Early morning arrival in Auckland by ship

Arriving by ship is a great introduction to Auckland. We sailed through outlying islands to dock early in the morning at the cruise ship terminal, in walking distance of downtown. Since we were disembarking and had luggage, we hailed a cab for the short ride to our hotel. With lots of free night certificates to use on this three-week trip, I chose the Four Points by Sheraton for this initial two-night stay. (We’d be back in Auckland for another two nights at the end of our stay in New Zealand.) The hotel is clean, modern and convenient. Happily, our room was ready early so we settled in quickly and had the full day ahead of us.

Top on my list was Waiheke Island, a roughly 40-minute ferry ride from the Auckland waterfront. The weather was gorgeous, but predicted to get more cloudy in coming days, so we decided to take advantage of the opportunity. I discovered that ferry tickets are available online at a small discount and bought them on my phone to avoid a line we found once we arrived at the dock. [Ferry tickets from Fullers360 were NA$40 + NZ$6 tax/per adult, round trip, for a total of NZ$92 for the two of us.] We then joined a much longer line waiting for the ferry. Waikheke is clearly popular with the locals on a pretty weekend day. (We were a little surprised at the fair number of people dressed up for the occasion. Young women in midi-skirts and dresses may have been a bit chilly on the ride over, but they were ready for stylish lunches at the island’s wineries.) Although the line looked daunting, the ferries are large and we easily made it on board and claimed seats on the upper, open-air deck. The ferry ride itself is an experience. We stopped only once at Devonport, before continuing on past the islands of Rangitoto, Motutapu and Motuihe en route to Waiheke.

To Waiheke Island by ferry

We bought an AT HOP card at the small ferry terminal on Waiheke and 4 single-journey bus rides, figuring we’d ride to the wineries and also stop in the beach town of Oneroa. Oddly, it’s necessary to buy the journeys in advance and add them to the AT HOP card (which you also have to pay a one-time fee for). You can’t just buy a ticket on the bus if you run out of pre-purchased tickets. We ended up not stopping in town, so were stuck with a couple of extra bus ride passes we never used, even though they were good in Auckland as well. Not a big deal, but an awkward and annoying system for tourists.

With lunch time approaching, we opted to go straight to the wineries, asking the bus driver to tell us when to get off. With this less-than-well-thought-out plan, we found ourselves at Stonyridge Vineyard at lunchtime. Restaurant tables were all booked on this sunny Sunday, but we were happy to take seats on the outside deck overlooking green hills and make a lunch of wine and a lovely cheeseboard. Unlike the world-renowned Marlborough wine region on the South Island, Waiheke is not sauvignon blanc country. We opted for a three wine tasting package consisting of a white and two reds: a chardonnay (Luna Dorada, 2020), an unusual blend of syrah, grenache, mouvedre and viognier (Pilgrim 2020); and, a “Bordeaux” blend (Larose, 2019). All were very good and this was looking to be a promising three weeks of discovering New Zealand wines.

From top: Stonyridge Vineyard deck, Te Motu, and Tantalus Estate

After lunch, we took a footpath across a field to neighboring Te Motu Vineyards where we tried a four-wine tasting flight at a picnic table in their casual outdoor space. Feeling up to the challenge of one more winery, we walked back toward the main road. Our path took us along unpaved roads, lined by trees or bordered by spring flowers, through vineyards (past a black helicopter waiting to whisk away wine-tasters who’d thrown a bit more cash at their outing than we had) to Tantalus Estate. We settled at a table on the patio behind their chic glass-walled restaurant and tasting room overlooking their vineyards.

The Tantalus driveway led us back to the main road where we soon caught a bus back to the ferry terminal (a less than 30-minute ride). We’d met a small group we recognized from the ship who told us they’d also tried to use the bus, but had been stranded in the town of Oneroa when the bus was either full or just didn’t stop for them. They’d resorted to hiring a cab for the rest of the day. With that story in mind (and not seeing much of interest to us in Oneroa anyway since we’d eaten and drunk our fill and weren’t interested in shopping or a chilly beach), we opted not to risk a stop there.

You’d think we’d have had enough wine for the day, but back at the Auckland waterfront, we opted for dinner at Botswana Butchery and were pretty easily sold on a bottle of wine with dinner. We knew we couldn’t drink a whole bottle, but figured it would be fine to take a half-bottle back to our hotel. Wrong. It turns out that corking a bottle for taking home after a meal is illegal in New Zealand. Our waiter assured us, though, that he’d keep it for us. That wasn’t really going to help since we only had one more night in Auckland and didn’t plan on returning to Botswana Butchery. Oh well, it was a good meal (fabulous venison Wellington was a highlight and house-baked bread with smoked butter was addictive) and lesson learned about the wine. After our wine-filled day, we didn’t really need any more anyway.

Albert Park (top left), Auckland Domain, and Parnell Road

We spent our second day in Auckland exploring. We walked through Albert Park to the Auckland Domain, a huge green area that includes a lawn bowling club, beautiful gardens, meandering paths, and the Auckland Memorial War Museum. We took a small path through lush woods to pop out near the Parnell train station. Small footpaths and roads threading between backyards led us to Parnell Road, the main street of Auckland’s oldest (and one of its most expensive) suburbs. We window-shopped and read menus in the many restaurants housed in buildings that ranged from one-to-two story painted clapboard to vintage facades of masonry to four- and five-story modern rectangles. Finally opting for Lala Café, we enjoyed a late lunch before continuing our ramble back towards downtown. With our pretty day now threatening rain, we took refuge for a while before heading back out to admire Auckland’s charming vintage buildings and the contrast they presented to the sleek high-rises and iconic tower. Tired, we opted for dinner in the hotel and called it an early night, excited about our flight to the south island the following morning.

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