some of the incredible displays.
We wander amongst the exhibits and enter the Winter Gardens, a set of 3 glass domes built in 1928. One is the tropical house, one the fernery and the other the Cool House. Each of them has a wide array of foliage and stunning, sometimes unique flowers. It is really beautiful.
We opt out of the $25 for the Museum as much of it is a duplication of places we have already been and instead decide to cut through the park to the Parnell area of town. This is supposed to be another trendy neighbourhood and reminds me more of South Granville. We find a cute little restaurant where we can see, and people watch and share a few small dishes as it is later in the afternoon.
Tonight, we are meeting Sharon and Graeme at a pub that we gave directions to from their waterfront hotel. Of course, we are not sure if we landed at 6:30 OR 7 so we hike down for 6;30. We are definitely getting our steps in.
When they are not there by 6:50 we wonder if they might have changed their mind. Of course, stupidly we have no way of contacting them and do not even know their last name so couldn’t even leave at message at the hotel. Not to worry shortly after 7 they come trekking down the street and we stop for a couple of wines before heading out for dinner.
We head to Viaduct Basin, the America’s Cup area, and they suggest an upper restaurant called Saint Alice’s. They had been the previous night and loved the atmosphere and food. Being Valentine’s day, I think we will be happy just to get in anywhere. Fortunately there is room despite that the place is hopping.
We decide to share a bunch of dishes and for the first time I try Bone Marrow. Even though the initial look of the texture is a bit of a turnoff it is delicious. The places as great views of the Harbour and the Harbour bridge which is all lit up a night with rotating waves of colour. There is a live DJ which has everyone bopping and our waitress is a lot of fun.
From here we go to the end of the wharf to Headquarters, a restaurant and bar where you can sit on outdoor loungers, swings or bean bag chairs. Bean bag chairs are common in outdoor spaces here for some reason. But we choose a chair we can get back out of and get some drinks. Most places there is only bar service, so I go up and get us four drinks. After all Graeme pulled a fast on and paid for dinner.
The music is 70’s and 80’s and the dance floor is packed with people who are having a great time but never actually lived in those eras. Now we have to move inside because of noise bylaws, and it becomes to loud to hold a conversation. So, we are off to the opposite of the pier and a much quieter spot for nightcaps.
We have really enjoyed Sharon and Graeme. She has the most infectious laugh and he is soft spoken but really interesting. Huge sailors we have loved following the ship via his marine charts. We have also lived a bit vicariously though their adventurous trip. It was Graeme’s 50th and they pushed the boat out including the last stop where they went white-water rafting and have the most incredible pictures of them falling down the 21-foot waterfall. Okay that wasn’t something we would have done!
Again, sad to say goodbye. We met some great people on the boat and plan to keep in touch.
Our final full day we have a bit of a lay in … might have something to do with the wine and late night before. We again get a good number of steps in down to the waterfront and get the noon ferry to Devonport. A small town around the peninsula and only a 10-minute ferry ride.
It is a cute character town and I think we would have enjoyed it more if we had done it before Waiheke. We both agree we would rather have gone back to Waiheke. Lunch at the Patriot is nice and we get back Auckland side early so we decide to go back to Viaduct Basin. Back to Headquarters to see in the daylight the site of last nights debauchery.
Our last dinner is back at Pane e Vino and we learn why we probably love it so much. The owner Tito is here tonight, and he is from Puglia, so the flavours are from that area. He is from the north in the beautiful town of Vieste. Turns out the whole crew is Italian; Roma, Milano, Sardinia and even Bari, although her English is the worst. At the end of the night we get the two cheek Italian send off from the manager.
We are packed and ready, ok not really wanting, but ready to go the next morning and store our bags at the desk. Today we take more time to stroll Ponsonby after a late breakfast. We walk farther down to some of the historical sites before stopping, one last time, at the Chapel. They are setting up for Ponsonby Days which starts at 2:30 and goes all night. We didn’t time that right.
Lunch at an Irish Pub, because you have to go to a least one per trip and we are off to the airport. A 4-hr flight and overnight by the airport to Melbourne. Then a 15-hour flight midday back to Vancouver.
Been a great trip. The weather other then a couple of days and then not the whole day has been great. The last 3 weeks very hot and sunny. We have seen some stunning countryside, mountain vistas, valleys, water views. The people of New Zealand have been wonderful, so friendly.
We travelled with great friends. We saw old friends and had a great day catching up and wonderful surprise. And we have met some new friends. We have laughed a lot, had too much wine and have found the clothes have shrunk.
And last but not least, two more TICKS on the list of countries we have visited!