Auckland

Friday 07 February 2014 – Auckland, New Zealand.

My plan to blog most days and get a good written and visual record of El’s and my trip to NZ was doomed to fail from the very start – too many things to do and not enough down time planned. I did, however, expect to get at least a couple of posts done while I was actually ‘in country’. I am now over a week back in London and have just sat down to write something about NZ. At least I have been through the rather meagre collection of photos I took on the trip and selected the best of an average bunch, so there is something to base my report on other than slowly fading memories.

I will say the trip was really good, I was a little nervous about, especially introducing El to my family. They are all lovely so I was not expecting any issues, but I was not 100% sure on how it would go. I should never have been concerned; the kids were fab and El lovely. We were also blessed with pretty good weather – apart from Wellington where it was cool and wet, the windy city certainly lived up to its name. It was also colder than London was on the ferry across to the south island! Thankfully the rest of the trip was mostly completed under warm sunny skies – just what was needed coming from grey damp London.

El and I stayed at my mum’s place for a couple of nights, she gave up her room for us, which was much appreciated and it was nice to be able to relax in one place for a day or two. My mum walks for an hour most mornings before breakfast so I was up early on the Monday and out for an hour long power stroll around the nicer bits of Henderson – not really one of Auckland’s lovelier suburbs I will admit, though the park areas and interlinked stream side path ways make for a decent and reasonably car-free walk and it was nice to spend some time with mum.

My brother-in-law, Allan, had kindly lent us a car for the week we were in town so after breakfast we headed off up the north western motorway to Muriwai Beach so mum and I could show El one of our favourite NZ spots, and one of the few places I really do miss.

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After watching the waves from the king tide banging on the rocks we took a walk up to the gannet colony at the top of the cliffs before Maori Bay. The gannets have mostly gone for the season, just a few stragglers left, but enough to see and plenty of gannet noise going on.

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After lunch we met my daughter and her partner for lunch at the Hallertau Brewery. This was El and my first introduction back into eating out in NZ and it was really good. I must say that the quality of the food and service has really stepped up in the last few years, almost without exception we had fantastic dining experiences everywhere we went – even small and remote (though touristy) locations like Farewell Spit. No more bad tea and soggy ham and cheese sandwiches.

The following day was another food fest, we caught the ferry over to Waiheke Island to visit a vineyard or two and have some lunch. The ride over to Waiheke is all part of the experience and the Waitemata Harbour and inner Hauraki Gulf were as gorgeous as always, with Rangitoto lurking under cloud in the background.

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We arrived on Waiheke later than planned and started (and ended) our experience at Mud Brick Cafe. I have been here before and it has always been a great spot, the food was fabulous, the wine tasty and fresh, El loved it, so there was no need to move on.

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The vege sharing plate for lunch – OMG !!

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Heading back into the city just seemed wrong – and the clouds certainly agreed !

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On Wednesday we had breakfast in the newly completed Wynard Quarter on Auckland’s waterfront. The renovation project had started before I left NZ at the end of 2011, but was no where near complete at the time. I must say it is pretty damn cool, and breakfast was great too. I really liked the new buildings in this area, even the bank had come to the party with a really funky office.

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We had a fairly major walking day planned and visited the Auckland City Art Gallery, which I love. My favourite painting Robyn White’s “Fish and Chips, Maketu” was sadly not on display, but I really liked this massive Ralph Hotere piece.

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After lunch El and I walked up to K’Rd and then across Grafton Bridge to the Auckland Museum. I must pause the narrative to comment on how disappointed I was at the changes to some of my favourite shopping streets. High St particularly and K’ Rd to a degree have all changed since I was last here. I really liked the little boutiques on High St, but now it just seems full of sushi shops, sad. We were to be further disappointed when we arrived at Auckland Museum, I wanted to show El the Maori history section, but there was a $25 entrance fee for non-residents. WTF !!! This is insane… We spent $8 each and visited a reasonably good history of fashion photography exhibition instead. We got to pose in front of a couple of backdrops with some good lighting to have a play. Sadly I was not that fashionable…

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Seriously disappointed at the cost of entry to the museum, that really sucked.

We stayed at my brother in law’s house for the next few nights which again we appreciated, it was good being able to unload all the stuff out of the suitcase and lob it around the floor – well that was me anyway. The boys came round for tea on the Wednesday night which was great, it was so good to see so much of them while I was in town.

On Thursday morning my youngest son came around and we went for a big walk up to the Arataki Centre on Scenic Drive, the views out over the Manukau Harbour and the dam and bush are fantastic and the centre has some good information on the lovely Waitakere Ranges – my favourite part of NZ. Later on El and I drove out to one of the many ranges beach, Piha for a walk but it was really windy and not entirely pleasant on the beach so we didnt stay for long. We were planning on having lunch at the Piha Cafe, but it was closed as it was a public holiday, grrrrr. We drove on over to Karekare beach, Karekare is my favourite part of my favourite place, I love the fact that there are no shops, not many houses and that the carpark is not right by the beach. Time and energy have to be invested in getting to this lovely expanse of black sand beach, therefore not that many people go there. I have a million photographs of it (lots anyway).

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After the beach we walked to the falls over the road, as it is the end of summer, there was not a huge flow of water, but they are still wonderful…

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Friday was a bit of a rest and organisation day, we had a small mission in the afternoon – I went record shopping at Real Groovy Records and picked up five bits of NZ vinyl, mostly second hand. A friend of my brother in law was talking about a new venture down at the end of town. A shipping container had been converted into a wine tasting and blending shop so we went to check Blend out. The idea is you get to taste a few grape varieties and then have three goes at blending them into a blend that you really like. You then get a bottle of it to take away. It was such a cool idea and a bit of fun. I ended up with a red made up of 50% cab sauv, 30% merlot and 20% grenache. Not sure I would buy it in the shops mind,  but we have brought them back to London and will drink them soon. A very cool idea indeed.

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After Blend we moseyed back on out west and went to a BBQ with a group of my old Titirangi friends which was just perfect. We just did not have the time to visit people on this trip so seeing a group all at once was great. It was a good evening, thanks Martha 🙂 I had a run planned the following day so kept it all quite tame.

Saturday was our final day in Auckland, and I had arranged to go bush running with my friend Vicki. She had a pre-run run organised so we didn’t meet up until mid-day which was appreciated 🙂 I dropped El off at a friend of mine’s house as she was going on a shopping mission to the main boutiquey type areas of Ponsonby and Newmarket – work related research apparently, while I was out getting muddy.

It was a great run, up from Karekare beach.

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Across the top of Mercer Bay.

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Down past Kitekite falls and into Piha.

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It was interesting to see all the changes to the tracks as the council is ‘upgrading’ a lot of the trails that make up the “Hillary Trail”, I can understand why they are doing it, but it does sort of ruin some of the fun, and makes it so much less exclusive ! It was a great run, nice to catch up with Vicki and try to solve the world’s problems as we ran. Much as I love London, I do miss running the Waitakeres !

El and I took mum, my boys and my bro-in-law out for tea on the Saturday night to thank them for their hospitality. We went to Mikano on the waterfront and it was fabulous – and the most I have ever spent in a restaurant, lucky none of us were drinking ! It was a lovely night, and a great way to cap our week in Auckland.