The American couple are only in Auckland on a one-day cruise stop, but they’re already planning their return. They’ve been won over by cheese and chocolate.
We’re on a Matakana food tour, which involves being driven around by friendly guide Nigel, sampling some of the region’s most delicious goodies on the way. Our first stop is the Puhoi Valley cheese store, where a board of creamy hunks is presented before us. Before long, we’ve nibbled our way through them all.
“We’d be in big trouble if we moved to that little town with that cheese shop,” remarks the American chap as we drive away.
Next Nigel takes us to Chocolate Brown, a boutique chocolate factory in Warkworth. We try a selection of their delicate, velvety little chocolates and rich, handmade fudge – which comes in unusual flavours like lemon meringue, creme brulee, and pineapple lump.
“We’d be in big trouble if we moved to that little town with that chocolate shop,” says the American. “Big trouble,” his wife agrees.
We make it to Matakana, and squeeze in a wine tasting at the classy Ascension Wine Estate before heading to Mahurangi River Winery and Restaurant for a lunch platter of cured meats, breads, and cheeses. And more wine.
Then it’s off to Heron’s Flight, where we are greeted by David Hoskins, owner of the only vineyard in New Zealand specialising solely in Italian grapes. He has an American accent. It turns out he hails from Pennsylvania.
If the American couple weren’t convinced before, they sure are now. Flushed with wine, cheese and chocolate, they declare he is the luckiest man on earth to be living in such a beautiful place, making such beautiful wines.
When we drop them off at their hotel, they promise they will be back, and request Nigel’s contact details so that he might show them around again next time.
It’s the classic tale, isn’t it? Tourists are always more appreciative of our country’s most populated metropolis than Kiwis themselves.
If you’re not from there, chances are you’ll only go to Auckland is if there’s a concert on. My first visit wasn’t until 2012, when Taylor Swift was in town. When she came back the following year, so did I.
Yet we could learn from the overseas visitors in recognising that there’s more to Auckland than the inside of the Vector Arena. Even Swift managed to hop on a ferry out to Waiheke Island.
Rangitoto Island is next on my itinerary. I meet my guide, Rae, at the ferry terminal. She is from Te Haerenga, a new Maori tourism venture from Ngai Tai Ki Tamaki offering guided walking tours of Rangitoto and Motutapu.
Rae greets me with a big hug and a “kia ora, darling”. On the ferry ride, we talk about everything from our Dunedin upbringings to politics to our personal lives. I forget that I’m on a tour. It feels like I’m with a friend.
It’s a warm autumn day, and the sky is bright blue. I almost gasp when Rangitoto appears on the skyline, with its striking black cone. Rangitoto means sky blood, and it certainly paints a foreboding picture.
Rae explains how the 600-year old volcano was named after a scrap between Tamatekapua, captain of the Te Arawa canoe, and Hoturoa, captain of the Tainui canoe. Instead of all-out war, it was decided that the first to draw blood would have to leave. Hotorua managed to give his rival a bloody nose, and so came the name, Te Rangi-i-totongia ai Te Ihu a Tamatekapua – the bleeding nose of Tamatekapua.
Rae says Ngai Tai people prefer the name Nga Pona Toru o Peretu – the three knuckles of Peretu, after their ancestor of reptilian descent. They reckon the cone represents his fist, thrusting from the sea.
We get off the ferry and start the climb up to the summit. It’s not the easiest of walks, but Rae breezes up the hill, talking a mile a minute. “The stories come thick and fast, darling.”
Soon enough we’re at the dramatic crater, and taking in the panoramic views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf. Then there’s just enough time to head back down the mountain and wander past the island’s historic baches, built in the 1920s and 30s. We bump into the owner of the aquamarine bach “Little Coogee”, who invites us inside to have a quick nosy. It doesn’t get more Kiwi than this.
I’m only on a half-day tour, but I could have stayed chatting with Rae all day. Sadly, it’s time to head back to the Waitemata Harbour, where I’m booked in for a sail on an America’s Cup yacht. I’m in NZL 68, a former training boat for Team New Zealand – and more importantly, the boat that Kate Middleton raced while she was in Auckland for the royal tour.
Skipper Eric Haagh is very patient with our group, which consists of a handful of Americans, a Canadian couple, an Australian woman, a few Japanese, and a group of Chinese. One of the American tourists is wearing a dinky little captain’s hat, and loftily informs us that he has been sailing for 40 years. Eric lets him take the helm, and he performs the task with great gusto. The rest of us have a go on the grinders, except for the Chinese girls, who are more interested in posing for photos with the handsome crew members.
It’s an entertaining afternoon out on the water, helped along by Eric’s good-natured banter. The climax comes when we sail under the Auckland Harbour Bridge, with just a couple metres’ clearance. For a few agonising moments, it looks as though we might not make it – but we come through as triumphant as Black Magic.
By the end of the weekend, I’m exhausted. But I still have to get through the main event – seeing Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, Titus, at the Pop-up Globe. Just being there is an experience in itself. It’s the world’s first full-scale working replica of the second Globe theatre, built for Shakespeare and his company in 1614. We are well and truly transported to London 400 years ago. It’s almost surreal when we emerge from the theatre and find ourselves in the heart of present-day Auckland.
I can barely keep my eyes open as I catch my flight back to Wellington the next day. Drifting off to sleep, I think to myself: “I’d be in big trouble if I moved to that big city with that much going on.”
4 MORE REASONS TO VISIT AUCKLAND IN AUTUMN
Experience one of Shakespeare’s plays as a “groundling” standing in the yard, or splash out on a seat in a Lords’ or Gentlemens’ room. Get in quick – the season runs until April 24. www.popupglobe.co.nz
Auckland Writers Festival
With more than 120 public events and 160 of the world’s best writers and thinkers, this celebration of books and ideas attracts as many as 22,000 festival-goers every year. This year’s literary lineup includes feminist icons, a British knight of the realm, and Booker and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors. www.writersfestival.co.nz
Dust off your legwarmers, because Flashdance – the Musical is coming to New Zealand for a strictly limited Auckland season. The theatrical incarnation of the smash hit 1983 film features an all-American cast, who will perform at The Civic from April 20 to May 1. www.ticketmaster.co.nz
From the New Zealand producers of Mamma Mia!, Anything Goes, 42nd Street and Phantom of the Opera, Evitabrings to life the true story of Argentine political leader Eva Peron, with more than 40 performers and spectacular new staging at the Bruce Mason Centre. Season runs from May 28 to June 18. www.ticketmaster.co.nz
The writer travelled as a guest of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development and Air New Zealand.