Auckland wineries: Warkworth region

Our first choice for the day, Mahurangi River, was not open due to a private function, so we headed to Brick Bay. This is quite the site, with sculptures, gardens, sheep and a very modern building all in one. We started at the restaurant where we enjoyed a quick wine tasting, then decided to share a glass of rose on their pond-facing patio. While enjoying the view of the pond the weather cleared up, so we decided to pay for the sculpture garden walk. At $12USD/pp it took us about 90 minutes and offered some lovely views and creative pieces.

Brick Bay Winery

pond behind tasting room

posing w/ 'Reflective Thinker - Gnomes 1 & 2' by Gregor Kregar  'Tobias and the Angel' by Terry Stringer

'Aphasia' by Anton Parsons

'Mahoe' leaf by Jeff Thomson

Japanese Torii Gates with Eric  'Utopia' sign by John Reynolds

Our second stop, Omaha Bay Vineyards, started out fine. We enjoyed the tasting, and after seeing the nice deck, ordered two glasses (cab franc / chardonnay) to enjoy the weather and view. However, when we went to pay she charged us $10 per tasting in addition to the glasses. We countered that we split a tasting since Eric had the whites and I had the reds but she said we had more than five wines each so it was two tastings. No mention was made at any point of a charge for tastings and nothing was printed on the tasting list – I found this dishonest and it spoiled our otherwise good time here. Definitely wouldn’t go back or recommend this vineyard based on our experience.

Our third winery of the day, Ransom Wines, offered a nice tasting. All the wines were estate fruit and Eric found the whites to be especially interesting. We left with a bottle of the Cosmos Chardonnay.

We decided to make a stop at Tahi Bar for a quick drink before heading back to Auckland — I had the English Breakfast cider and Eric had the Farmhouse Pale Ale. Their tap was also one of the most unique we’ve ever experienced!

Porsche tap

A brief rainstorm pushed us inside where there wasn’t much space, but it was a good final stop on our daytrip.

Auckland wineries: Henderson and Kumeu regions

Wednesday

After landing in Auckland and checking into our hotel, we took a 30 minute drive up to Babich Wines. Being a Wednesday afternoon it was not busy; in fact, the tasting room was empty! Once we figured out how to contact the wine taster (a small doorbell near the cash register), we had a fun tasting with some interesting wines. Many of them are available in the US, so we focused on the varietals that would be harder to get overseas. In general, I thought the wines were solid and reasonably priced. I would have bought more if we lived here – they only charge $5 case for shipment anywhere on the North Island.

wine tasting @ Babich
quite the lineup!

We had enough time to visit another winery before closing, but our choice, Landmark Estates, didn’t seem to have a tasting room – at least we drove around and never found it!

Thursday

Soljans Estate — a Croatian family-owned vineyard with a large tasting room. The young woman giving us the tasting didn’t seem to know that much about the wines but we liked their selection. The Pinotage, in particular, was a pleasant surprise. Eric’s favorite was the Kumeu Sauvignon Blanc.

Kumeu River Wines — Eric loved the Chardonnay here! Our pourer was friendly and had clearly just come in from picking grapes to talk about the wine in the small tasting room. I found their reds very drinkable and a great value. Definitely one of the top tastings we had in NZ, it was hard to leave with only a half bottle of the 2008 Hunting Hill Chardonnay. Next time!

Coopers Creek Vineyard — Our hostess didn’t normally do wine tastings so she was a bit flustered at our presence; oddly, she also didn’t want to pour the reds for me while Eric was trying the whites so we were there twice as long as we needed to be. On the upside, the winery dog, Molly, was VERY friendly. This place sources their grapes from several places all over the country and we both thought the wines were pretty ordinary.

Sunday

West Brook Winery – Beautiful setting with a big lawn area around a pond, we were surprised to be the only tasters on Sunday morning. The reds were okay but the whites were quite good. Wine was not available by the glass (?!?) but our hostess poured us a big ‘sample’ of whatever we wanted and we enjoyed it down by the pond on a picnic bench. We also scored a local area wine map which helped us pick out two more places to visit.

On our way to Matua Valley Wines we stopped in at a tiny vineyard, Twin Totara, that only grows cab franc and merlot. We had the opportunity to taste a four-year vertical of the reds and two vintages of the roses. Very interesting wine, and the winemaker himself was pouring. We had to make space in the luggage for a 2007 – it was a crazy good value at ~$14! If we had been in the US we would have left with a whole case. Easy.

West Brook Winery

Matua Valley Wines were solid — they had a free tasting of four reds and four whites so we each took a side. I absolutely loved the 2010 Merlot so I spent the $16 and got a glass to go with the very last of my liver pate and enjoyed both on the wrap-around balcony out back. Eric got a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc and joined me with some caramel corn. The beautiful views were blocked for several minutes by a pop-up rainstorm but we were protected.

Matua Valley Winery 

It was a wonderful way to end our time in New Zealand. Can’t wait to get back!

