Auckland City rediscovered

By Michele McPherson


Living two and a half hours away in Tauranga, Auckland wasn't somewhere I'd considered as a holiday destination - convinced the traffic and crowds would make it difficult to relax.

But after a weekend getaway in the big city, I'm a convert.

Arriving after the traffic on Friday night we check in at Hotel DeBrett.

Walking off bustling High St and through the beautiful doors is like stepping back in time.

Personal service is valued and the stunning Art Deco decor enhances every room. This place is proof that you don't need clinical or corporate to reflect professionalism in a city hotel.

Our car is whisked away and we enjoy a good sleep in preparation for the day ahead.

In the morning a short taxi ride gets us to the French-style La Cigale market, surrounded by sauces, pastries, paella and very fresh garden produce.

I feel like a child in a candy store and I'm instantly regretting not wearing a backpack.

Shopping drop-offs at the hotel complete, we stroll down to The Viaduct where our early arrival allows time for a wine before setting sail on America's Cup yacht NZL 41.

The sun is out and the wind getting up as we head out. Yachts are everywhere, keeping our experienced crew very busy indeed.

It soon becomes apparent that this will develop into a particularly windy day and our skipper tells us water coming on board is a certainty.

We will be scudding along close to the yacht's racing speed.

We all have an opportunity to spend time on the grinders or take the helm as we sail across the harbour.

The fresh air and experience of sailing in a yacht of that size proves an exhilarating and unforgettable experience.

Back on dry land we thank the crew, whose skill and knowledge of sailing have proved impressive and reassuring to the 20 amateurs on board.

The salt air has made us hungry for a snack and we are lucky enough to stumble upon The Food Store in The Viaduct.

We order from the bar menu and after a short wait, tuck into beautifully prepared pork spring rolls and squid rings. We decide we'll definitely be back there for a meal.

During a stroll around the nearby Wynyard Quarter we experience Auckland's newest waterfront precinct, including bars, restaurants and a playground on prime land previously used for port storage.

Soon it's time to head back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner at Britomart.

I'm sure we weren't the only ones concerned by the prospect of dining at a train station but it turns out Auckland took the opportunity provided by the Rugby World Cup and its many visitors to turn this central city area into a precinct of its own.

The area is packed with amazing restaurants and bars and, although we made our visit at night, the shopping potential was obvious with Kiwi designers World, Zambesi and Kate Sylvester.

After a cocktail at Xu Xu bar we head to Everybody's restaurant for a dining experience in an amazing setting. Built in two former movie theatres, restored after 50 years of neglect, this is the place to be on a Saturday night in Auckland. The service is fantastic and diners have the chance to watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen at the heart of the restaurant.

We relish everything from Plate of Pig to eel, tuna and polenta. All this is topped off with a Millionaire Cocktail created by a bartender who says he has worked in one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants.

Certainly a night to remember.

After a relaxing start to Sunday morning, we enjoy breakfast in Hotel DeBrett's beautiful atrium dining room, before our guides for the morning, Tony and Kerry, arrive to take us on a Harley Davidson tour of Auckland's west coast.

A short ride and we are in the Waitakere Ranges, taking in stunning views before stopping at the rugged shoreline at Piha Beach.

Then it's out to Kumeu, a semi-rural area renowned for its wineries. Here we visit The Tasting Shed, owned by friendly couple Jo and Ganesh Raj. Jo tells me Sunday lunch is always popular.

Our Irish waitress tells us the menu is designed as a series of small dishes, each suitable to share.

A predictably excellent wine list accompanies the food and we leave having experienced an amazing variety of flavours.

A stroll around the grounds reveals a vege and herb garden that provides 10 per cent of the restaurant's needs.

Ganesh tells us plans are under way for a much bigger garden nearby, which should increase this figure to about 70 per cent.

Before reluctantly taking the motorway to head home we visit Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.

Two young guitarists entertain gallery visitors and the staff take time to bring life and meaning to the many works on display.

In two days, Auckland proved to me it's far more than busy motorways and bustling streets.

What's more, it's a great place to escape from the hustle bustle of weekday working life and enjoy a relaxing weekend away. I'll definitely be back.

Michele McPherson was assisted in her trip by Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development. See www.aucklandnz.com

- Hamilton News

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