Father's Day was always going to be a little different this year. With lockdowns and Covid outbreaks, schedules changing and many of our best-laid plans cancelled, just as last year put the Mother's Day brunches on hold for a week or two, we always knew that Father's Day may have to be celebrated on a different date.
So, not for me the usual bacon sandwich in bed and a bottle of ale for the evening. A few weeks ago I jumped at the chance of a weekend with my son, Reggie, for some quality bonding time (sounds quite cushy too for mum, who organised the trip). Not only that, Reg and I were able to bring our best friends, DC and Finn.
And so it was that we found ourselves deposited at the Auckland Ferry Building first thing on a Saturday - fishing rods in hand - for our Fullers sailing across the Waitematā Harbour and half an hour later disembarking on the other side full of anticipation.
First things first - a decent breakfast to set ourselves up for our boys' weekend - so we made the short walk to Ahipao, a cafe-cum-giftshop at Matiatia Bay. For me, the Ahipao breakfast hit the spot, with crispy salty potato wedges and homemade baked beans. While they waited on their own breakfasts, the boys were entranced by the knitting machines - modern pieces of technology that stitch together clothing such as sweaters, scarves and gloves made from "perino" (a possum and merino blend), depositing the garments out like a giant inkjet printer.
Replete, we headed to the far end of the island and Fort Stony Batter - a system of former gun emplacements and bunkers linked by 1.2km of underground tunnels and staircases. The fort was commissioned in 1942 to defend Auckland during World War II.
A guided tour takes us back in time as the inimitable Tim Moon, who runs the site as a restoration project, tells us the stories of Stony Batter's history that have both adults and kids enthralled.
The tunnels were built for the armed forces but they were put to good use by Reggie and Finn, who had no end of fun exploring the long passageways.
Tim has big plans for Stony Batter and has already hosted music events in one of the fort's underground rooms. In time, one of Stony Batter's three gun emplacements will be turned into a concert hall, another into an observatory, and the third into an auditorium. Before we leave we are already making plans to return.
For our digs on Waiheke, we are staying at the beautiful old 1850s Ōakura Bay villa on the tip of Te Whau peninsula. The property, rented through Stay Waiheke, has its own private beach just 10 paces from the front door and a sprawling lawn.
It's a homely place too, with a well-appointed kitchen, wood-burning stove, a gas barbecue a large claw-foot bath, a little library and (just for the dads) a dozen beers in the fridge. Minutes after arriving, we have cracked a few beers, and are making plans to return for upcoming 50ths.
The house is more than ample for a couple of dads and their 7-year-old sons and we could have easily brought the wives (they will be missing us, surely?) or a third father-and-son pair. There are three double bedrooms (one has an additional single bed and a rollout bed is available) and a small room with a set of bunk beds. Here we also find a basket containing all-important garden games, including a cricket set and a baseball set. There are also kayaks and lifejackets available to use.
On the first morning, we head to the beach for an hour's fishing - a winning game for all, as the kids caught snapper and kahawai easily and quickly. As a kid, I used to fish a lot, and seeing our sons' excitement as the rods arched over with the weight of a fish was a thrill. The snapper weren't huge, so back in the drink for them, but the decent-sized kahawai went on the barbecue for lunch, dressed in rosemary and lemon from the garden, accompanied by some samphire harvested from the shore and sauteed in butter. You don't get fresher or more local than that.
In the afternoon we made use of the cricket set and played a match on the lawn, then launched the kayaks out on the millpond-flat bay off the beach.
But it takes a lot to run down a pair of 7-year-olds, and with energy still to burn, next we were off to Waiheke Horse Tours to meet owner Liz, and her ponies McLeod, Splash and Secret. Liz owns 10 horses and does trekking on the island at the beautiful Woodland Bay.
The dads sit this one out while Liz and her assistant, Gretchen, get the boys to groom the ponies to build familiarity, before the boys ride around the arena.
Being on horseback seems to have the effect of rendering our normally rambunctious boys quite placid. They were gentle and quiet with the animals and look quite at ease as they trot around the paddock.
At the buzzing Cafe Fenice we ate toothsome pastas and pizzas and drank some great wines made right there on the island. At Charlie Farley's, the food is good and there is a range of New Zealand beers on tap from your staples to craftier brews. It gets busy, particularly when the weather is good and there are live music acts playing and quiz nights, but that front patio area looking out towards the beach is a fine place to spend an evening.
The weekend went so well, we are already planning to repeat our boys' trip in the summer, lockdowns permitting. When we do, we will be starting our weekend early, sailing over on Friday and heading straight to Charlie Farley's for kids' night. Every Friday night kids eat free and a movie is screened in a side room of the cafe while the adults eat and drink in relative peace. What better start to an action-packed weekend. We are also planning to take in one of those gigs in the tunnels of Stoney Batter once the world is right again.
Father's Day came early for me and can come later for anyone else. But for now, in my first locked down Father's Day, I'm still good for that bacon sarnie in bed today.
It's not too late to spoil him on Father's Day
Lockdown messed up your Father's Day? Here are some truly last-minute, at-home idea's to make his day special.
Grab a food or drink subscription service
Everyone loves a voucher, don't they? Subscription services are a joy because when your box of goodies arrives, unpacking everything is like a little mini Christmas. If he likes craft beer, Beer Jerk is a good place to start - their Classic Subscription buys you six new beers every six weeks, along with tasting notes, a background to the breweries, and online tasting experiences. There are also IPA, mixed, exotic and NZ variety options to choose from. beerjerk.co.nz
Sign him up for a masterclass
Alicia Keyes, Natalie Portman, Gordon Ramsay, James Cameron. Whatever his passion, there's a class for that. Masterclass offers the highest calibre of teacher - from Hollywood actors and directors, to chefs, rock climbers, survivalists, dog trainers, wine connoisseurs and authors. Choose a new skill to learn, or master a hobby he already loves - Masterclass offers a subscription, so he can pick and choose as he likes. masterclass.com
Clear the room with scary movies
Does he need some time alone? (Let's face it, every member of a family household is craving time alone right now). How about his very own login to horror streaming service Shudder? Horrors, thrillers and suspense watches that certainly aren't suitable for the kids, and will probably clear the room of other adults too. Perfect. There's also a free week's trial. shudder.com
Just make that bacon sarnie
It's simple really. The simplicity of a bacon sandwich is always a welcome treat - especially when it's served in bed with a cup of tea. Thick-cut white toast, lashings of butter, and nothing less than the best quality bacon you can find. It's the ultimate Happy Father's Day, between two slices of bread.