If you've run out of ideas to keep yourself busy these holidays Julie Harries has a novel idea guaranteed to get the suggestions flowing.
Have you ever worn yourself out trying to come up with ideas for something to do at the weekend, either by yourself or with your family? The Alphabet Adventure may be your answer. It's a DIY adventure throughout Auckland. All you have to do is to pick a random letter from the alphabet to set up your day and allow your imagination to find activities that start with your chosen letter.
Set some ground rules so you get the benefit of choosing a few of your own interests, for example; pick a café, a cocktail, something to do outside and an evening event, and then keep an eye out for something wacky.
The fun is keeping to the rule of the letter, but some artistic licence may be required. Besides, it's meant to be an adventure.
Once you start, you will find heaps to do. Keep a score of how well you've done and then try to beat it the next time you play.
Here's one example using the letter N, a must for new ideas and experiences.
Start the day with a good read of the newspaper at the Nutmeg Café in Newmarket. Sit in a sunny spot by the window and the staff will serve up great organic coffee and food. The Nutmeg Blast fits the bill for both the Alphabet Adventure and for brunch - a yummy sandwich stuffed with organic bacon, avocado, lettuce and sprouts.
Walk off brunch with a stroll down trendy Nuffield St, nipping into some of the designer shops to at least dream, if not buy.
To stock up on nibbles for the weekend head to Nosh in Ponsonby, Greenlane, Mt Eden or Glen Innes. The foodie haven sells everything for a gourmet weekend - the best meats, cheeses, deli goods and wine. There are plenty of tasters, including the Nuttz range. Nuts in New Zealand have come a long way from the old greasy salted peanuts on a bar counter, and the contents of these nifty little packages prepared in Auckland invigorate your tastebuds. The range includes nutmeg spiced chai almonds, Thai sweet chilli cashews and lemon myrtle and black pepper macadamias.
Now it's time to relax with nature. There are many areas to see New Zealand native birds within easy reach of the city - grab the binoculars and take a drive around the three bays of St Heliers, Kohimaramara and Mission Bay. You'll see exquisite oyster catchers in large groups, poking their long orange bills in the water's edge looking for dinner, neatly attired red-billed gulls and the ubiquitous, bossy black-backed gulls. You might catch a glimpse of the elegant white-fronted terns as they dart through the air and then plunge into the water to catch small fish. DoC do a "five-minute bird count" when checking on endangered birds - try this while you're doing your own bird-spotting, especially if you have children in tow.
After all that fresh air you'll feel like a drink, so head to the Northern Steamship Company Brewbar on Quay St. This is where Neil Diamond album covers (complete with album) act as the drinks menu. Dishy young barman Nick Milojevic will enjoy the challenge of finding cocktails beginning with the letter N. He may make you a Naked Martini or a Negranu (campari, martini rosso, gin, maraschino and a slice of lemon). Relax in the big, black leather suites and browse the books and National Geographic magazines. Note the upside down lampshades and crazy pictures behind the bar.
Hungry? While you're still in the city head to Nando's at 328 Queen St before nipping up One Tree Hill to view the night sky at the Stardome Observatory.
Have a look around before the show starts so you don't miss the Nuevo Mercurio meteorite, the Northern Territory meteorite, and meteorites that have landed here in New Zealand. Once inside the theatre, nestle into one of the lovely reclining chairs under the dome and benefit from the knowledge of local astronomers as they take you on an expedition of the night sky over Auckland. You will feel like you're travelling through our own Milky Way galaxy visiting other constellations, stars and moons. After the show, visitors can peer through the observatory's telescope to see our solar system's planets, such as Jupiter with its rings and moons. And before you leave you can even adopt a star of your own - buy a nightcap of icecream and try to pick your new star out of the night sky as you head for home.
The new Business A-Z White Pages that arrived at your house last year courtesy of Telecom are a great source of ideas for this game. Not only do they list cafés, clubs and businesses that might be worth investigating, but also places you might never have been. Choose the letter "M" for example, and you'll find Mairangi Bay Fine Wines, or the Mangere Saturday Markets.