Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Zealand in Review

Over a coming series of posts I will be reviewing the wineries we visited in New Zealand this past December and providing tasting notes on many of the wines consumed during our trip. The posts will be based on the chronological order that we visited the wine regions. This means Waiheke Island will be first followed by Nelson, Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay and finally Martinborough.

Why won’t there be any reviews for wineries in the Auckland region other than Waiheke Island? Its quite simple really. I was in Auckland to talk at a conference and as I did not know the final program for the 4-5 days of the conference I had decided that it would be foolish to set up appointments with any wineries. It would be much better to simply fly into Auckland early, very early as it turned out, on Sunday the 3rd of December. We could then avoid jetlag by spending the day registering for the meeting and perusing the program to figure out what presentations I should attend and whom I might need to catch up with. I could then give my talk on the Monday afternoon, do my extra little bits at the conference, and then we would be free to indulge in our vacation. Conferences can be a significant misuse of time when the vast majority of the subjects under discussion do not involve your own, so it was fortunate that it only took Sunday and Monday to do all that I needed to do.

Thus on Tuesday we hired a car with the expectation that we would be visiting the sights of Auckland, Hobbiton, and, yes, some vineyards. As I have reported in a previous post our hire car experience in Auckland was short, not sweet, and having just received the credit card bill, fortunately not as expensive as I was dreading. Without our own transport, any trips outside of Auckland had to involve tour buses of one description or another. An organized trip to Waitomo and Tumu Tumu TOObing was an outstanding way to spend a day. Sadly, on the Waitomo trip we were told that Hobbiton was no longer as pristine as seen in cinemas. It may well have been imagined by JRR Tolkien, and brought to the silver screen by Peter Jackson, but all that remains now are facades of the movie set. Sad but true. We thought our time would be better spent elsewhere.

After spending six days in Auckland Miranda and I came to realize that it does not rate highly on our list of cities of international appeal. We roomed on the 11the floor of the Quest on Eden, overlooking some very ordinary high-rise buildings, Auckland Harbor, dockyards and rail lines; it was not a pretty vista. Additionally, the architecture of the central business district (CBD) of Auckland is uninspiring to say the least. I hesitate to use the word blighted because there is plenty of hustle and bustle on the streets during the day, but one does get the sense of a city that needs a thorough makeover.

Renewal is taking place in some areas. The Auckland Museum is obviously getting more than just some spit and polish. Hop on the free Link bus to Parnell and you are in boutique city. The wine is expensive there but the coffee is good! Back on the harbor, on Quay Street, you can also find restaurants. We dined at the Harborside on our second night. Go futher afield and you can stroll Ponsonby Road for more restaurants. We had a passable meal at Leonardo’s. And I’m sure if you really work at it you can find better. We had to go to Waiheke Island for our best meal in the Auckland area. More on that later.

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