Go Travel New Zealand - - Contents - By Mered­ith Burilin

Our youngest son has flown the nest and headed off on his big OE. So we de­cided it was time to pack our bags too. My hus­band and I are mak­ing the most of our new in­de­pen­dence and have planned three weeks away from our now-quiet home. And with some great deals on air­fares, our first stop is Auck­land.

Pick­ing up our rental car at the air­port, it’s not long un­til we’re at As­cot Par­nell Bed and Break­fast. I’m big on pre-hol­i­day re­search and we’ve cho­sen As­cot in part be­cause of its fan­tas­tic re­views on TripAd­vi­sor. The bed and break­fast is ev­ery­thing we’d hoped for – im­mac­u­late rooms, mod­ern bath­rooms, pri­vacy, lovely hosts and a great lo­ca­tion. Just on the fringe of the city cen­tre, Par­nell is ac­tu­ally Auck­land’s old­est sub­urb, but it’s far from quaint – in fact it’s now one of Auck­land’s most up­mar­ket ar­eas. The re­stored Vic­to­rian vil­las are gor­geous, and the com­pact vil­lage cen­tre is lined with stylish bou­tiques, cafés and restau­rants.

Af­ter fresh­en­ing up, we take a walk to Auck­land Mu­seum, nes­tled in the lush green of the Auck­land Do­main. The build­ing it­self is sim­ply spec­tac­u­lar and the views from out­side stretch across the har­bour and out into the Hau­raki Gulf.

It would be easy to spend hours look­ing at the col­lec­tion of Māori and Pa­cific arte­facts alone, from small, early tools and weapons to the huge waka, an ocean-go­ing ca­noe that car­ried some of the Maori peo­ple’s Poly­ne­sian an­ces­tors to New Zealand. Walk­ing through the marae (meet­ing house) we mar­vel at the in­tri­cate carv­ings; you can only imag­ine the many hours that must go into their creation.

The Māori cul­tural per­for­mance is a must. On four times a day, the 45-minute per­for­mance is a good way to get a slightly deeper un­der­stand­ing of Māori his­tory, cul­ture, mu­sic and lan­guage. As an Aus­tralian, it is par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful to see the fa­mous haka in its orig­i­nal con­text – away from the rugby field – and we both have goose­bumps by the end.

With lucky tim­ing, the mu­seum is also show­ing the an­nual Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year ex­hi­bi­tion, on loan from the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum in Lon­don. It’s on un­til 3 Au­gust, so if you’re in Auck­land in time, make sure you put this on your itin­er­ary. More than 100 im­ages are on dis­play, and the large back-lit pan­els en­hance ev­ery tiny de­tail. There is wildlife and stun­ning land­scapes from ev­ery corner of the world – we come eye to eye with a beau­ti­ful lion cub in one mo­ment, the next we see a po­lar bear about to emerge from icy waters. The pho­tographs, by both am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers, have been se­lected from around 43,000 en­tries from 96 coun­tries, so these are truly the best of the best.

One of the mu­seum’s most strik­ing per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tions is Vol­ca­noes, which delves into vol­ca­noes in gen­eral, and more specif­i­cally Auck­land’s own. Auck­land is one of the few cities in the world to be built on an ac­tive vol­canic field and you can see them dot­ted all over the land­scape. Many of the re­gion’s 48 vol­ca­noes still have rem­nants of early Māori pa for­ti­fi­ca­tions. Per­haps the best part of the ex­hi­bi­tion is sit­ting in the lounge of a real-scale house watch­ing – and feel­ing – what a fu­ture erup­tion might be like in Auck­land. Kids squeal with de­light.

That night, we stroll up the road from our bed and break­fast to dine at Cibo. We want some­where lo­cal and a bit fancy – we are on hol­i­day af­ter all. The

menu is ex­tra­or­di­nary and ex­tremely var­ied; I have no doubt that ev­ery­one goes home happy from Cibo. Af­ter se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion, I opt for the roasted ha­puka with slip­per lob­ster, and Mr B. is thrilled with his liquorice­dusted veni­son loin. We fin­ish on a sweet note, shar­ing the coconut lime cheese­cake. Divine. Although we don’t par­take, Cibo also has a fan­tas­tic menu of cheese plates, some­thing you don’t see of­ten enough these days.

We start the next day at Auck­land Art Gallery Toi o Tā­maki. Right in the heart of the city and framed by large col­umns of kauri, it makes a strik­ing first im­pres­sion. The build­ing it­self is a work of art and was named World Build­ing of the Year for 2013-2014 at the World Ar­chi­tec­ture Fes­ti­val. An­other pleas­ant sur­prise: en­try is free.

