A perfect weekend on Waiheke Island

And so it was that myself and six family members found ourselves on the car ferry gently chugging from Auckland’s Half Moon Bay to Waiheke’s Kennedy Point for a weekend of frivolity and hilarity. Sans children.

Nicknamed Waibiza for our quick cousinly vacay, we drove ten minutes to our bach. Now I must stop right here. When I say bach, I do not mean like the one my grandparents had at Te Awanga on quite possibly the roughest beach in Hawkes Bay. When I was a kid the sand was long and wide. Today the bach is hanging there by the skin of its piles having been smashed by waves several times over the ensuing decades. There is no longer any sand and it’s only a matter of time before the current owners (who bought it for $1000) will abandon it.

No indeed. We had booked Waiheke White House, which sounds either like an official residence or one that has poles in the lounge. Neither are correct.

White House Waiheke
The deck handily doubles as the coffee and paper spot in the morning and wine and cheese at 5pm

This place is plush and huge. It’s a two-story home with decks all around to capture the sun any time of day. It has two living rooms, two bathrooms, a dining area off the new kitchen and sleeps eight. Three double bedrooms open out onto the aforementioned decks where various members of our party were gathered for functions like newspaper reading or coffee drinking.

Upstairs the living room has a daybed that is actually a king-single bed in disguise with a trundler bed underneath for making into a king for an eighth person.

Two bottles of wine from a local vineyard were waiting for us, plus a pot of Waiheke honey and a little bag of coffee. I was in my happy place.

What’s nearby?

Turn right out of the gate and in two minutes you’re wandering down the path to Little Oneroa Beach. This tiny bay has a children’s playground, a dairy and the owner makes a fine flat white. Next to them is a fish and chip shop – which does a mean wonton! Then on the beach front each night a mobile pizza oven pulls up to make delicious kebabs and pizzas to eat right there or take back home.

Within ten minutes walk is the main township of Oneroa that bulges with cafes, restaurants and shops along the main street. Plenty of brunch options abound.

Which wineries to visit on Waiheke?

We visited five wineries over the weekend and these three I would recommend taking some time to stop in at for a while:

Man O War Waiheke
The cottage at Man O War Vineyard

Man O War
Located at the far end of the island and reached by about 30 minutes on a dirt road – or you could just bring your boat – this is a hike to get to, but worth it. I had heard great things about their platters, so we ordered about five for the table, some cheese and some with meat. Both outstanding.

I love Man O War’s sauvignon blanc, so happily quaffed that while shooting the breeze, although not literally as we were sitting in a marquee with roll down blinds to protect us from that effect. Tables were dotted on the lawn with fellow imbibers under umbrellas and kids played cricket at one side of the lawn as the low tide sat about twenty metres away. Perfect.

Waiheke winery
The famous and scrumptious platters!

Cable Bay Vineyards
Even since last summer a lot has changed at this winery that is the closest to Oneroa – in fact about two kilometres away, so an easy stroll from the shops.

They still have their fine dining restaurant, but there’s a new tasting room which has allowed for the former tasting room to become a more casual dining option. Then out from that they have built the Verandah – a sunken outdoor dining area under huge white canopies. Bean bags are dotted on the lawn that stretches into the view of Auckland city and a new pizza oven accompanied by groovy lounge music means it’s easy to while away an afternoon here.

Cable Bay Waiheke
It’s very easy to stay until after the sun goes down here!

Mudbrick Vineyard
Set above a formal garden that will have any green fingers in your party twirling in circles, this has a lovely Italian feel. A styly dining room with white cloths is sought after for the multitude of nuptials held here, but walk along the gravel path to the tasting room and choose a flight from $10.

We decided not to queue up behind the tasting tour bus that had pulled in ahead of us, so pulled up enough outdoor chairs and ordered by the glass to enjoy drinking in the view with our splash.

Mudbrick
How about a wine tasting tour by helicopter? This left Mudbrick and landed on the other side of the trees at Cable Bay!

 How to get around on Waiheke

If you don’t take your car (at $160 without passengers) there are a few options on Waiheke for getting around:

Rent scooters or a car, book a wine tasting tour bus to hop you around several wineries without the need for one of your party to remain sober, or taxi.

Go west!

It had been a year since my cousin an bestie, Kate, visited me in Auckland, so to celebrate the auspicious occasion we decided to go somewhere we hadn’t been before. Out west.

Ara station balcony
The view from our balcony at Ara Station over the sand dunes

Auckland’s wild west coast is a bit of an undiscovered gem. Well to me at least. It’s spacious and rugged. The sand is volcanic black and the Tasman sea washes the dog prints and horse hooves away as surfers armed with their boards make their silent way out to the breaks.

