Brunch: a made-up meal that's a sort of all-day breakfast and that gives you permission to start as late as you like and put vodka in your tomato juice.

It should really be "breakfast-lunch", but the Saturday morning laissez faire contracts it to a leisurely "brunch".

It's this very un-stuffy, "anything goes" attitude that has made brunch a regular weekend fixture.

However, just north of Auckland, a couple of companies have found a way to elevate this meal of convenience to new levels.


I meet Sofia Ambler on the tarmac of Heletranz. She's extremely excited about the prospect of her first "heli-brunch".

She adds another word to the growing portmanteau, which should by all rights be "helicopter-breakfast-lunch", as leisurely as one might stroll in to a cafe with the weekend papers.

But there's no way to be relaxed about this.

Heli-brunch: yes, that's right, as in taking an US$3,300,000 eurocopter ec-130 to a meal that's the dining equivalent of wearing your pyjamas to the shops.

"If not a world first, it's a first for New Zealand," she says.

Ambler took on Heletranz with her helicopter-pilot husband, John. The Amblers have helped build the company together, and it is a family business of sorts. Today their young daughters are also spending Saturday at the heliport.

But don't be fooled. This is no backyard enterprise.

Next year will be the helicopter touring agency's 30th year of operation. In that time they have done everything from providing aerial photography for The Lord of the Rings to whisking celebrities away to secret beaches.

There's a huge range of jobs, from $150 fly-overs to $150,000 helicopter safaris.
A highlight came last year, when the company flew Barack Obama to his golfing engagement at Kauri Cliffs.

"Definitely a career highlight," says Ambler. "He's welcome back to New Zealand any time."

Chef Des Harris on the veranda of The Hunting Lodge restaurant, Kemeu. Photo / Thomas Bywater
Chef Des Harris on the veranda of The Hunting Lodge restaurant, Kemeu. Photo / Thomas Bywater

From Heletranz it's up in the air, from one over-achieving home-grown business to another.
Buzzing down on the lawns of The Hunting Lodge, we meet chef Des Harris. This restaurant, out in the pastures of Kumeu, is his latest project.

Harris made his name in Clooney, spending eight years as executive chef to Auckland's fine dining icon, but for The Hunting Lodge he's gone back to the earth – quite literally.

With a resident permaculturalist, he has been able to achieve a close control on everything, from the produce on the table to the soil it's grown in.

Though The Hunting Lodge is just half an hour up the motorway from Auckland, Harris has already welcomed a couple of parties by helicopter.

"It's quite a way to arrive."

Though The Hunting Lodge and its food is accessible in all meanings of the word, it seems people are willing to travel for the experience.

Harris is getting used to welcoming guests out of their aircraft to "get their hands dirty", with garden tours and give-it-a-go crowd blend wines.

"People like a real experience, and that's what Kiwis are really good at doing," he says.

His new restaurant still has the fine dining pedigree but at The Hunting Lodge Harris can offer the kind of food that you'd never have been served at Clooney.

Brunch is the perfect vehicle for this departure.

Home-cured bacon so thick it would pass as rashers of gammon in any other restaurant, or gamey duck heart bruschetta.

Like Heletranz, it's a business very much connected with the people and place, but with high aspirations.

Harris wants to make Kumeu a food destination.

"There's no reason why it shouldn't be up there with Hawke's Bay, Waiheke even. We've got everything here," he says.

Flying back over the North Shore to Auckland, over the rolling small farms of Kumeu, it seems to hold all the right ingredients.

I can't predict whether the term "heli-brunch" will take off in quite the same way as "brunch" but with destinations like this, I can't see why not.

Heletranz is offering Heli-brunch for parties of 4 – 6 people at $450.00pp
Or, enter the Herald's competition, Win with Canvas: Heli-brunch experience up for grabs.