On Tuesday the 16th our flight to Auckland was nice, had one of the nicest airplane meals ever (a roast beef salad). This will be important to not for the next flight…
When we got through customs, we caught the bus into the city and got off at the first regular stop, right next to The Langham, Auckland where we were staying. We checked in and dumped our stuff, then headed out. It was a bit of a walk, but Murder Burger sounded good to me. And I really enjoyed the jalapeno pesto on my Gourmet Beef Jalapeno, but Jill wasn’t fond of her Gourmet Beef Mushroom (at least we both liked the fries). We kept walking after we ate, and stopped at LiME Bar for some tasty cocktails.
On the walk back, I saw the Sports Center logo appear on the TV at a bar across the street and stopped to see if they’d show the MNF highlights. I only had to watch 30 seconds to know the Redskins had been blown out by the Eagles, and started walking again. We drowned our sorrows at The Winery when we returned to the The Langham. Jill said their nuts were the tastiest she ever had.
The next morning we headed over to Budget to rent a car. Somehow I ended up the driver, so I got a Corolla and we headed out. It was my first time driving on the wrong side of the road, and extremely nerve wracking at first. But soon we were on a highway headed south, and I got used to it (though sometimes would drift left onto the shoulder). Jill had picked up some pastries for breakfast, but we were son hungry and we stopped at the Kaimai Cheese Company when we saw it. We shared The Ploughmans Platter with their cheddar, Havarti and Camembert (the cheddar was the highlight), then got right back on the road.
We were hurrying to make a 2:30 tour at Hobbiton, and we made it with 30 minutes to spare and split a toasted cheese sandwich (odd that they didn’t have any signs on the road for it). Soon we were bouncing up and down a dirt road in a school bus, which took us straight to the set. Now this was someplace I wanted to go anywhere, but the timing really worked in our favor. After the films, they’d stripped the set and left nothing but white fronts on the hobbit holes.
But now that the prequels are a go, they’re busy recreating them, with five additional ones hobbit holes. Unfortunately no pictures online because I signed a confidentiality agreement, but it all looks amazing. The attention to detail is incredible; our guide pointed out that lichen had been hand painted onto some of the wood. Here’s a taste:
After the tour, they had a sheep shearing. Ok, but we’d already seen one the previous week and used the facilities instead. We did come back for the baby lambs, as Jill had seen them earlier and wanted to feed one, so she did.
We headed back after that, as I wanted to avoid driving in the dark. I had made a reservation at Kermadec downtown overlooking the harbor, and it was really good (although service was so slow they comped our desserts). The kingfish carpaccio was a great starter, Jill loved her John Dory and I liked my duck, but my favorite part was the desserts, a number of variations on raspberry for me and chocolate for Jill (although the tobacco leaf on hers was iffy).
After dinner, we ended up heading into Minus 5, a bar where the temperature was 5 below 0 (Celsius), and all the furniture (and glasses) was made of ice. It was fun for a while (and if you explore through the photo gallery you’ll find another picture), but you get cold even with the supplied parkas (much like the weather in Virginia these days) and we were done for the evening.
The next day was Thursday the 18th – only two days left in our vacation. But I’d found a way to finish in style. First we checked out and I drove Jill downtown, then returned the car. We had breakfast at Number 1 Queen (I liked my breakfast pie, but Jill’s Rhubarb crumble was really good), then took the 1PM ferry over to Waiheke Island. We were staying at the Owhanake Bay Estate and Christy picked us up and dropped us in town (Oneroa) so we could have lunch. We decided on the Sand Bar, and shared a salad and a pizza, not bad (and the first pizza we’d had on vacation).
After lunch Christy picked us up again, and showed us around the estate. They have a vineyard (they bottle their own wine), an olive grove (for their own olive oil), and a number of other gardens. We relaxed on the deck and enjoyed the view (and free Wi-Fi, the first place beside Seth’s where it was free), then we had massages.
That evening we arranged for a taxi to pick us up and take us to Mudbrick Restaurant. Also a vineyard, we got a bit of a sunset through the clouds as we ate. I had the lamb for dinner – the finest lamb of the trip. Our dessert that night was sharing the cheese selection – I don’t remember what we chose but they were mostly local and superb.
Friday we got breakfast on our deck, a nice full one (eggs, sausage, bacon etc) and a nice homemade chocolate pastry. Next we decided to walk along the shore, took a nice walk that started at the shore, went up at least half a mile then wound around back to the road. Fossil Bay has a lot of nice views along the path.
We also had lunch on our deck, as it was included in the package we got. It was an antipasto platter, notable for the local cheese and their own olive oil (remarkably different than the commercial stuff, you could really taste the olives). To work that off, we took another walk, this time to Cable Bay Vineyards and back to Mudbrick for wine tastings. We got a ride back as we were weighted down with wine after those two.
Our final dinner was at Te Whau – like Mudbrick, another restaurant with its own vineyard. The view was nice but the ambiance wasn’t as good as Mudbrick – happily the food was wonderful (I couldn’t resist more lamb, and Jill enjoyed the duck, and the fish cakes and goat’s cheese tart starters were good, not to mention the sticky toffee pudding). We didn’t get a sunset as clouds and drizzle rolled in, but it was still a nice view over the water.
Saturday morning the 20th the drizzle had abated but our deck was wet, so we ate under cover near the pool. Much the same breakfast as before, except the chocolate pastry had raspberry in it. We packed up and took the ferry back to Auckland. We walked down several blocks to get to Brew On Quay. We had a number of pints of local beers (unfortunately the only Epic Beer they had were too hoppy for me for a pint) and lunch (open steak sandwich for Jill and beef satay skewers for me, both with fries and aioli) – my favorite beer was the Tuatara Ardennes.
Too soon we had to leave and get the bus to go to the airport. We found that though we had each had a free checked bag, including a third bag (full of wine) was considerably more expensive than we thought, then had a scare getting on our flight as the area we chose to sit wasn’t getting flight information updated properly and when Jill got suspicious she found our flight was on “final call” (still didn’t board for another 30 minutes, but we had to go through security again).
The flight back was pretty good. The food was horrendous – the “panko encrusted tuna” turned out to be the most foul smelling tuna casserole either of us had encountered and we both skipped it. But other than that our travel karma was good. On the flight out, we’d had to share our row with a huge lady (I mean 350 lbs at least), and we were rewarded on the way back with an empty seat in our row. I also paid for Economy Plus on the flight from LA to Dulles as the other choice for sitting together was the very last row in the back. But we got back fine, although it was a little weird to have left and arrived on Saturday night (love that International Date Line).