Charmaine D’Souza only had one regret about her visit to Auckland – saying goodbye. Here she describes how her weekend away with friends revealed a city bursting with beautiful food, shopping, nature and adventure activities.
Following a short three-hour flight from Sydney, my three companions and I arrived at the brand-new Adina Auckland Apartment Hotel in the waterfront Britomart district, which was our base for the weekend. Adina, a TFE Hotel, provides modern studio and one, two & three-bedroom apartments, an onsite gym & restaurant and 24-hour reception, striking the perfect balance between the freedom of staying in your own apartment and the comfort of a hotel. After some time to relax in our stylish rooms, manager Ricky took us on a tour of the hotel, which culminated in the beautiful two-storey, three-bedroom penthouse. Here, we were treated to bubbles, canapés and dinner courtesy of Adina’s own Yard Bar and Eatery. Highlights of the meal included scrumptious grilled prawns with avocado mousse and crisp blue cheese and fig filo tartlets.
On Saturday we rose bright and early, ready to spend a full day on Waiheke Island. Listed by Lonely Planet as the world’s fifth-best region to visit in 2016 and only 35 minutes by ferry from Auckland’s CBD, Waiheke is not to be missed. The island boasts sights and activities for all types of traveller, ranging from pristine beaches and nature walks to wine tasting and superb dining.
We began our day by doing a two-and-a-half hour nature walk with Gabrielle from Walking by Nature. The time flew by as we hiked through a variety of breathtaking landscapes including lush rainforest, wild meadows and groves of giant kauri trees. Gabrielle made us very welcome with her warm Kiwi spirit and delivered a wealth of knowledge on the local flora, fauna, history and Maori culture. Walking at this time of year, the põhutukawa, affectionately nicknamed the “New Zealand Christmas Tree,” was in full bloom with bright red blossoms. We were also lucky enough to catch a few glimpses of the elusive kākā parrot.
By the time we arrived at Charlie Farley’s seaside restaurant, we had worked up quite an appetite. A meal featuring fresh local hapuka (a sweet white fish), smoked snapper pie in golden pastry and delightful wines from the island’s wineries, all delivered with friendly and attentive service, did not disappoint and left us eagerly anticipating the wine tour which was to follow.
Graeme from Around Waiheke Tours shuttled us between four of the island’s wineries with the Kiwi friendliness that we were now growing accustomed to. Our first stop was Kennedy Point Vineyard, an organic winery that produces world-award winning rosé as well as its own olive oil. The rosé was particularly delicious when taken a shot with fresh Pacific oysters – something I’ll definitely be trying at home! We then sampled some of the lovely wines at Peacock Sky Vineyard, which provided food pairings for each glass. This was followed by a stop at Passage Rock Wines, which served the most divine pinot gris I’ve ever tasted and a delectable rosé and syrah (what we call Shiraz in Australia) too.
Finally, we were treated to a wine tasting at the Batch Winery, where I loved the sparkling rosé and riesling. I had a vegan burger for dinner at the winery restaurant, which was excellent like all of our meals so far and my companions’ hapuka, steak and chicken received the same approval. Whilst still at the dinner table, something magical happened: the weather, which had been a bit grey all day, lifted to reveal a stunning view of rolling hills, vineyards, rainforest, ocean and the Auckland skyline against the backdrop of a glowing sunset. It was the perfect end to our glorious day on Waiheke.
Sunday started in a more relaxed fashion, which gave me time to try out Adina’s smart gym and work off in advance the coffee and pastries we were to devour at La Cigale French Markets. The chocolate and hazelnut croissant, still warm from the oven, was mind-blowingly delicious and the robust coffee washed it down wonderfully. We spent an hour or so meandering around the stalls selling food to go, fresh New Zealand produce, European cheeses, cured meats and freshly baked breads. I could not think of a better way to spend a lazy Sunday morning and judging by the buzzing crowds, the locals seemed to agree.
For lunch, we headed back to Britomart and had some beautiful Italian fare at Ortolana. Standout dishes included fresh pasta, burrata with herbs and an extensive selection of refreshing homemade sodas like lemon & thyme. All was served with warm hospitality in a trendy, exposed-brick industrial setting.
I used my free time after lunch to Britomart’s chic designer outlets, green spaces and dessert parlours as well as downtown Auckland. Queen St, the city’s main road, was lined with tourists and locals alike, lunching and Christmas shopping. The gorgeous old Town Hall and Albert Park won my heart over and I also enjoyed learning about New Zealand’s first peoples in an exhibition of Maori portraits at the Auckland Art Gallery.
In the afternoon we took the ferry over to the northern Auckland suburb of Devonport for a Segway tour with the lovely Pauline from Magic Broomstick Tours. After a little tuition on how to ride the Segway, which is surprisingly easy and an absolute heap of fun, we zoomed past the neighbourhood’s charming Victorian weatherboard houses and pristine beaches up to North Head, one of Auckland’s many extinct volcanic cones and former military station. Here we were rewarded of spectacular 360-degree views of Auckland city, the turquoise harbour, the volcanic island Rangitoto and in the distance, Waiheke. Pauline then showed us the enormous disappearing guns used by the army and took us through the labyrinth of tunnels between them.
We then headed back to Adina and prepared for a night on the town. This began with delectable cocktails in a Britomart alleyway bar before dinner at one of Auckland’s best Japanese restaurants, Ebisu. The sashimi and sushi platter, with a selection of fresh kingfish, salmon and tuna; sticky miso glazed eggplant; and yuzu brulée certainly left me with a sweet taste in my mouth on my final night in Auckland!
Reflecting on our Auckland adventure on the way home, I almost had one regret: that we didn’t have more time! But then I remembered that this gem of a city and all its wonderful food, entertainment and activities are only a stone’s throw away from home – the perfect excuse for another weekend getaway sometime soon.
Meals were at:
The Yard (Adina Auckland) https://www.tfehotels.com/brands/adina-apartment-hotels/adina-apartment-hotel-auckland-britomart
Charlie Farley’s www.charliefarleys.co.nz
Ortolana – http://www.ortolana.co.nz/
Ebisu – http://ebisu.co.nz/
Activities provided by:
Walking by Nature http://walkingbynature.nz
Around Waiheke Tours http://www.aroundwaiheketours.co.nz/
Magic Broomstick Tours http://www.magicbroomsticktours.co.nz/
The Carousel would like to thank Charmaine D’Souza for the article. Charmaine was a guest of TFE Hotels during her stay in Auckland.