Midweek break: Auckland three ways
One might say there's no better time for a holiday than two days after moving house. But when Wednesday comes, the house is still filled with unpacked boxes. We can't find our clothes. We can't find the travel bag to put the clothes in. When we find it, we can't fit the beach towels in it.
"We're going to the beach. We have to bring towels," Tom says.
I suddenly understood why my mother used to get so stressed before family holidays.
Comfort and style at Waiheke Island's Enclosure Bay bed and breakfast, Oneroa.
Three hours later we haul ourselves to the Auckland Ferry Terminal at Princes Wharf. We take a bus there. I've never caught a bus in Auckland before. I'm a kid at Rainbows End. After a wine at No.1 Queen Street and a Peroni on the boat I forget about the boxes.
"Did you pack my toothbrush?" Tom asks. Yes.
"Did you bring towels?" No.
Home for a night at Waiheke Island's Enclosure Bay, Oneroa.
PART ONE: THE BEACH
We're annoyed when we get to Waiheke Island. Not Jeremy Clarkson annoyed. More disappointed.
"We should have got here earlier," Tom says as we purvey the aqua waters.
The view from Enclosure Bay.
Andy from Enclosure Bay bed and breakfast picks us up in a Jurassic Park-esque jeep. Tom pretends he's on safari while Andy points out the island's best bits. There's the gelato place run by a MasterChef finalist. The woodfired pizzas served out of a truck on the beach. Dozens of high quality eateries on the main drag. Secluded little bays. A nudist beach.
As Andy talks we're slowly climbing higher and higher around the hills. The views are epic. "But they're even better from your room," he says.
We've picked Enclosure Bay through Booking.com, a favourite of mine when travelling purely because of the great discounts and range of properties available. It's midweek and so this time we've opted to take a break in our own backyard - Auckland.
An Eye Fillet steak hits the spot at Mudbrick Winery's restaurant.
The website's photos depict a luxury bach at the peak of a hill. There's no maid to turn down your room at night, but there's a "dishonesty" fridge at the foot of the stairs brimming with wine, a substantial DVD selection, and a hot tub overlooking the water. This is our kind of place.
As part of our booking we get a bottle of wine on arrival. Andy apologises that the Sauvignon Blanc I requested isn't a grape grown on the island. Instead he reveals a bottle of Marlborough's Cloudy Bay chilling in a bucket of ice. Cloudy Bay Sauv is arguably New Zealand's most famous drop. Its reference is sometimes dropped into romantic fiction, and occasionally you'll see a glimpse of the bottle on a blockbuster film.
Beer lover Tom is indifferent. I'm a kid at Rainbows End.
Black forest dessert at Waiheke Island's Mudbrick winery.
While we run around our King room like excited teenagers ("Look a coffee machine..new magazines to read...this bed is huge!"), Andy manages to pin us down to give us a map. The only thing Tom and I vaguely planned was having dinner at Mudbrick Winery, an adventurous suggestion from Tom whose culinary expectations are often met with a bucket of fried chicken.
Andy tells us we'll have to take out a mortgage to eat there, which only excites us more. After putting on a Hugh Grant film (my idea), slugging back some Cloudy Bay in the spa (my idea), then taking a bunch of slapstick photos (Tom's idea), we get a taxi to Mudbrick. Unable to find my nice shoes, I'm sporting a pair of jandals. The waiter kindly didn't bat an eyelash.
Mudbrick reminds me of Italy. Andy is right about the mortgage. It doesn't help that we choose lavishly. The smell of the beach has invigorated our palates. Champagne to start, paired with scallops and kingfish. Then, eye fillet for the main course coupled with some juicy estate Syrahs. To finish, a blackforest dessert so beautifully garnished it feels wrong to eat it. But we do.
Woodfired pizza from Dragonfired, on Waiheke Island.
We're determined not to waste the next day. After a meal of bacon and eggs eaten in our robes we regretfully leave our room. Andy drops us off at the ferry, which we dutifully snub in favour of hiring a car. We've just eaten but we stop at Oneroa for the woodfired pizza from the beachside foodtruck, Dragonfired. We've been thinking of it ever since we arrived.
We eat in the car. Tom is driving and I'm navigating. At Peacock Sky winery we find a ball languishing on the lawn, which we throw around like children. More pizza is consumed. We find a street called Trig Point which Tom tells me is the highest point of the island. It's not. We drive in circles.
We stop at Onetangi Bay. A long strip of sand so white it's blinding. We lie in the sun and sing. "Remember when we went to Hamilton you said, just pretend it's a holiday, I said, yep I'll just pretend it's Fiji baby.." Waiheke Island is no Hamilton. But we feel like we're in Fiji. As Tom lusts after the water, he reminds me that I didn't pack any towels.
Beach hopping at Waiheke Island requires a little Sauv courage.
Our last stop is not far from where we started. A sweet little spot with shallow waters and few people. Tom wants to swim. I don't want to get my hair wet without a towel. Tom wins. We grab our togs and the remaining Cloudy Bay and stroll around a corner where a few other sun worshippers are lazing under a jutting rockface.
They're naked. We've stumbled across the nudist beach. With little encouragement we swig the last drops of the wine and derobe for a paddle.
PART TWO: THE VILLAGE
Devonport's Peace and Plenty Inn.
We show up to Devonport's Peace and Plenty Inn sunburned and tired. Against our better judgment we've driven to the coastal village in 5pm traffic, but we're keen on visiting North Head the next day. For this we need a car. Fortunately there's one park left, right outside the inn.
