Two Days in Auckland: Wine and volcanoes in New Zealand’s largest city

New Zealand is almost exactly as far away from the UK as you can possibly get: it’s almost a two-day journey with a 13-hour time difference. Somehow, though, I arrived having slept surprisingly well on the plane(s), and proceeded to sleep for 10 hours each of the first three nights in Auckland. Jet lag? What jet lag?!

The cure for jet lag, we’ve been told, is to be found in Waiheke. My friend Annie and I did not know this, however, when we decided to take the ferry across to this island – New Zealand’s third most populated island after the North and South Islands – on our first day. I had heard about Waiheke from a Kiwi traveller sitting next to me on a plane a few months ago. He was chatty about his plans in Europe and when I told him I would be going to New Zealand he gave me some tips, including this island just outside of Auckland.

The fact that Waiheke is “the ultimate cure for jet lag” (according to a 2009 article in The Sunday Times) we discovered only on the last stop of our wine-tasting tour. At Jurassic Ridge, we had a tasting of six wines from white through to red – my favourite probably being the Sauvignon Blanc, though the Cabernet Franc was lovely and Annie bought a bottle of rosé. Here, the grapes are grown, and wines produced, sustainably, and there are no chemical residues or additives like egg white or pork gelatine that is apparently used by some less reputable vineyards.

Lance Blumhardt, Jurassic Ridge vineyard

Jurassic Ridge is owned and run by Lance Blumhardt, a former neurologist who took an early retirement from working in the UK to return to his home country and run this vineyard as a “hobby”, bringing a scientific approach to the art of wine growing and making that has since won him a long list of accolades for his product.

Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant

Our previous stop had been Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant, where we had chosen the white wine sampling menu. It seems that white wines are more difficult to grow on Waiheke, so all but two of the wines we tried were from other districts such as Marlborough. Mudbrick looked like a traditional English manor house with a lush garden and views over the vineyard.

Cable Bay Vineyard

We had lunch with a glass of wine at Cable Bay Vineyards. A rather elegant establishment – as we ate, a couple arrived for lunch by helicopter – with stunning views.

Vineyard on Waiheke

All three vineyards were beautifully situated with panoramas across the open landscape of the island and the ocean beyond.

View from Waiheke Island

The skyline of Auckland, recognisable for its Sky Tower, can be glimpsed off in the distance.

Being free spirits, we did all this independently, buying just the ferry ticket and then walking around the various vineyards that lay on the west side of the island. At one point, we veered off onto a path that took us in the completely wrong direction, ending up in a field with horses (better than bulls) – but that’s part of the adventure, isn’t it! If we had had more time, and with even sunnier weather, the island would have been well worth a longer visit with an overnight stay and some time on the beach. Instead, we made our way back on the evening ferry and had dinner in Auckland.

3-way pie combo

We had dinner at the Federal Delicatessen, where I can highly recommend that you share 3-way pie combo. My favourite was the cheesecake, followed by the banoffee pie (with caramel popcorn on top!).

Sky Tower, Auckland

The city itself mainly offered the usual adventurous activities that you would expect in New Zealand – bungee jumping off the bridge as well as the SkyWalk and SkyJump at the Sky Tower, and various water sports.

We spent our second morning at Auckland Museum, a funny place in its bringing together what would usually be seen in a separate Natural History Museum, War Museum, Ethnographic Museum… So we went from Maori boats and buildings to volcanoes to sharks to dinosaurs to WWI and WWII. A lot to take in, with a hugely diverse view of New Zealand and its history, including little known facts about the part it played in the wars as well as the relationship with Samoa and its people.

Auckland Museum

Auckland Museum is also a War Memorial, built with donations from Aucklanders in remembrance of their war dead. Next year, 25th April 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the New Zealand and Australian (ANZAC) landings at Gallipoli, in which thousands of lives were lost against its Turkish defenders.

We don’t learn about New Zealand at school, and so even this brief introduction to different aspects of its history was incredibly informative. Some quick facts for you: The islands were settled by Polynesians in the 13th century; the first Europeans to have reached them were Dutch Explorer Abel Tasman and his crew in 1642; and the country was colonised by the British in 1840 via the Treaty of Waitangi. Auckland is the biggest city with a population of 1.4 million of a total of 4.5 million, followed by Wellington and Christchurch each with under 400,000. After English and Maori, Samoan is the third most spoken language. The two islands straddle the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates, which leads to volcanic activity as well as earthquakes, notably in Christchurch on the South Island in 2011 when 185 people died and the city was destroyed, now to be completely rebuilt.

 

The practical bits:

I flew Qantas from LHR to Dubai to Sydney to Auckland (the last leg operated by Emirates). I left at 9pm on Sunday to arrive 2pm on Tuesday – so a journey of 28 hours if you disregard the time difference.

We stayed at Harbour Oaks Residences – great location and especially good if you’re staying a bit longer, as they are actually serviced apartments with living rooms and kitchenettes. And I got to do my laundry already after my long flight!

Waiheke: We bought a return ferry ticket at $36 (you can also get one that includes a bus pass for getting around the island). Wine tasting at Mudbricks and Jurassic Ridge cost $10 per person.

Alternatively you can do the Wine on Waiheke tour for $125 if you’re particularly interested in learning more about the vineyards or the Taste of Waiheke for $135 to sample both wine and olive oil. These tours include the ferry, an organised bus ride and a tour of several vineyards and/or olive groves, as well as lunch.

Auckland Museum: $25 entry or free if you’re a New Zealand citizen (different to the $10 quoted in the Lonely Planet!)

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