THE SWEET SIDE Editor Sophie Gray visits the Chelsea Sugar Factory
EDITOR SOPHIE GRAY TAKES A JAUNT ACROSS AUCKLAND’S HARBOUR BRIDGE TO VISIT THE SHORE’S SWEETEST NEW ATTRACTION
The first European settlers of Auckland’s famed North Shore must have had dessert on their minds from the get-go, since they almost immediately cleared acres of land to be used just for orchards and strawberry fields.
In years gone by, city dwellers would schlep across the harbour on the ferry to enjoy a day out by the sea and the strawberries. Now, decades later. there’s a sweet new reason to take a trip over the bridge.
Located on a beautiful harbour-side site, the Chelsea Sugar Factory with its famed orange walls has long been one of Auckland’s most iconic buildings. It has now evolved into so much more than a refinery and is home to the spanking new Chelsea Bay Visitor and Food Education Centre, and the highly anticipated Sugar café.
The stunning spot, with fabulous views of The Auckland Harbour Bridge and skyline, has been occupied since the company was established in 1882. Originally chosen for its deep-water port, ships are still unloading raw sugar to the fully operational refinery every six weeks.
At the end of last year, Chelsea Sugar decided to throw its doors open to welcome visitors, to show them where their sugar comes from and let them step back in time to experience the 134-year history of Chelsea’s heritage site. So I was excited to join the winner of our Chelsea Best Dessert competition on one of the weekday tours that run every hour between 10am-4pm.
Having donned the requisite pink hard hat and safety goggles, we board the motor train to see how raw sugar makes its way from the ships berthed at the deep-water port into the massive raw store. After viewing the awe-inspiring sugar mountain up close, we’re guided through the steamy factory, where we’re greeted with the malty sweet aroma of sugar and accompanied by the occasional opportunistic bee. Steep stairwells and elevated gang planks ensure a real factory experience, but it does mean tours are not suitable for pre-schoolers, wheelchairs or pushchairs.
Throughout the tour the friendly crew happily answer questions about the refining process, and of course
there’s a chance to taste some of the products fresh from the production line. The tour also provides a fascinating glimpse into the past and the key role that Chelsea has played in the establishment of the North Shore.
There’s also a free interactive Food Education Centre adjoining the tour gathering point, a collaboration between Chelsea Sugar and Edmonds, which provides a state-of-the-art interactive experience, including a fun digital baking activity with cook Annabelle White. But be warned, if you stuff your recipe up, digital Annabelle will definitely let you know all about it!
Baking classes will also be available in the custom-made kitchen, but it’s Sugar that truly entices those with a sweet tooth, and the smart, stylish new café is everything you’d expect of its name. Think mountains of goodies in the counter – indulgent slices, eye-popping donuts and tempting tarts all made on site by the skilled team of bakers. You can watch them live as they work and pick up a few pointers, or just relax with a glass of wine and order from the sophisticated menu, where meals such as eggs benedict with salmon and capers and summer bruschetta with local burrata, heirloom tomatoes, coriander seeds and ciabatta are served with friendly professionalism. Not only is the food delicious, the presentation is Instagramably pretty. High tea is available if you book ahead and there is even a fabulous new playground directly opposite, so you can keep an eye on the kids while you linger over lunch or dine picnic-style on the grass. Parking is plentiful, so allow time for a stroll in the grounds – dogs on a leash are welcome too.
100 Colonial Rd, Birkenhead, Auckland
‘Not only is the food delicious, the presentation is Instagramably pretty’
Sophie with our Best Dessert competition winner Marietjie Swart and family.
Smart and stylish Sugar cafe wont fail to entice the sweet-toothed customer.