Auckland: restaurants

Wednesday

Didas Wine Lounge – Located across the street from our hotel, this wine bar made an easy spot for our first dinner in Auckland. For round 1 we couldn’t skip the Spanish classics of patatas bravas and arancini, which went well with an Akarua Pinot Noir rose for Leandra and the Rockburn Pinot Gris (tart and white peach) for Eric. For round 2 Leandra ordered the Brookfields Backblock Syrah while Eric tried the Waipara Hills Equinox Riesling (Tahitian lime, nice tartness, yum). We liked the general atmosphere of this place and the food and wine were well-priced and tasty.

After dinner we decided to walk over to Brothers Beer to try some NZ craft beers. On our downhill walk we had a lovely view of the Auckland Sky tower.

Nick was our bartender and very helpful – pointing out must-try beers and honest about gimmicky or over-priced options. We wound up with a flanders red and a smoked ale for the first round and then splitting an 8 Wired imperial stout when we weren’t quite ready to head back.

The evening was cool so we sat outside and enjoyed the scene. Just after last call the owner/brewers of Yeastie Boys showed up (Stu and Sam)! We said hello and chatted for a bit before starting our ~1 mile uphill return to our room… not as easy after a couple high gravity beers!

Thursday

Eric searched a bit online for breakfast options and we decided on Cafe Cezanne for brunch. The cafe is a long, narrow space with the kitchen in the back and tables from the middle out onto the sidewalk. Leandra ordered the (enormous) cheese scone and a side of smoked salmon (naturally) and had enough to take the leftovers home for Saturday. Eric went for the classic eggs on toast. They also had some nice desserts, and we picked up a cookie for later.

quirky breakfast place - Cafe Cezanne

After our day-long excursion we parked at our hotel and walked down to Mekong Baby for dinner. The restaurant had a cool vibe, with lots of color and quite an ‘it’ crowd on one side of the bar.

Mekong Baby

Eric ordered the Massaman duck, while Leandra ordered the beef tartare (“Beef Tartare, Nashi, Yuzu Mayo, Dashi Salt, Bantam Yolk”) and beef skewers (really kind of a sandwich with a delicious mango/papaya slaw). Everything was delicious!

We did have two issues: Leandra found a bit of plastic in her appetizer, and then her main was given to another table (!); however, our server fixed the issue quickly, and proactively removed both items off the bill.

Friday

We had read about a popular weekend brunch spot, Dear Jervois, so we decided to try it before the weekend crowds. Well, it seems to be popular everyday, and for good reason. Leandra ordered the classic flat white and half salmon benedict with a side of hashbrowns. Eric went for the hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows, then the eggs on toast. The people watching at this bustling cafe was good, and we learned that a fluffy was a term for extra foam with chocolate powder and marshmallows (for kids).

Cafe Jervois (pronounced Jer-voice)  flat white and hot chocolate

After another day of exploring, we decided to head back to Brothers Beer again. Leandra ordered us “Big Smoke” from 8 Wired while Eric wandered down to the neighboring Food Truck Garage to pick us up a a spicy chicken sandwich. We grabbed a PS Analgam to go and stopped at the grocery store on the way home for a few beers and chocolate to bring back to the US with us, plus some liver pate for Saturday breakfast!

Sky Tower

Saturday

We needed to get on the road quickly, so we opted for a take-away breakfast from Dida’s Food Store across the street. Eric went for the bacon and egg pie, which was quite tasty and filling but would have been better with a scrambled egg. Leandra simply got toast for her liver pate and a take away flat white.

After the late snack in Hamilton we weren’t ready for a full dinner, so for our final evening in Auckland we went across the street for a glass of wine and snacks at Dida’s again. Our bartender, Steven, was great (originally from Liverpool) and introduced us to several new wines from the area and good conversation.

Sunday

It was a rainy walk to breakfast at Dear Jervois again. This time we had the window area with a great view of the street. Leandra like the salmon eggs benedict so much the first time that she ordered it again; when it first arrived it was missing avocado, but a quick ask and a plate of avocado arrived garnished with micro greens! Eric switched it up and ordered the French toast, which came with roasted peaches and beets, a surprisingly tasty combo.

delicious breakfast @ Cafe Jervois (again!)

We had good luck with food in Auckland and there were places for every type of palate. Our location in the Ponsonby neighborhood was perfect for us.

Auckland: viewpoints (Mt Eden and Mt Victoria)

Many of the tourist guides tout Mt. Eden as a great view of Auckland, and an interesting way to see a volcano caldera. It’s a fairly easy drive up to a parking lot at the top, or you can park at the bottom and hike up. A nice enough view, but it didn’t have the photographic viewpoint we expected, and felt a bit overrated.

view of downtown from Mt Eden caldera

On our last morning we headed across the bay toward Devonport in search of a better city view, which we found in Stanley Bay Park and the top of Mount Victoria Reserve.

downtown view from Stanley Bay Park

downtown view from Mount Victoria Reserve

Obviously, it was sunnier on our second try but we both preferred the views looking south rather than north.

