The next four days in Auckland are looking rainy and windy, but with today being perhaps the least rainy I decided to walk to the ferry a few blocks from the hostel and head to Waiheke Island. It's a 45 minute ferry ride and thanks to my wonderful friends Lane and Eli providing a donation towards my adventures, I upgraded this trip from just a ferry ride and all day bus pass to the "Taste of Waiheke" tour with wine and olive oil tastings and a tour of the island. Lane and Eli are oenophiles enough that they even had their wedding reception at a lovely vineyard and rather than a little bag of Jordan almonds as a memento for their guests, we each received a specially-labelled bottle of wine to take home. So, I knew using their "blog subsciption" toward a wine tour would be very appropriate. Thanks Lane and Eli!
First stop was Stonyridge Vineyards. We had tastings of a chardonnay and a merlot. The whites from Stonyridge are all made from grapes from other vineyards farther south in New Zealand, but all the reds are grown on the vineyards there. We enjoyed a lovely lunch with baby greens, delicious spinach quiche, chicken quiche, and cheese and grapes. They gave us a special deal to have a glass of either wine we tasted for NZ$5, so I enjoyed a glass of the merlot called Faithful, named after the vineyard dog, a Labrador Retriever, who passed away four years ago or so. (Yes, I'm missing my pup dog and cats.)
Next stop: Rangihoua Estate olive farm. The olive oils were quite tasty, and each distinctive. My favorite was the one that was actually rated a top 20 olive oil worldwide by some Italian authority. It was just a bit too pricey for me to buy a bottle of olive oil but I couldn't pass up the jar of herb spread for NZ$15, so my Annapolis friends can look forward to trying it when I arrive back home.
Next we stopped at Wild on Waiheke, a local microbrewey. We sampled a pale ale and a porter, (the porter was delicious), and then a ginger beer. The ginger beer was quite nice, better than Goslings, but apparently can't be taken out of the country because it and their cider have no preservatives whatsoever. I would've upgraded to add a shot of local island rhum and make it a dark and storny, but need to get cash and didn't want to run a card for just a little sample shot.
Final stop was Mudbrick Vineyard. http://www.mudbrick.co.nz/ We tasted a Sauvingnon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Bordeaux style red blend, and two Syrah. The grapes grown in New Zealand are quite similar to those that do well in Oregon (Oregon does Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris that are world-renowned). Particularly on this rainy, blustery day, Waiheke reminds me of Oregon in terrain and weather. There truly is something about volcanic soil that makes for amazing wines.
Apparently a few orcas were spotted swimming around the island a couple of days ago so I was hopeful I might see them, but no such luck. I guess they are spotted here a couple of times a year passing through.
I opted to stay on the island and walk around, visit the little shops, and have dinner before heading back to Auckland city. I popped into a beautiful shop of jewellery and sculpture by Paora. I was immediately welcomed by the scent of nag champa incense, which just soothes one's soul. Paora's work is very elegant and unbusy. If my budget were larger I would certainly have picked up a memento of New Zealand there. He was busy carving by hand at his jeweler's bench as we chatted, and it is always so nice to meet the artist rather than just get something mass-produced without personal touch. I tried to pop back in to get a web address to include here and find out if he might have a small koru charm on its own (there were ones attached to various semi-precious stone necklaces running around NZ$90) that I could add to my necklace, but alas he had already closed up for the evening. Here is a beautiful sculpture out in front of his shop, not sure if it is his work but it would seem logical to be.
Oh, here are my awesome Keen shoes that make me really look like a backpacker. I love them.
The shops closed up at 5:00PM so I should have done my window-shopping earlier rather than stopping for a coffee and cookie, but I headed to Sandbar for a burger, fries, and pint of beer for dinner. The outside tables with a great view of the beach are probably hopping on a sunny day. I think between it being winter here and a cold, rainy day, the island was relatively quiet for a Saturday. I'll probably make it an early night and catch a ferry back to Auckland before too long.
Not sure what surprise will await at the hostel; for some reason one of the girls in the room had to move rooms, which she was upset about. I was grateful because she sleeps all day (so we tip-toe around even at noon) but then she stays up very late and won't turn the lights off. This even though she can easily see her tablet in the dark to read and write, and there are plenty of community spaces she could hang out in for that, but the rest of us would like some peace, quiet, and darkness for getting some sleep. Such are the downsides of dorm living, so fingers crossed whatever new roommates have arrived are better and not worse. I still have to decide what my plan is for tomorrow. I'd like to see the zoo and the unique-to-New Zealand flora and fauna, even though I do hate for animals to be caged. Monday there is a little walking tour from the hostel, so perhaps I won't be late and miss it like I did Friday's. I'd also like to see some of the eclectic and hip areas of town like K'Road, Mt. Eden, and Ponsonby. What I really need to do is get out for a 14 mile run, so perhaps I will rally for that tomorrow morning. I know I will feel better having knocked it out and I don't want my training, (or my figure), to slide any more than it already has.
For folks who may not be up on every exchange rate, when you see the New Zealand dollar prices I lament in these posts, multiply by .85 for the US dollar price. Two things that make the prices sting a smidge less is that (1) they already include tax and (2) tipping is not customary here.