"At the roundabout, take the second exit on to Ti Rakau Drive," the little lady on my smartphone tells me. Which, after listening to her directions for the past three-quarters of an hour, and gradually becoming more irritated with her phonetic, staccato-like pronunciation of Auckland street names, I know she actually means I should just keep driving straight ahead along the road I'm already on.
After momentarily pondering how long it will take Google or TomTom to iron out these little kinks in their mightily impressive navigational algorithms, I suddenly realise I'm in Howick, a suburb I've never been to before. Perfect.
I've ventured from the North Shore for a lazy Sunday brunch with my girlfriend, a good 45-minute drive across town. Why bother driving so far? Because I love exploring and venturing away from the local sandpit, seeking out the unknown to find those little gems that only those in the know, know about.
In fact it has become somewhat of an obsession, a quest taking me to amazing new places and introducing me to some incredible people.
These journeys have been a catalyst for exploration and a hub to base weekend activities around, a phenomenon I've called brunchtivity (the patent is pending).
If you think about it, it makes sense. We all need to eat, always planning our day's events around our tummies. So why not design your Sunday around visiting a cafe in a suburb you've never been to before, then work off those pancakes or extra dollops of hollandaise by exploring the area afterwards?
Get your brunchtivity on with these neighbourhood cafes scattered across Auckland.
Constructed from a series of interconnected, refurbished shipping containers, this casual eatery provides the perfect gastronomic beginning to an afternoon of exploring Long Bay Regional Park. The fit-out is elegant yet appropriate for the coastal setting. Ample decking flows out from the plywood interior to an expansive lawn filled with tables, providing loads of room for the children to run around as you soak up the harbour panorama while tucking into a hearty brunch.
The small but perfectly formed menu contains the usual continental and cooked favourites plus cabinets filled with tempting treats. But I'll be back for the beef and herb chipolatas with eggs on toast.
After satisfying your hunger, venture down to the Long Bay Regional Park. Maori named the area Oneroa, meaning long expanse of sand, and this stunning strip of seemingly endless golden hues will provide hours of weekend entertainment.
If you're feeling energetic, take the 6km Coastal Trail past the historic Vaughan Homestead to the Okura River and back. Then roll out a blanket, take off your shoes and read a book while snacking on one of the sweets you couldn't help but order to-go from the cafe.
The wrap-around deck at Wai Kitchen floats out over the bay. Photo / Ben Crawford
Getting to Waiheke Island is half the fun. You have the sense of an adventurous day trip but are just a hop, skip and jump from downtown Auckland or Devonport. After disembarking at Matiatia Bay, take the short trip over the hill to Oneroa and visit Wai Kitchen. This stunning cafe virtually floats out over the bay below. A wrap-around deck leads to the bow of the boat-like building, creating an idyllic spot to escape the daily grind of city life. The menu is packed full of brunch classics plus interesting alternatives such as fried chicken livers with pancetta, leek, pedro ximenez and brioche.
You'd be forgiven for wanting to stay on Wai Kitchen's spectacular deck, but there's so much more to see and do on Waiheke. For a chilled-out option, venture down to Oneroa Beach for a swim, stroll and shady tree to read under. Or take the bus to one of the vineyards for some wine appreciation, stopping in at artist studios along the way.
Then before catching your return ferry home, head back to Oneroa. Situate yourself on the balcony of The Oyster Inn and enjoy a couple of cocktails in the setting sun for a fitting finale to a magnificent day out.
As its name and fit-out suggest, The Apothecary Eatery in Howick has been styled along the lines of a pharmacy. Photo / Ben Crawford
The Apothecary Eatery is a hub of friendly suburban life. Tables flow out on to the footpath as diners lounge in the glow of the morning sun, greeting new arrivals or passersby with a raised hand and warm smile.
Apothecary is the historical term for a pharmacy. An odd name choice for a cafe you might think, but it all clicks when you see the fit-out, one of the most interesting designs I've seen. Specimen jars, medicine bottles, lab equipment and taxidermy fill wooden shelves, display cases and dimly lit walls. Workshop lights and ornate chandeliers hang from the raw concrete ceiling and coffees are prepared from behind a prescription counter.
After acquainting yourself with one of the many stuffed animals peering down from the walls, get some sustenance on board. My picks: the egg-white omelette or buttermilk pancakes with black doris plum compote, maple syrup and cinnamon cream.
Avoid any indigestion and ease into things with a short walk along Picton St, which is packed with charming stores and a buzzing bazaar-like market. Or take a step back in time with the family at the Howick Historical Village, a re-creation of a colonial village made from cottages and houses saved from the area.
If you're craving a tad more exercise, then test your game on the stunning cliff-top fairways of the Howick Golf Course or walk it out along one of the numerous beaches in the area: Bucklands Beach, Eastern Beach, Mellons Bay Beach or Cockle Bay.
Take your pick.
The nearby Waitakere Ranges are mimicked in the timber walls of The Tannery in New Lynn. Photo / Ben Crawford
The Tannery is a match made in heaven. A drool-worthy cafe collaboration between Mt Atkinson Coffee and Kohu Road, which has been hand-making its ice cream on-site for a number of years.
The building was formerly a leatherworks and the history of the structure has been proudly woven throughout the space, from the beautiful domed leather counter and leather straps on the staff aprons to the many historical photos of the old works hanging from the walls.
I love how the nearby Waitakere Ranges have been cleverly incorporated into the design by constructing timber walls mimicking their form, complemented nicely by polished concrete floors, giant exposed beams and a character-filled caravan with a giant ice cream mounted to its roof - a sure-fire hit with the kids.
Given its proximity to the Waitakere Ranges and stunning West Coast beaches, The Tannery is the ideal spot to fuel up for the day, then recharge the batteries on the way home. Choose your breakfast from a simple menu of granola, cabinet goodies or Best Ugly Bagels, washed down with a coffee that's been roasted on-site. Then after a day of hiking through magnificent native forests or surfing till you drop, replenish those exhausted muscles one scoop of glorious ice cream at a time.
Duke Tran at The Return of Rad Cafe in Mt Eden. Photo by Ben Crawford
The Return Of Rad is a family affair. Brothers Duke and Hugh Tran are the public faces of this trend-setting cafe, and their parents work behind the scenes. Mum is the head chef and Dad is the baker. Their love of coffee, great food and people is evident from their welcoming smiles and overflowing tables full of equally happy customers.
Fit-out specialists Material Creative cleverly crafted the inviting space from the original drab confines. Without a doubt, the highlight is the front counter formed from individual geometric plywood shapes painted in pastel hues, providing an eye-catching gateway to the gourmet delights waiting to treat your tastebuds and fuel your weekend activities.
The standout on the menu has to be Grandma's Pork Bánh mì, which like all family recipes, has been years in the making. Traditional home-baked Vietnamese bread is filled with marinated pork, pickled turnip and carrots, cucumber, coriander, chilli and chicken cognac pate. Combined with a caffeine hit from the extensive coffee menu, this is the perfect combo to power you up the adjacent volcanic cone of Mt Eden.
The views over the city are magnificent, well worth the effort and obligatory selfie from the summit. For a more immersive experience, I'd highly recommend a guided walk with Tamaki Hikoi for a fascinating insight into the history of Mt Eden and the wider region.
For more information on brunch spots, check out the Life & Style section