Auckland: The show goes on

By Catherine Smith

Catherine Smith enjoys a city break in her hometown.

There is something delicious about picking up your overnight bag at the office, walking three blocks up the road and depositing yourself in a hotel for the night. Especially when your room looks down on the city streets where all the other Friday night commuters are slogging their way home through the traffic.

Naturally, I had to share my smugness, posting views on Instagram of jammed roads from the comfort of my gorgeous suite on the 12th floor of the Rendezvous Hotel before actually settling down to enjoy myself.

I was in town to meet a bunch of travel writers, mostly from Australia. Even though our itinerary was beautifully sorted by our hosts, I felt a certain obligation that we were showing off our very own cool city to Melburnians and Sydney-siders who may have other views.

I needn't have worried.

As we were swept from cocktails in the luxury suite - the bathroom alone was the size of a small house, the living room dwarfed the grand piano - down to Katsura restaurant, I could already hear the Aussies murmuring blissed-out noises.

With the sudden influx of elegant Japanese dining around town, it is easy to forget this spot has been around for years, tucked as it is on an upper floor away from the lobby action.

I know it's corny, but I do enjoy the theatre of the teppanyaki dinner. But before we hit the hot plates, head chef Suzuki Sam dazzled us with virtuoso knife work as he filleted, deboned and sliced fresh salmon and tuna into sashimi. The knife moved faster than the eye could see on the fish, before Sam made a final flourish with cucumber to adorn the plates. Then his chefs set to on the teppanyaki grill, tossing and chopping and flinging eggs, seafood, vegetables and meltingly soft beef in dish after dish, served to us on beautiful Japanese plates.

It's a fun way to break in a new group of people, and makes me seriously embarrassed about my lumpen stir-fry techniques.

But the reason we were there waited across the road - the gorgeously ornate Civic Theatre for a gala performance of Annie. The only let-down is - still - how unpedestrian-friendly Mayoral Drive and the entrance to Aotea Square edge are. We scuttled across the thundering highway, picked our way past carpark driveways and gingerly found our way through unlit paths to the back of Aotea Centre.

Seriously, when will Auckland Council and self-congratulating designers sort this edge out? And the carpark mess that ruins the back of Q Theatre, Basement and the start of Myers Park.


A Giapo's gelato is the perfect fruity nightcap. Photo / NZ Herald

Once in the square, we could beam with pride again, as the visitors were delighted with the music, lights and action of the ice-rink and the Friday night buzz of the heritage shopfronts that edge the Civic.

Best of all were the dropped jaws and gasps as we made our way into the Baroque/Byzantine/Anglo-Indian/drug-fuelled splendour of the Civic. Those charming beasts that hold up columns and glitter at the edge of the stage, the curls of brass and gilt palm trees, the frescoes - it still is a delight.

My new Melbourne friend, hardened critic that she claimed to be, couldn't stop exclaiming at the night-sky stars in the theatre and the lush, old world styling everywhere. Better still was the reaction to Annie - fabulous old-school musical corn, with baddies who were funny, dancers who could dance their socks off, adorable children, a principal girl who was sassy, not saccharine, and the best-trained dog in town. Despite the polish of the singing and dancing, the gorgeous costumes, the live band, it was that fluffy Sandy who stole the show. We were left wondering just how many kilos of doggy treats it takes to keep him in line during the season, as this was one seasoned begging boy (hilariously, he seemed to know who in the cast had a spare treat in their pockets as he joined them for curtain call after curtain call).

A trip to the Civic is not complete without a run up the street to the next most creative spot in town, Giapo's, for a gelato. Miss Melbourne was so impressed with the freshness and the originality of the treats, she went back for more the next day.

The crew had been experimenting with multi-coloured frostings on their cones, a sort-of World Cup homage, but we had to honour Giapo's and Annarosa's Italian roots (and winning team) with their tiramisu special.

Then, oh the luxury, to slip back across the road to the Rendezvous, sink into the huge bathtub, then select a pillow from their menu (feather and down, I decided, was me) and climb into bed. Commuting? Fugeddabout it. I'll stay in town where the show never stops.

• Catherine Smith was a guest of Rendezvous Grand Hotel.

- NZ Herald

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