Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Few Days in New Zealand

We flew to New Zealand for a few days on a "visa run". The late morning Air New Zealand flight to Auckland was pleasant and formalities at the airport were completed in record time. We drove an hour and a half south to the small town of Camdridge where we spent the night. This town is full of character with streets of huge trees and quaint old houses. The town centre offered a wide selection of restaurants and pubs. We chose the Oynx Cafe where there was a good selection of local wines by the glass as well as excellent steak.

We can recommend the Cambridge Mews as a place to stay. The one bedroom apartment was comfortable and the bathroom had a huge spa.
Next morning we headed east towards the coast and headed up to Pauanui. We had booked into the Puka Park Resort (only because they had a hugely discounted mid week rate) and it was worth the stay. The rooms, or chalets as they are called, stand in the rain forest on a very steep hill overlooking a valley with views to the beach. The whole resort reflects its five star status. Transport around the resort is by electric cart only but, apart from being delivered to our room in one, we decided that walking the slopes was not beyond us. The restaurant was ok but not as good as the menu might have suggested. They did have a huge wine list (top wine $750 a bottle!!!!) and desserts were delicious.

Our Chalet, Puka Park Resort, Pauanui
After a nice buffet breakfast we headed further north to Hot Water Beach. Here at low tide you can dig a hole in the sand and sit in a pool of hot thermal water that bubbles up while the surf washes over you. Unfortunately our visit coincided with a very high tide and a monster surf so we have to take the word of the travel brochures that this actually happens.

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula
In any case, it was nice to sit in the sun, watch the waves crash in and try to wash unsuspecting tourists to their deaths and read a book. A little futher north is Hahei Beach and Cathedral Cove. Both are beautiful places and not too crowded at this time of year.

Cathedral Cove, Hahei
The main Coromandel Peninsula town is Thames. We got to this busy thriving centre in time for lunch and indulged in a great hamburger and chips. After the rich food of the previous few days it was something we both needed.

Hahei Beach
That afternoon we drove into Auckland, across the harbour bridge and into the small village of Devonport. This is a great place to stay if visiting Auckland. It is only a 10 minute ferry ride from the city and has an "olde worlde" atmosphere. There are plenty of restaurants, bars and specialty shops to keep one occupied. We stayed at the Villa Cambria B&B and can recommend it.

Mudbrick Winery and Restaurant, Waiheke Island
About 30 minutes ferry ride from Devonport, Waiheke Island lies at the head of the Hauraki Gulf. This is a tourist mecca with beautiful beaches, lots of vineyards and spectacular scenery.

Well Tended Vines, Mudbrick Vineyard
We took a taxi to the Mudbrick Vineyard for one of our traditional three hour lunches. The restaurant over looks the bay with the Auckland skyline in the background. Food is great as is the wine. Hamish, our eccentric taxi driver, came back at the appointed time to take us back to the wharf. This was a great day!

Cane Pruned Cabernet Sauvignon Ready for Harvest at Mudbrick
They grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay on the island but import a lot of other varieties from other parts of New Zealand which are vinified on this site. We tried a Nelson Riesling and a local Cabernet, both of which passed our taste tests with flying colors. The vineyards are a show case of viticulture with each block surrounded by pine tree wind breaks. Both varieties are cane pruned and there appeared to be considerable leaf plucking employed to increase the ripeness and color of the red grapes. They used cover all netting to protect the fruit from birds and possums!

Grand Old Houses, Devonport
Next morning we headed across the harbour by ferry into Auckland to pick up "the visa". It was a 10 minute job. We did a little sight seeing and shopping but cities are not really our bag so eventually went back to Devonport for lunch.

Auckland Skyline from Devonport
Then it was an easy drive to the airport to catch our flight back (or "beck" as the Kiwis say) to Sydney. Another pleasant ANZ flight had us in on time. We seemed to be the only aircraft arriving so we were soon through immigration and customs and on our way home.