After all this time and global travel Rene and I never quite made it New Zealand before, despite it only being a three hour flight from Sydney. This is quite surprising considering that my Aunt lived there for several years, and my Nan and Pa went quite a few times as well.
The ‘City of Sails’ was our first foray into this magical country and we weren’t disappointed. Auckland sprawls over a narrow isthmus between the sparkling waters of the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours. A cloak of rainforest covers the surrounding hills, dozens of dormant volcanic cones dot the landscape and enchanting holiday islands are scattered throughout the vast Hauraki Gulf. It is also a city that lovingly keeps it’s heritage buildings intact while allowing modern developments to be incorporated into the cityscape.
Staying in luxury at the Langham Hotel gave us a good vantage point to explore what the city had to offer. We hadn’t realised just how hilly Auckland is, which gave us plenty of exercise as we walked from and to the Langham on our daily walks in to the city centre.
Of course we paid a visit to Auckland Sky Tower which is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. Next time we will perhaps try the bungee jump from the top of the tower.
We were pleasantly surprised by some of the unique speciality food and drink venues that the city has on offer.
One of our favourite places for lunch, and judging by the lunchtime crowds the locals must agree, was Elliott Stables in Elliott Street. This is a fantastic collection of little cafes and restaurants. It is organised with restaurants, bar and cafes around the edges of a seating area. While you order and pay at each outlet, meals are delivered to your table when they are ready. There is even a bottle shop and a well stocked whisky/whiskey shop. An added bonus is the Kapiti Dairy shop on the corner for some ice cream or cheese, which makes for a great end to a meal.
For such a petite city the nightlife had some surprising atmosphere, we enjoyed having a few drinks at the Northern Steamship Co. Brewbar which is located in the 130 year old headquarters of the Northern Steamship Co. Of particular interest were the upside down floor lamps(real retro) which made it even more funky not to mention the fabulous Macs beer. They even have pots of hop plants growing, very apt for a brew bar. Northern Steamship Co is owned by the well regarded Macs Brewery in New Zealand.
Vulcan Lane was another great place to spend time when you are hungry and thirsty. All manner of food and drink is available in this heritage lane. Many of the restaurants and cafesin Vulcan Lane also retainthe heritage feel in their interior decor. Laneways such as this are something that Sydney desperately needs. Even the adaptation of heritage bank buildings in to restaurants was a great reuse of spaces. One such example that we stumbled upon was O’Connell Street Bistro. Ambience is as important as the food and O.S.B. does both really well.
The highlight of our holiday was definitely a private tour of Villa Maria Estate’s Auckland Winery. The winery was founded in 1961 by Sir George Fistonich who, through his dedication to quality, has led Villa Maria to become the New Zealand wine icon it is today. Villa Maria Estate is New Zealand’s most awarded winery and remains proudly family owned.
The winery is not far from Auckland airport so we hired one of the cute Langham cars (Toyota IQ) to get there.
The Auckland vineyard is situated at the winery site in the base of an extinct volcano, on the Ihumatao peninsula in Mangere.
Auckland enjoys a warm coastal climate without extreme temperatures which suit the twenty hectares of vines that are planted at the Auckland winery.
The vineyard park with its volcanic soils, is planted with Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Verdelho. The vines are predominantly Gewurztraminer as the variety has a history of producing excellent examples of this style in the Auckland wine region.
We met Mary Winstone, Ville Maria’s guest co-ordinator who took us through to meet Mark Polglase(cellar door manager) and Ian Clark(export and PR manager). We left Mark to organise the wines for us while Ian took us on a tour of the Villa Maria production facilities. Villa Maria’s very modern and efficient facilities were amazing to see. The use of eco friendly systems for lighting, heating and cooling was very interesting to observe. Generally when we make a trip to the Hunter Valley here in Australia we go for the tour at Tyrrell’s Winery. Being an old winery the history of the place and the retention of old methods/equipment is on display. It was therefore an eye opening experience to see the more modern machinery, with a huge emphasis on being as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible being used at Villa Maria.
Bottling was a very exciting sight to, even more so given the focus on sustainability. It is rather noisy in the bottling room, and they fill and cap around12,000 bottles per hour.
Now we turned to the serious side of the visit, the wine tasting and we weren’t disappointed. We arrived at the tasting table to be confronted by 12 bottles of wine lined up ready for us. I was the driver was so I was only able to taste and spit while Rene got to taste and swallow.
The wines we tasted were:
Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Villa Maria Cellar selection Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Gris 2010
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Gris 2010
Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay 2010
Villa Maria Reserve Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2009
Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2009
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2009
Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot 2009
Villa Maria Private Bin Syrah 2008
After our tasting session we were invited for lunch in the Villa Maria restaurant. Set in the cellar room which opens on to a broad terrace, it has a spectacular view of the vines. Not only does Villa Maria operate the restaurant, but there are also several options for functions depending on the size required. They also have picnic catering available for when they have entertainment in the vines( eg Sir Elton John). I enjoyed a wild pork and game rillete with plum, apple and ginger relish, poppy seed toast and micro salad, while Rene had seared tuna pepper crusted with anchovy, basil, roast capsicum and caper salad followed by oven baked lamb rack with crushed new potatoes, bean, olive and truss tomato salad, tahini dressing. We also enjoyed a lovely lemon curd tart for dessert. Our meals were delicious and greatly enhanced by the beautiful views and wines. After our visit to Villa Maria it was back to the hotel for a much needed afternoon nap.
We enjoyed a relaxing, slightly wet, but quick week of enjoying some of what Auckland had to offer. We will definitely be heading back again to explore more of Auckland and New Zealand.
As the Maori would say: Ka kite anō (see you again!)