Bethells Beach horses

Bethells Beach surfer

Bethells Beach surf lesson
Ready for a surf lesson on the beach?

It’s September, barely spring and the rain was falling intermittently as we set off towards the view from our window for a walk along the beach as the tuis sang of their love for the kowhai trees.

Bethells Beach tuis
There are more tuis out here than in a brewery!
Bethells Beach river
The river that we can see from Ara Station winds its way down here
Bethells Beach
Take a left and wander down to this cave – before the tide comes in!
West Auckland
Mist, boulders, waves and sand. You’ll blow the cobwebs away out here!

Where to stay at Bethells Beach

Ara Station stands halfway up the bush-covered hill facing the sea at the end of the silver slither of river that runs past the road below.

I must admit we cheated and took the car as far as we could, but if we’d felt so inclined, or the weather was more reliable, we could have walked across the Lake Wainamu sand dunes draped towards the east and running down to the beach.

Ara Station Bethells
The timber is all ecologically sourced. Lovely to flop on a couch and listen to vinyl on the old-fashioned turntable.

It has a rustic farmhouse feel, Ara Station. Named for its position on the Hillary Trail, this is a great spot for walkers and hikers – or those like us who just fancy hunkering down in front of a roaring fire out in the wops. Ara means a traditional Maori pathway and the ‘station’ denotes the style this timber house is built to replicate: an old railway station.

Ara Bethells Beach
Pick a spot and curl up with a book

If you have the run of the place, there is one huge master bedroom upstairs with a bathroom and large living/dining room with a balcony edged in party lights to signify a good night. Or when the owner is in residence (she was in Spain when we stayed, as you do!) you can take the ground floor and she’ll provide breakfast.

Ara Station shower floor
I love this tiled shower floor!

Downstairs there are 3 double rooms and another bathroom. About $400-$450 a night gets you the whole place.

Tip: You can’t buy wine from supermarkets out west, so a separate stop at a bottle store is required. Or do what we did and stock up with happy hour nibbles, dinner ingredients and wine before you hit the motorway.

I reckon this would be a great place for a group of friends who want a week far from the madding crowd, and in summer the burger caravan is open at the bottom of the road which sounds like such fun!

Staying on the harbour!

There’s a new hotel in town, and this one bobs on Auckland harbour.

Ipipiri Auckland
The Ipipiri now based in Auckland

Ipipiri is its name and it’s been repositioned here after spending five years in the Bay of Islands.

Last summer hubby and I got to set sail out of the Auckland Viaduct at 3pm (apologies for delaying everyone already having their safety briefing!) on the new Hauraki Blue cat.

Auckland cruise
I set up this shot to look just like a brochure!

It was a stunning spring afternoon and with the help of a bright red tug boat that I wanted to write a children’s book about, we navigated out of our pozzy as the boat show filled the piers with ocean lovers.

Hauraki Blue
Give us a push!
Auckland cruise
Tootling out of the Viaduct
Hauraki blue cruise
The top deck is perfect on an afternoon like this!

Happily cheese and crackers were served and the bar was open. I decided I’d probably get through a bottle during the course of the evening so they kept mine bagsed in the fridge for me.

We cruised past Rangitoto and anchored at Motuihe where some sat in the sun (that would be me) and energetic ones kayaked ashore and went for a walk.

Motuihe island
Cheers!
Auckland harbour cruise
Under the watchful eye of the tender boat skipper
Hauraki Blue
The cabins have comfy superking sized beds that can be split into singles
Auckland overnight cruise
It’s family-style dining upstairs and a really fun way to socialise.

Dining

Tea and coffee is available free 24/7.

An a la carte dinner menu with three choices over three courses, including a vegetarian option, is served at 7pm. I started with scallops: 4 little ones set on a long thin plate (sorry, I am usually one of those people that take food pics, but last night I didn’t). I had the parmesan and herb crusted hapuku next and Mark had a scotch filet steak. To end he went for the chocolate medley with cake and ice cream and I got the sticky toffee pudding. We shared 😉

However I did take a photo of the full breakfast! There is also cereals, fruit and yoghurt, plus juices.

Hauraki Blue breakfast
Full breakfast

This would be great for couples wanting something a little different to do, but it’s really popular as a wedding venue. 30 cabins sleeping 60 and you can have the whole soiree onboard, or get married on one of the island beaches and have dinner and stay overnight.