Judy has left the door wide open and we're greeted by Cooper, an adorable doe-eyed Spaniel who just loves people. We love Cooper. Coop, we call him, we'd love to take you for a walk. Judy loves the idea. Cooper loves to walk, she says. Alas, a local girl shows up as we're chatting. I thought I'd see if Coop has had his walk today, she offers. Popular pup.
While Enclosure Bay was modern and comfortable, the Inn doesn't scrimp on vintage English Rose detail. We're in a King-sized suite with a velour couch and claw footed bath hidden behind double doors. Tom makes a beeline for the crystal decanters filled with port and whiskey, and channels Star Wars on the TV. I run a bubble bath and feeling somewhat sorry for myself, cake my blistered skin with moisturiser.
The coveted claw footed bath at Devonport's Peace and Plenty Inn.
Devonport is one of my favourite places in Auckland. It is like a little village. For Christmas the boutiques have put out tinsel and specially decorated window displays. There are second hand book shops and jewellers and no shortage of cafes. It's a shopper's paradise.
We basically haven't stopped eating since we left home some hazy 24 hours ago, so instead of another fine dining feast we opt for a Kiwi classic, fish n' chips on the beach, eaten while eyeing Auckland's cityscape directly across the water, and thanking our stars we're not in the office today.
We sleep in the next morning. I feel guilty for skipping Judy's breakfast but I can hear plates scraping and jugs boiling so I assume other guests are making the most of her hospitality. Each time the front door opens and closes I hear Cooper tap tapping down the hall.
Aerial shot of West Auckland's Waitakere Estate.
Judy has decorated the grand villa for Christmas. There's a tree by the front door and decorations throughout the house. It's cosy. If we weren't still suffering from our day in the sun, I could almost pretend that we were in a French chateau with snow falling out our window.
Mercifully the day is cloudy and we leave while Judy is running an errand. Her brother is home and in her absence he proudly tells us he hopes we had a pleasant stay. We have. Tom claims it is his favourite accommodation. We scoot out the door before Judy notices we sank both decanters.
PART THREE: THE BUSH
The restaurant at Waitakere Estate, in the heat of the Waitakere Ranges in west Auckland.
In some ways it's appropriate that it's plummeting with rain as we drive out to Waitakere Estate in west Auckland. This is Auckland's rain forest after all.
West Auckland's coast is the perfect combination of dense beautiful bush (often crowded with protesters up Kauri trees), and rugged coastline. As a former police reporter for the local paper I'm well aware of the number of people who are often plucked from both sea and forest by rescuers.
Despite believing we knew the west well, neither of us had ever heard of Waitakere Estate. The drive there is winding, fog gripping the corners. There's a clearing at the entrance, a set of large white gates that beckon down a hill and into the bush.
Waitakere Estate's grand lounge.
Round and round the corners we go, ever tighter into the brush. There's tropical flowers everywhere and it seems as if we might never arrive. I tell Tom it reminds me of a horror movie I saw once. He tells me he wished he didn't have work in the morning.
Waitakere Estate is as grand as the inn we've just come from, but on a larger scale. The grounds are expansive, and our king room overlooks the rainforest. As we limber around our room checking at out all the goodies and gadgets as per our custom of the past two days, the rain pitter patters outside our window.
Our room is pleasantly basic. There's no Sky television to tempt Tom, no deep bath to soak in. Instead, upstairs we discover a treasure trove for readers. Loads and loads of vintage and new books and magazines. I find a North & South magazine circa 1991 and launch into it while kicking my heels up on the balcony.
We have an early dinner planned. Despite being kilometres into bushland we're still spoiled for food at Waitakere Estate. The small dining area is quickly crowded as a group of kindergarten teachers on their Christmas do pile into the room. It's fun to watch.
Again we embark on a slippery slope to gluttony. Smoked venison to start, and another foray with eye fillet and lamb rack with a slosh of red wine for me, and beer for beer lover Tom. We're quickly stuffed, the food coming out a lot quicker than our experience at Mudbrick. We want to continue though. We don't know if we'll be in a restaurant this nice again.
The cloud is clearing somewhat and the rain is easing. We opt for a walk around the grounds in a vain attempt to make more room for dessert. We've spotted a cheese plate on the menu and don't think we can say no. The estate's grounds are perfectly manicured and I imagined on a nicer day it would be a gorgeous place to spend the afternoon.
Today the cold is biting and my arms are covered in goosebumps. There's a couple of easy looking walks you can take from the gardens, denser into the forest. But after learning my lesson with the jandals at Mudbrick I am sporting precariously high wedges, and Tom is wearing his work shoes.
We look longingly at the trail before turning our back on it in favour of cheese and raspberry and vanilla panacotta.
MORE INFORMATION Booking.com
Fullers run ferries every half hour from Princes Wharf to Waiheke Island and Devonport. It's also possible to ferry from Waiheke to Devonport. See fullers.co.nz.
EATING THERE It's best to book ahead to eat at Mudbrick Winery as it can be closed to the public for weddings and events throughout summer. See mudbrick.co.nz.
Waitakere Estate restaurant has a small dining area, so it's best to book ahead: See waitakereestate.co.nz.
If you're at Oneroa Beach on Waiheke it's possible to text orders to Dragonfired Pizza: See dragonfired.co.nz.
Check booking.com for details on Enclosure Hotel, Waiheke Island, Peace and Plenty Inn, Devonport and Auckland's Waitakere Estate – Heritage Boutique Collection.
Hire a car in Waiheke and pick it up simply by stepping of the ferry and walking next door: See waihekerentalcars.co.nz.
Check out the Auckland Council website for a comprehensive list of walks and treks you can take in Waitakere: Seeaucklandcouncil.govt.nz
The author travelled courtesy of Booking.com.