It might finally be summer in the UK, but I was lucky enough to escape for a few weeks of sunshine in my homeland, just as the snow was falling in Londontown. It had been just over two years since I had been back to New Zealand, and I was itching to see my family and friends, as well as explore a few new places along the way.
London was in the grips of a snow storm. The day that I flew out, I was watching the weather and was a bit stunned to see the snow start to settle at about 4pm, when I was flying out at 9pm. After a few hours delay, I was on my way – thank goodness! I flew with Emirates, and was excited to be on one of the new 17-hour flights direct from Dubai to Auckland. This cuts out a stopover in Australia, effectively taking about 4-5 hours off travel time, which I then got to spend with my family. My family are very tight knit and rather large. I was greeted at the airport by my immediate family, including my nephews and niece, who I last saw, when she was three weeks old. She is now just over two and a bit of a sassy legend. I was delighted to be gifted a cuddle! That afternoon, I drank in the sunshine and enjoyed catching up with my aunties, uncles and cousins.
I am lucky in that my best friends, who I have known for over 20 years (that makes us sound unreasonably old, but we have known each other since we were in high school, and one of them I have known since I was five, so we go way back), were around to catch up during my first few days in Auckland. We are kindred souls, so the venue for our first catch up was a in a café for a treat. Domain Eatery is relatively new to the West Auckland food scene, but it’s certainly making a splash. We shared a cake and I was excited to have my first L&P of the trip. A week later, I would be back here with my Mum and Sister, on a rare kid-free outing, where we had some serious brunch…
To continue with my eating tour of West Auckland, we next headed to The Hunting Lodge. This winery is beautiful. The setting is stunning, and the food is immense. Between the four of us, we shared a few platters, and of course a bottle of rose – it is summer after all. In the summer on a Friday night, you can let your children run around the lawn until their hearts content, whilst you snack on pizza and drink some pretty classy wine. I loved their wine so much, that I visited the cellar door to take some as gifts to the people that I would be staying with down the line (this is Kiwi slang for ‘further down the country’).
A few days later, I was on my way to the reason for my visit. I was here to be a bridesmaid for a very good friend that I had met in London. I was so touched to be asked, and so delighted to be able to travel for this event. I arrived a few days early so that we could be reacquainted and to help in any way I could with the wedding, given that I was not really able to help from London. I arrived in Wellington to a typical Wellington day – windy and rainy, just like being back in London haha. The weather would clear for the wedding and that is what counted.
Part of the preparations involved a mani/pedi from the amazing East Day Spa. If you watch our insta stories (and if you don’t, you need to reassess that situation), you will have seen our adventure there. We left there walking on air, feeling very relaxed and pampered, and headed for a reward afternoon tea at Louis Sergeant, a French café in central Wellington. We enjoyed our delish sweet afternoon tea (there were sandwiches as well, but let’s be honest, it’s about the cakes really). They also have a drool-worthy deli that adds to general buzz of the café. Defo worth a visit. From there, we decided to have one final drink at Concrete. They were not kidding when they called this a hidden gem. The staff are really friendly and knowledgeable and the atmosphere is both chic and relaxed. A great place to take a break from shopping or later on in the evening, for a big night.
The next day we headed to Martinborough, which is where the wedding was to be held. About a 40 minute drive out of Wellington, this wine district is a bit hidden. There are about 20 wineries, all within a walk or cycle of each other. We were staying in the stunning Peppers Parehua, which was a real treat and luxury. The rooms here are just beautiful and I had it all to myself. When I opened the door to find a living room, a kitchen, a huge bed, spa bath and deck complete with furniture, I felt so special. I could not wait to jump on the bed! But there were wineries to visit and other bridesmaids to meet, so that took a back seat for a minute. It was a Friday afternoon, so many of the venues closed at 4pm, often due to holding weddings or events of their own. I did manage to visit a few though.
First up was Cambridge Road, where we did a tasting. Most of the vineyards here will offer tastings for between $5-10NZD. The wines here are locally made and you can also have some delish charcuterie and cheese platters too! Next up was Martinborough Vineyard, where I was delighted to discover that they also had a gin distillery, and we were able to taste the gin as part of our tasting. I even picked up a few bottles, one for Liam, mainly so that I didn’t have to share mine!
I was really sad to leave Martinborough, it was a really treat to stay where we stayed, to have the amazing service from the staff there who made my friends special day amazing, to try all the lovely wine and to explore somewhere new. But there were more places to explore. On the way back to Welly, we stopped off at the Rimutaka’s lookout. This place is a great starting point for a number of hikes (none of which we could have done in our hungover post wedding states, but I will defo do one on another trip), but is also a great place to view the ranges. It’s a popular tourist spot and I even met some people from the UK there too.