It can also be chartered for 100 people for canapes, so I’m hoping some amazing company will invite me to their Christmas do on board!

Auckland clouds
Good morning Auckland!

Stay in a piece of Heritage

I drove in from my home in East Auckland, picked up my husband from his work in the city and in we checked at the Heritage Hotel for me to attend the Travcom Travel Writer Awards dinner (alas, not this year) and him to get room service and watch telly. What could be more fun?

The Heritage Auckland is part of the 20 Heritage hotels dotted around New Zealand, but the perfect name is more than ironic here.

Farmers Trading
The grand old Farmer’s Trading Co in Auckland

Some Kiwis with long memories (us included!) will remember this as the Farmers Trading Co building with its tearooms on the top floor, Hector the talking parrot (who lived to 131 years) and a playground with a carousel and pedal cars for kids. I think I only visited once, but talking to the people at white cloth-covered in this very room who used to come for Friday afternoon outinsg here regularly, it hasn’t lost its mystery and charm. The big arch windows, the high ceilings, it’s worth finding an excuse and coming up.

Today the tearoom is an event room: think ballroom, formal dinners – and this Mother’s Day you can bring your mum for high tea (as luck would have it!)

Farmers tearooms
Anyone remember this?

Built by entrepreneur Robert Laidlaw in 1914, the Heritage Hotel now covers the block from Hobson through to Nelson Streets, it has two entrances, so if you drive your car to the wrong one the lads in suits will put you right.

Our room on the 10th floor had sweeping views over the tennis court below and across the harbour beyond, with a balcony to sit out and stare at the world from such a lofty height. It also had a kitchen, which should I have been staying longer or have invited friends to pop in, would have been great. Suffice to say, it stayed unused on my visit!

Heritage Hotel view
My room this week looking towards the Auckland Harbour Bridge

The gym and pool

There are two gyms. One is under refurbishment but when it opens will have fancy new facilities with a lap pool, spa and sauna. The other really impressed me. It was a bit of a maze to find it (remember this is an old department store) but with good signage you’ll get there. It’s actually part of the outdoor pool complex and looks like it would be quite at home in LA.

With doors thrust open to capture the fresh morning air behind them, keen gym bunnies were on bikes and treadmills facing the Harbour Bridge. What a spot! The pool complex is open to hotel guests (and residents. Yes you can live here) with lounge furniture under umbrellas gazing out over that view.

Heritage Hotel pool
LA or Auckland?!

The food

But quite possibly the biggest buzz at the moment at The Heritage Hotel is their food. It’s raw – and not because of problems with the stove. Chef Jinu Abraham is a master of producing exquisite plant-based, locally produced food. You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to love it either! Of course, not every dish is raw, and not every dish is meat-free, but this is a welcome and exciting addition to Auckland’s foodscape.

Here is my muesli, coconut parfait and berry couli in a squeezable tube for breakfast.

Raw food Heritage
These are yummy little brekkies!

I also chose a Vitamin C kick of freshly squeezed pineapple, lemon and orange juice. (Other choices are Detox, Energising and Liver Lover).

The chilled infused coffee (not to be confused with cold pressed) will impress connoisseurs too. The beans have been soaked for at least eight hours, then steeped through a paper filter. It drips slowly through this monstrous hour-glass contraption and that process takes the usual bitterness out. Add your naughty milk, cream or sugar as you wish!

Heritage Hotel coffee
The coolest coffee in Auckland? (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

What’s nearby?

Located on Hobson Street, you’re a stone’s throw from SkyCity and all the hubbub that goes on there. You’re also only about three blocks from Queen Street heading straight out the door and turning left, the same distance from the Viaduct down at the waterfront.

 

Dinner at Auckland’s Sofitel

I recently spent some pillow time at the Sofitel in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter in a room with a fabulous view of the harbour – and I am now an evangelist!

I also did the sabrage. What on earth is sabrage, you ask? Why, it’s only whipping the cork off the top of a bottle of champagne with a sabre! Here’s my video here >>>

But before we did that, we ate at Lava Dining. The restaurant has a unique interior design with marble walls that are lit yellow/gold at night like molten lava – and the food! Scott Brown, ex chef from Huka Lodge is in the kitchen so I was expecting great things:

Sofitel lobby
The watery lobby with fresh flowers that change each week. Just on dusk 125 candles are lit in the lobby each night too.
Sofitel Auckland
The junior suite with apartment and marina views
Sofitel Lava Dining
Loving the fresh flowers! Note the marble wall above the bar by day…
Sofitel lava kitchen
Lava kitchen – by night
Sofitel entree
This was my entree: clams and crispy chicken in a creamy garlic broth served on basmati rice with crisp chili toast. I would definitely have it again. The pic doesn’t do it justice.
Sofitel entree
The Bloke ordered this: Pig’s Head. What possessed him I have no idea because the name had me screaming. However it was pressed cheeks slow cooked with kimchi, tomato, garlic, pickle and kewpie (Japanese mayonaise). He loved it.
Sofitel hapuka dinner
My main was this hapuka dish. I nearly didn’t order it as I don’t usually go for fish when I’m out, but thanks to our waiter, Khoi’s recommendation, this is probably the best fish I’ve ever tasted. Hapuka on pureed mash with chorizo and a rich red wine viniagarette. I dream about this meal!
Sofitel lamb
The Bloke had this tender and juicy lamb rump with Jerusalem artichoke, soy bean, pine nuts and olives.
Sofitel dessert
This was a yummy way to end the night: cold coconut rice pudding with rhubarb, yoghurt and digestive biscuits
Sofitel dessert
The quirkily named Fruit and Nut Bar is a deconstructed ice cream dessert with chocolate crackle, black doris sorbet and soft Manjari chocolate. The Bloke had this – and I helped!
Sofitel breakfast
While we’re on food, I thought I’d also show you my breakfast the next day: these crunchy corn fritters with bacon and chipotle sour cream. Gooood!
Sofitel jacuzzi
The Sofitel also has a gym and lap pool, but I decided to include the jacuzzi for your viewing pleasure
Sofitel view
The view from my harbour-view corner room the next morning.

Disclaimer: while I was hosted by Sofitel, my opinions about dinner and the views are entirely my own.

 

Sleep at the Airport: Auckland Novotel Hotel

If you have a red-eye flight out of Auckland, then staying at the new Novotel right outside the arrival gate is your perfect solution to a leisurely start at 5am!

Auckland Airport NovotelLike most silly backpackers I too have slept at airports. In my young and wide-eyed OE days when saving the cost of a hostel for the night when arriving after midnight was worth it. These days? Not on your nelly. I’m far more sensible and nana-ish and like a good night’s sleep too much.

Cue the Auckland Airport Novotel. Also especially good for your out-of-town guests who need a lift to the airport to their 4.45am check in! (Dreaming.)

I was booked on a red-eye flight to Sydney (departing at 7am / checking in at 5am / alarm set for 4am) and I had been wanting to check out the new hotel literally only 100 metres from the International Arrivals hall. So I contacted them and they said YEP, come and stay and review us for your blog.

So here it is…

Auckland Airport Novotel

After scrambling out of the house, we arrived about 7.30pm as the evening sun was shining off the glass sides. The hotel is part owned by the Tainui tribe and I love the Maori motifs discretely carved into the beams. The lobby is light and open and plants grow out of the wall about 2 stories high behind the bar.

Auckland Airport Novotel

We took our own car rather than cabbed as my husband was flying to Wellington the next day and I was flying to Sydney. This is the hotel that can solve those conundrums. You can have the car valet parked for the night and the whole of next day for $35, but we parked in the general park out the front and the hotel validated our ticket for $22 for the overnight and all day use. (Cheaper than a taxi there and back!)

Auckland Airport Novotel

Our room was down the end of the hall with Air New Zealand planes on the runway in the distance. If you’re a plane spotter you’ll probably want room service delivered to you in the hallway.

Our room was really styly and chic with kiwiana art as the bed head board and the bathroom has frosted glass so you can choose whether to watch each other (or not!)

Auckland Airport Novotel

We arrived just in time to head to the restaurant for dinner. The meal was great, but it is a bit pricey. Mind you, restaurant meals are expensive in NZ don’t you think? Of course, we both had the most expensive items on the menu: steaks, cooked medium-rare. The husband’s was on a rosti and mine was a fillet mignon with gnocchi, both with a yummy rich jus and see the cute basket of chips on the side?

Auckland Airport Novotel

We were entertained by a camerman filming another table making a promo video of forced conversation and pleasant faces. I tried my own skills out at our table and reckon I could’ve given a rousing performance of enjoying my eye fillet cooked medium rare…

But the best part of the whole thing? I had to check in for my 7am flight at the ungodly hour of 5am so just staying across the concourse meant I showered and dressed, ran across with my luggage, got my boarding pass and came back to have breakfast with my husband before we went our separate ways.

Jump here to check out the Auckland Airport Novotel – and don’t forget their bar. Why not kill time at the airport over there instead of the meagre offerings in the terminal?