I lived in Howick until 16 years ago and, despite its rather sedate reputation, a drive back there confirmed for me that it's a surprisingly diverse corner of the city.
It takes about 25 minutes to get to Howick village from the CBD. On the way, stop at the Howick Historical Village, a recreation of an original Fencible settlement. The Fencibles were retired soldiers from Britain and Ireland, who enlisted as military reserves to act as a defence force for the protection of the early settlers in Auckland from 1847-1852.
The village has more than 8000 items from that era on display and in storage, with many of these gifted by locals. On site are more than 30 original colonial buildings, including a school, church, mill, general store and a forge, all surrounded by gardens. It's an interesting and relaxing place to wander through, and you can have coffee or lunch at the Homestead cafe on site.
Just before Howick village, stop to climb Stockade Hill and take in the stunning views towards Waiheke Island and Pine Harbour. A stockade was built here in the mid-1800s to protect Howick village from attacks during the Land Wars. Each year, Anzac services are held in front of the World War I Memorial, and each Christmas the giant pine tree on the hill is decorated with Christmas lights.
We head on into Howick and The Apothecary Cafe for some of their delicious offerings before checking out the antique shop next door. I was a frequenter of this wonderfully eclectic store when I lived here. It's a must for collectors and the inquisitive alike. We do a round of the other village shops and then decide it's time for artistic immersion.
Two galleries in the village are worth checking out. Uxbridge Creative Centre has two gallery spaces, a theatre, art shop, studio teaching spaces, plus rooms for hire and a cafe. Around the corner is the Monterey Art Gallery, on the site of the since-demolished Monterey Picture Theatre of the 1930s. This boutique gallery exhibits only New Zealand art works, specialising in paintings, ceramics, sculpture, glass and jewellery.
If you are both artistically and musically inclined, check out Thursdays@Seven, which will run next month in collaboration with the gallery and held in the beautiful All Saints Church across the road. The church was built in 1847, and is thought to be the second oldest church in New Zealand. It's worth a visit to view its petite interior and rambling graveyard.
Next on our trail is the Polish Heritage Trust Museum in Elliot St. The museum is filled with costumes, books and Polish memorabilia, and was started by Polish expatriate John Roy (real name Jan Wojciechowski).
John was six when Russia's Joseph Stalin invaded Poland, and his family was sent to labour camps in Siberia. Sadly, both his parents died during that time, and John finally arrived in New Zealand as a refugee in 1944, with two of his siblings.
John has been a Howick resident for more than 36 years, during which time he has established the Polish Heritage Trust, published a book and opened the museum. Allow an hour or so to peruse, as this place is laden with a rich immigrant history many New Zealanders know little about.
Around the corner is Howick's GBS Bar & Restaurant, and we head there for wood-fired pizza, salads, and a couple glasses of wine, and to lounge in the sun. After lunch, I insist we head down to Howick beach for a quick snooze, while seagulls glide by and a gentle breeze wafts the salt sea air through the leafy canopy above where we lie.
We decide the perfect way to end the day would be to relax in plush seats at Howick's swanky new Monterey Cinemas. Howick's first cinema, La Scala Theatre, was established in 1929, then renamed The Monterey the following year.
The theatre experienced years of success, survived bankruptcy, then regained a resurgence in popularity with the addition of theatre and musical performances, until it was purchased by Kerridge Odeon and Amalgamated in 1983. Unfortunately, large cinema complexes led to its demise, and The Monterey closed in 1993. A fire a few years later resulted in demolition.
Twenty years on, in a different location, the Monterey reigns again. Kelly Rogers and David Ross, owners of the Bridgeway Cinemas in Northcote, are behind the reinvented Monterey Cinemas. The complex features five theatres, the latest digital projector technology, comfortable armchair seating, elegant decor and a licensed cafe.
We stock up on popcorn, more coffee and chocolate, and head into theatre No2. Village life is good for the soul.
Howick Historical Village: Lady Marie Drive, ph (09) 576 9506, open seven days from 10am.
Apothecary Cafe: 27 Picton St, ph (09) 534 7020.
Uxbridge Creative Arts Centre: 35 Uxbridge Rd, ph (09) 535 6467, open Sat 9.20am-2pm, Mon-Fri 9am-4pm.
Monterey Art Gallery: 5 Cook St, ph (09) 532 9022, open Sat 10am-3pm, Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm.
Polish Museum: 125 Elliot St, ph (09) 533 3530.
GBS Bar & Restaurant: ph (09) 534 3199, click on GBS Bar.
Monterey Cinemas: 4/2 Fencible Drive ph (09) 532 7034.