The gallery has more than 15,000 works by lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional artists, over four floors, and also reg­u­larly houses spe­cial in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions. While it’s won­der­ful to see the masters, we are al­ways keen to dis­cover the art of each coun­try we visit too. As well as per­ma­nent dis­plays such as Goldie’s fa­mous in­tri­cate por­traits of prom­i­nent Māori fig­ures, the Toi Aotearoa col­lec­tion gives a won­der­ful in­sight into New Zealand art across 400 years. Mod­ern mixed-me­dia, paint­ings and sculp­tures sit along­side 19th Cen­tury pieces de­pict­ing early Māori and Euro­pean set­tle­ment. We’re happy to wan­der around at our own pace, but the gallery also of­fers free guided tours.

Af­ter a few hours at Auck­land Art Gallery, we take the short drive over the Auck­land Har­bour Bridge to the scenic seaside vil­lage of Devon­port. You can also catch a ferry from down­town and you’ll be there in just 12 min­utes. Devon­port has sim­i­lar­i­ties to Par­nell, most no­tably the beau­ti­fully re­stored Vic­to­rian vil­las and her­itage build­ings that line the streets. For all its pop­u­lar­ity, Devon­port has re­tained its charm­ingly laid­back at­mos­phere and is home to many artists, writ­ers and po­ets.

If it’s Kiwi art you’re af­ter, this has to be one of the best spots in Auck­land. At Flagstaff Gallery, on the main strip, the con­tem­po­rary col­lec­tions range from large New Zealand land­scapes on can­vas to ab­stract sculp­ture. Also within easy walk­ing dis­tance are sev­eral other gal­leries well worth a stop, in­clud­ing Art of This World, Peter Raos Glass Gallery and Art by the Sea, where we pur­chase an exquisitely crafted rimu bowl and a hand-coloured etch­ing by a lo­cal Devon­port artist. Luck­ily, the gal­leries ship in­ter­na­tion­ally, so you’re not lim­ited to what will fit in your lug­gage.

Hav­ing worked up a de­cent ap­petite by this stage, we head to Châ­teubri­ant, an au­then­tic deli-style French café. The cab­i­nets are brim­ming with pas­tries, baguettes, sweet treats and hand­made breads, as well as heartier meals you can en­joy here or take home. Peo­ple are re­lax­ing in­doors, but we have a pic­nic spot at the top of a vol­cano – Mount Vic­to­ria – with our names on it, so we stock up on fresh baguettes, brie and salami-like saucis­son. It’s a cool day but the walk up keeps us warm. We pick a spot on the grass and tuck in.

Much like the mu­seum’s lo­ca­tion, from here we can see back across the har­bour to the city cen­tre and out to the Hau­raki Gulf is­lands. On our way back we drive to the top of Devon­port’s other vol­canic cone, North Head. Not only are the views even bet­ter, you can also walk through the fas­ci­nat­ing mil­i­tary for­ti­fi­ca­tions and un­der­ground tun­nels, which were built dur­ing World War II but luck­ily never needed. If you’re vis­it­ing Auck­land with the kids, North Head is a guar­an­teed crowd pleaser.

Back at As­cot Par­nell we put our feet up with a cuppa in our lovely room and en­joy a few hours of R and R. For din­ner tonight, we’re off to the Blue Breeze Inn in Pon­sonby. Serv­ing ‘mod­ern Chi­nese with an is­land breeze’, the ex­ten­sive menu means we’re faced with some tough de­ci­sions again. We start with pork and prawn won tons and trop­i­cal con­coc­tions. It’s not ev­ery day you can sip your pre-din­ner drink from a raw baby coconut. Af­ter­wards, I savour the amaz­ing flavours of my roasted duck, and Mr B. de­vours his red-braised pork ribs. In­dulging our sweet tooth again, we fin­ish with heav­enly whisky and gin­ger soft serve with pis­ta­chio and gin­ger­nut crunch.

Our trip to Auck­land has been one of fine food, fine arts, his­tory and cul­ture. It’s amaz­ing what you can see and do here within a small win­dow of time, and if you have longer there are many more pos­si­bil­i­ties – out­door sculp­ture parks, guided art tours, her­itage walks and live theatre ev­ery night of the week. And as for great views, the Sky Tower may be higher but I highly rec­om­mend a vol­cano or two.

Auck­land War Memo­rial

As­cot Par­nell

The Blue Breeze Inn

Auck­land Art Gallery

Cock­tails, Fine Wine

& Craft Beer

207 Par­nell Rise

Late Night Lounge Wed­nes­day-Satur­day

Farssi­idde Bar

The Hil­ton

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