City sights - Getting over some prejudices

WALKING DISTANCE: Auckland city, as seen from the Viaduct; from here, it’s easy to experience some of the best things without having to take to the motorways.
WALKING DISTANCE: Auckland city, as seen from the Viaduct; from here, it’s easy to experience some of the best things without having to take to the motorways.

Belinda Feek manages to avoid the traffic and get over some old prejudices during a visit to Auckland. 

Most people only need to hear the word "Auckland" and it conjures up all sorts of stereotypes.

I must admit I stay clear of the place because of the traffic. I'll make the jaunt if there's a concert, or a friend has a do on there, but I'm not interested in the hair-tearing stress of getting around.

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development must have sensed my anxiety about the city. It was offering a three-day trip to find out just how much you can do by foot in the City of Sails.

Last month, it launched its new promotion to get tourists to the city, trying to break down the stereotypes and let people see how much the city's improved.

A weekend of food, wine and scenery? Righto, I said.

My friend and I were put up in the Hilton, which, it turns out, is in the middle of loads of restaurants, pubs and shops. Perfect!

After checking into our seaside room, we head off to the ferry terminal 200 metres away.

We're off to the North Shore suburb of Devonport. Yes, more stereotypes envisaged, although we're going to ride Segways, so that should be a laugh.

We meet up with Pauline Baker of Magic Broomstick Segway Tours at her ferry-terminal office. We head to the boardwalk for a quick training lesson, which is as awkward as you can imagine, initially.

Moving and stopping is simply a matter of leaning forward or backwards. After a few goes, I pick it up and am keen to go full throttle - 18kmh.

We felt a bit like a caged animals for a bit, with the number of people who stare as we glide by.

But these Segways are underrated. Why do a tour on foot when you can do it twice as fast on these, and not even break a sweat or pull a muscle?

We head to North Head, a grunty climb, making me glad we're on two wheels.

Baker says most of her clientele are aged over 35 - mostly "middle-aged".

The business was her husband's brainchild, after he noticed a similar activity in Paris.

However, after just six months - and investing in six $13,000 Segways - he died.

Having only ridden one once before, Baker took it over, and her Segway touring company is one of only two in the country.

Once we're atop North Head, with its panoramic views of the Hauraki Gulf, Baker gives us a history of the area and its use as an integral spot for early Maori, and later European settlers.

After inspecting the many tunnels, we're off back to the city for drinks at the Roxy in Fort Street, then dinner at one of Auckland's most admired restaurants, Cafe Hanoi.

It's regarded as one of the flagship restaurants of the new Britomart precinct, which has a bustling pub and nightlife scene - not far from the Viaduct's well-known watering holes.

It doesn't take bookings, but we nab a table and sample fare inspired by Vietnamese street stalls and restaurants.

The food is amazing, my favourite the tiger prawn cutlets coated in young green rice with a spicy chilli sauce.

An easy 15-minute stroll and we arrive at Q Theatre on Queen Street to watch the play Drowning in Veronica Lake.

Lake is played by co-creator Alex Ellis, half of the Flaxworks Theatre creatives with Phil Ormsby.

She portrays the Hollywood starlet from the 1940s - in a multitude of situations, from battling the bottle to finding the wrong men.

The next day, we're back on the ferry, but this time on a wine tour around Waiheke Island.

Wayne Eagleton, of Waiheke Island Wine Tours, is our guide for the day.

First stop is Jurassic Ridge winery, set on the 1.6 hectare site of one of Auckland's earliest missionary churches.

Owner and geologist Lance Blumhardt gives us tastes from a range of his finest wines. Kennedy Point Vineyard is a short drive away, nestled under voluptuous pohutukawa trees. Owner Neil Kunimura takes us on a short tour and explains that the winery uses traditional methods to make wine - hand-picking the grapes before stomping on them in barrels. He is still beaming as he tells us of the success the winery's 2007 syrah had at the International Wine Challenge in 2009, taking out three awards, including the International Syrah Trophy.

After a sample of wine and olive oil, we head to the highest point on Waiheke: Peacock Sky Vineyard.

It offers food pairings - ranging from dark chocolate, tuna cases or chorizo - with its five wine tastings.

Vineyard owner Rob Meredith says while food pairing is nothing new, it adds to the wine-tour experience and makes drinkers realise how much food affects the wine.

Lunch is at the lauded Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant.

I opt for two seafood dishes: the garden pea and seafood bisque, filled with katafi prawns and king scallops, for entree; and snapper for my main.

Bellies full, we're back on the ferry to Auckland. Or so we think. In the confusion, we end up in Devonport. Thankfully the staff are friendly and give us an affectionate nod and point us back on the ferry to the city. After a quick drink in Britomart, we head for dinner at the Hilton's exclusive seafood restaurant, Fish.

This is somewhere you'll head when you're celebrating, because it ain't too cheap. However, it is good, and I can recommend the oysters, prawns and seared yellowfin tuna.

The restaurant has awe-inspiring views over the harbour and towards Devonport.

It was the perfect ending to a big day and sets us up for the following one, when we join Kerry Swan on her Zest Food Tour through Ponsonby.

It's not something I've thought of doing - a guided tour of a city's suburb, sampling food and coffee by foot. But what a treat.

First stop is Milly's Kitchen, seemingly a first-stop shop for everything you need for the kitchen - as well as having its own kitchen, where staff are busily making scones for the customers.

We discover countless cafes, restaurants and pubs. Swan says she's got a lot of the best on board with her project.

We stop in Landreth and Co for a coffee and muffin, followed by Nosh Food Market, with its tastings of cheeses, meats and other products as you shop.

I'm not a big hot chocolate drinker, but wow, what Devonport Chocolates has on offer is simply outstanding.

Lunch is a two-course wine-matching at The Ponsonby Road Bistro - a Cuisine magazine NZ Restaurant of the Year finalist this year.

For entree, it's a light, creamy clam soup followed by a Moroccan minced lamb dish with pickled vegetables.

Then it's time to head back home, feeling slightly cultured - for however long that lasts. Food, wine, pubs and a good time - and I didn't even need my car.

You're not that bad after all, Auckland.

Belinda Feek was hosted by Auckland, Tourism, Events and Economic Development.

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Waikato Times