Down Under: Waiheke Island

LAST DINNER IN AUCKLAND

On our last evening in Auckland, we dined at Hugo’s Bistro, a cozy new place (only opened four months ago) in “lawyers’ alley.” Wait staff was exceedingly friendly and the vibe was lively. The menu includes some tasty-looking mains, as they dub entrees, but we opted for small plates. We tried their fries with mayonnaise (perfectly fine, but I preferred the skinnier ones at Occidental) along with the lamb meatballs (in a spicy tomato sauce), roasted red and green peppers stuffed with chevre with chopped almonds, and the salt cod fritters served with a saffron aioli. Everything was wonderfully delicious! And the NZ pinot noir was the perfect accompaniment. Like so many restaurants in this city, they offer all-day dining, everything from breakfast and coffee to lunch and dinner in a casual relaxing space. At dinner, there was an extended family group celebrating a toddler’s second birthday.

INFORMALITY

New Zealand is a friendly place and informality rules.  I’m beginning to get accustomed to this aspect of the culture. The welcome letter at our Auckland hotel was addressed, “Dear G…. and J….,” and when we disembarked from the ferry at Waiheke, the sign the driver meeting us held read simply, “Gxxxx Gxxx.” At our inn, Jen greeted us, introduced herself and immediately called us by first names. A reservation for lunch was also made in first names. On the street, people will say hello warmly when you least expect it.

WAIHEKE ISLAND

A number of islands sit in the Hauraki Gulf off Auckland and Fullers provides ferry service to many of them, Waiheke being one. It’s a 30-40 minute crossing and the water was very calm with some patches of sunlight along the way.  Waiheke is hilly and green, almost mountainous, and popular as a getaway place. Its year round population is 8,000, but that swells in the summer when folks come to enjoy their bach (pronounced “batch”), what we in upstate New York would call a summer cottage or camp on the lake. Waiheke is home to a number of wineries and a small town called Oneroa.

We’re staying at The Boatshed, a picturesque and charming inn looking down on a small sandy beach a short distance from the town.  

Each room has a peaked ceiling with wires and other accoutrements to make you feel as if you are in a shed for storing boats.  Jen was warm and bubbly in her welcome, poured us each a glass of wine, showed us around, and then said John would be happy to fix us a simple lunch. It was my kind of simple lunch: slices of ham, a bit of blue cheese and a wedge of a mild one, a piece of smoked salmon, some olives, a few grilled asparagus spears with pine nuts and parmesan, and a small salad of cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. All that plus good bread and more wine.

After lunch, we walked to town. It’s basically one main street with a grocery store, a few restaurants and cafes, some gift and souvenir shops, a gelato stand doing a brisk business with school kids on holiday, plus a housewares store, a medical center, a couple of real estate offices, and some design and jewelry shops. It felt a bit like Sedona or Eureka, California to us. I think we’d quickly run out of acitivities to occupy us.

FOOD IN WAIHEKE

The Boatshed is proving to be a culinary delight as well as being a very comfortable place to stay. Breakfast one morning consisted of almond croissants, several loaves of whole wheat and other kinds of bread for slicing, yogurt, fresh fruit, and an array of stewed fruits, compotes and jams. This was just the cold or continental part of the meal! When the chef arrived, he offered to make us each an asparagus and goat cheese omelet. We opted for one omelet to share which was very tasty!

At our first dinner, there was only one other couple from New Jersey. Roughly our age and very pleasant. They have several grandchildren and we talked about that and our destinations in New Zealand, etc. He and his son manage apartment buildings and she is a pediatrician. Dinner was a set menu with the first two courses served while we sat before the fire: smoked salmon with a bit of celeriac salad on top and then a rye cracker with a lovely wedge of cheese and some fresh thyme. We were at two separate tables for dinner and the rest of the meal was a lovely tomato saffron soup with pieces of langoustine and a whole one adorning it, followed by tender slice of pork loin over barley and roast carrots all nicely seasoned. Dessert was an oval of vanilla mouse with fresh strawberries and a small bit of chocolate ice cream. The herbs and most of the vegetables come from the inn’s extensive garden.

TOURING 

We ventured out to see some of the island in a moke or small Jeep. They drive on the left here so the Chief Penguin bravely took up the challenge. As soon as we left, we went through several downpours making me regret not having an umbrella and wondering if our entire day would be soggy. Distances are small and we arrived at the winery the hotel had booked for lunch only to discover that they were closed, or so we thought, based on a closed sign we read through the heavy rain.  

It was too early for lunch anyway so we set our personal GPS (with the detailed NZ maps we’d purchased) and decided to go to the other side of the island (east side) via the loop road to Man O’ War Vineyards on the bay of the same name. Much of that road is a dirt road and it was muddy and dotted with occasional ruts, but the views were gorgeous. Luckily, the Jeep had 4-wheel drive!

By the time we reached the winery, the sun had come out. The women working the tasting room were very welcoming, said we’d picked a good time of year to visit, and quickly offered to pour any of their wines to taste.  We sipped several of them and decided that this was the perfect place for lunch. The Shared Platter for Two sounded about right. We decamped to the porch with our wine to await the arrival of the platter and had a pleasant chat with several other couples. 

On the return trip, we stopped off at Batch Winery which has a fabulous location on a hillside with several dining rooms and a terrace. Here we just looked—no food or drink.

Header photo:  Vines at Batch Winery

Note:  All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved)

 

 

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