New Zealand: Hamilton Gardens

After stopping for a few waterfalls, we continued on to the famous Hamilton Gardens. We were pleasantly surprised at the free parking and free entry to the gardens. Once inside we found a garden map and started exploring. As with every day thus far on the North Island, there were several periods of intermittent rain but we stuck it out and were able to see all the sections.

Hamilton Gardens - Indian Char Bagh Garden
Indian Char Bagh Garden

Hamilton Gardens - Italian Renaissance Garden
Italian Renaissance Garden

Hamilton Gardens - Tudor Garden
Tudor Garden

Hamilton Gardens - Tropical Garden  ficus and the blue sky
Tropical garden; Ficus

ginormous rose garden!

speckled rose
rose gardens

Our favorites were the Tropical and Renaissance gardens; the rose garden was rather grand too.

Before we left town we stopped at Good George for a late lunch. The restaurant was surprisingly busy given the time of day, with quite a few large groups taking up most of the tables,  but we managed to get a small table for two on the side near a supply closet. I ordered a tart granny smith cider while Leandra tried the stout which was decent, but too light. We also ordered the sliders- they were tiny! Beef and chicken were 2/3 bun, though flavor was good. Pork was best for size and flavor.

Good George

We would definitely recommend Hamilton Gardens if you are in the area. It makes a good day-trip from Auckland (about three hours there and back), or on your way to Rotarua.

Auckland: Waitakere Ranges and Hunua Ranges

The weather around Auckland was quite unsettled when we visited in March, with rain and sun trading places intermittently and causing us to skip a few of our planned hikes. However, we did get to see a few nice waterfalls.

Waitakere Ranges

Located northwest of Auckland, the Waitkere Range area was said to have beautiful beaches and some nice waterfalls, so we decided to start our Thursday there. The whole area was hilly and quite lush, so it made for some fun scenic driving and beautiful vistas along the way:

Manukau Harbour overlook
Manakua Harbor overlook

Lion Rock from overlook
Lion Rock overlook

Our first stop was Kitekite Falls, which was a fairly easy 30 minute (one-way) hike through lush forest and ended at the base of the falls.

Kitekite Falls

Kitekite Falls

From here we drove back down the road to Piha Beach, including a closer view of Lion Rock.

Lion Rock @ Piha Beach   New Zealand Oystercatcher
Lion Rock; New Zealand oystercatcher

The beach was not crowded at all on a Thursday morning, quite peaceful.

Next, we drove ~20 minutes to Karekare beach, during which it started to drizzle. Leandra was tired so she stayed to take a nap in the car while I did the short 10 minute hike to Karekare Falls. There is a smaller falls on the way, followed by the much larger falls just down hill.

Karekare Falls
smaller falls

crazy trees   colorful ducks

Karekare Falls
Karekare Falls

If you drive past the beach parking lot up the road and around the curve you can get a quick view of the falls too.

Once I got back the rain became harder, so we scrapped further waterfalls and switched to wine tasting for the rest of the day.

Hunua Ranges

The Hunua Range is south of Auckland, and made for a pleasant detour on the way to Hamilton for the day. Our first stop was for Hays Creek Falls, located directly alongside the Hunua Road. The parking lot is just upstream of the top of the falls, so I walked along the road to get the following shot.

Hays Creek Falls

Continuing down Hunua Road we came to a sign for Hunua Range Regional Park, where we stopped for the famous Hunau Falls (conveniently framed for easy instagramming!) which was a 1-2 minute walk from a large car park.

Hunua Falls with hubby photobomb

The park had several other day hikes available, plus a nice picnic area too. We couldn’t find good directions for Wairoa Falls, so we decided to skip it and continue on our way to Hamilton.

Later, as we returned from Hamilton to Auckland, we tried to do Vivian Falls but were running out of light and hit a gravel road so we ended up saving it for our next trip.

Auckland: where we stayed

For our four nights in the Auckland area we stayed at the Abaco on Jervois, and we quite enjoyed our stay. We had an executive studio room on the second floor with lots of space, including a kitchenette with fridge and sink and table area. Housekeeping did our dishes each day!

large bedroom with king bed

The bathroom was quite spacious, including a tub.  Likewise, the bed was large and comfortable, and had a good sized wardrobe in the corner.

our bathroom w/ huge tub  lovely kitchenette w/ fridge and sink

Notably, the owners also went out of their way to help. For example, we asked about a laundromat, and were told they would wash our clothes free- just bring them down. And they were delivered to our room, folded, the next day. How great is that? Especially awesome on an extended trip. Later in our stay our car battery died. Thankfully, the motel owner had jumper cables and a huge truck so we were able to get it started.

Our only issues were fairly small: parking was a little tight, but we did find a spot each night, and wifi was a little problematic (mostly for Leandra’s phone). Given their urban location it could be a little noisy at night, but it never bothered us.

Another bonus was the surrounding neighborhood, Ponsonby, which had quite a few interesting restaurants and cafes, and was a 15 minute walk to the Central Business District.

We would absolutely consider returning to Abaco on Jervois on future trips to Auckland.