We also stopped for, you guessed it… more food. Some of the places that I am sharing with you in this piece are real insider, hidden gem, hipsters know, but no one else does kind of places. Zany Zeus is one of these. The halloumi sandwiches are the must-have from the menu, but they also have a deli selling amazing Greek delicacies and do a pretty good coffee as well. This place did gain a bit a notoriety when Scarlett Johansson decreed it to have the best chocolate cake that she had ever tasted. I chose to go for a plum tart, and can confirm that the fare there is indeed incredible.
Next up was a very quick trip to Christchurch to see some friends. This was a full on two days, that I managed to pack a lot into. I met all of these friends whilst living in London, and they were all a huge part of my urban family here, who have moved back to NZ. I have been lucky enough to visit Christchurch a number of times since the earthquake, and was so happy to see the progress in the rebuild this time. There were so many new establishments open, so much so, that the world famous Re:Start has now closed.
Some highlights include, visiting my friends pub – The Village Inn. If you are in Sumner, this is THE place to go. You will get a welcome like you would not believe and a great feed. The beach setting is so divine. It makes you feel like you’re in a totally different place, and it’s only about 20 minutes from the city centre. We also visited a number of the new bars in the central city, which by the way, is covered in the most amazing art – I spent a lot of time stopping to take photos of these installations. We started at Smash Palace, which reminded me of my project Pop, back in London.
A number of new bars have been re-opened – The Craft Embassy was great for a pre-dinner drink. We sat out on the terrace and watched the sun set. Dinner was at the fantastic Mumbaiwala. I cannot say enough about this place. The waitress so was patient with us all as we detailed various allergies and asked a million questions about the menu. The food was incredible and the bathrooms were quirky in that they have the sound effects of being on a train. We stopped off for a nightcap at Fat Eddies, where the band was just finishing up. This place is really fun, it’s the little touches that give a venue it’s atmosphere and that little something extra. It was so nice to see the nightlife coming back to Christchurch and to see such interesting venues opening, it made me sad to be leaving while not getting to try more of them.
Christchurch is also family friendly. I was staying with friends who have two wee ones aged four and one. So the day started early, but was exciting as we headed out to the Gondola to see all of Christchurch at once. This is a favourite with the kids, as there is a lot to see and do up there. The view is stunning and on a clear day, I could spend a long time staring at it. There are even walks to be done, again, I am building up a list of walks and hikes to do when I go back next time. Next stop was Lyttleton, primarily to visit a bakery that I had heard about. Glamour Cake was well worth the trip. The story goes, that the café was not doing as well as it could have been, and the daughter of the owner was given a chance to reinvigorate it, and reinvigorate it, she did. There was a fun mix of tradies getting a pie for lunch and people like me devouring a wonderful doughnut creation. The hardest decision was choosing which one to have.
After lunch, there was a bit of sugar to run off, so we took the kids to the Margaret Mahy playground. I have wanted to go here for ages. Margaret Mahy was a wonderful children’s author and I fondly remember her books as a kid. This playground is bizarre, fun, interactive and has something for all of the family. I went on the flying fox, down large slides, jumped on trampolines and played in the water play area.
I headed back to Auckland, where I spent the rest of my holiday, soaking in my time with the kids and seeing my friends. But before I sign off from here, I need to tell you about one more place. Ponsonby Central is a must do on the Auckland food scene. This place houses a number of innovative restaurants and cafés. I have been here on every visit home – I have eaten doughnuts that I injected with flavouring and drunken some amazing cocktails, but this time I tried Burger Burger. These burgers are the stuff of legends. My sister was very excited to hear that I had been there. The people I was with were steadily working their way through the menu and I was beyond excited to wrap my mouth around an Old Smokey burger, as well as getting involved in the popcorn chicken and potato skins that we shared as a group.
So, its sounds like all I did on my holiday was eat and drink my way through my country. That is mostly true. I spent my time reconnecting with friends and family, and food is major part of that connection. I am now back in London, running and attending exercise classes to get back on track with my healthy lifestyle. But on days when I feel like I cannot face another salad, my mind drifts back to the good times I had at home, the amazing food, the fantastic company and the warm welcome that no one does better than New Zealand. Do yourself a favour head out there and see it for yourself.
Photos by Nicola Whyte