North Shore Tour & Taste of New Zealand Food Festival

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This afternoon I met Sam, a couch surfer and Auckland local who lives on the North Shore. Though it was pouring rain in the city the clouds quickly passed. As we crossed the Harbour Bridge and entered the rural fields of North Auckland the rain let up. A world of farmland, cows and bright green landscape surrounded me. I felt a bit more at ease, and liberated from my urban fortress!

Our first stop was Snow Planet, an indoor ski field. I took photos left and right; there in the middle of no where on a hill was a boxy white structure housing a wonderful man-made slope with a magic carpet, two poma lifts, a terrain park and all the usual alpine lodge amenities such as rentals, a ski shop and of course a pub with a toasty fireplace!

Our second stop was the little Bohemian village of Puhoi. We drove past the Bohemian museum, the library, the kayak rental, and parked at the Puhoi hotel and pub. A true locals pub, every inch of wall and ceiling was decorated with memorebelia – mostly various paper currency and old ID cards. We enjoyed a round of Bohemian Draught, a light lager style beer, as the sun came out overhead. Puhoi is also known for its regional cheeses and Feijoa sparkling wine.

Before taking me to meet the bus back to Auckland Sam showed me where the hot pools are (a commercial pool with waterslides and such) and some of the beautiful coastline. I love the little nook and cranny beaches along the suburbs. It reminds me of the freedom and serenity of local San Diego beaches.

We had intended to arrive in time to catch the 3:45pm ferry from the peninsula, but were running a bit late. I had to transfer to a different bus in Silverdale, and the ride took me about an hour and cost ten dollars. The trip was well worth it though not as scenic as the ferry would have been. As luck would have it, Hobson St was closed when the bus arrived back to the city and the closest stop to home was right at the corner of Victoria Park.

On my way back on the bus Glen had invited me to join him, Josh and Tom at the Taste of New Zealand Food Festival in Victoria Park, and seeing as how I arrived right outside the park at 5:18pm, I saw it as a sign that I should check it out!

The admission price of $30 was a bit steep, but there were far more samples than I had even imagined at such an event! I began at the cupcake stand, conveniently located right at the entrance, and worked my way around to yoghurt, flavored nuts and spices, Lemoncello, and around the corner to Moa beer.

My next destination was the Whiskey tent where they had a Scotch tasting presentation. The Ardmore and Highland Park were my favorites, the latter having a sweet bourbon style taste. We also had Famous Grouse, which wasn’t quite as smooth, and Laphroaig, which apparently is an acquired taste and supposedly has hints of ocean and salt water.

I met up with Glen, Josh and Tom and we delved into the bulk of the samples; hummus and dips, lamb, beef, chili sauces, sausages, sweets, kumara vodka, Stolen rum, cheeses and wines from countless vineyards. It took us the full four hours to explore everything, including the display of modern kitchen appliances and layouts, as well as a kiosk with Singapore Airlines’ business class seats.

Unlimited tastings were included in the entry fee, but there is also the option to purchase crowns, the unit of currency when purchasing cocktails, glasses of wine and beer, and specialty dishes made up by chefs from various local restaurants. I decided to forego the paid tastings and filled up on a wide variety of other foods! The soft cheeses and tender beef and lamb and spicy sausages were by far my favorites! I was impressed with the novelty of kumara vodka, though the taste was not as appealing. Glen decided to buy a pizza-maker, a round sandwich-maker-like appliance which makes pizzas in just 5 minutes so hopefully we will be around at his place for a pizza party in the near future! Personally the only purchase I made at the food and beverage festival was a $2 bottle of sparkling artesian water. It may have been Tom’s comment about the sad looks on the vendors’ faces from their lack of popularity, surrounded by such tasty samples, but the cool, fresh water was a fine finish to the evening.

The quality of food and beverage, as well as the music and ambiance, well justifies the $30 price tag. Everything was so delicious – not to mention the free-flowing spirits and wine – I would consider going again! The evening sessions of the Taste of New Zealand food festival are from 5:30-9:30pm Wednesday 19 October until Saturday 22 October. If you are in Auckland I highly recommend it!

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Weekend of the Semi Finals

Last night in Auckland the French team beat Wales 9-8 and tonight the All Blacks face Australia, a long-time rival. Both kiwis and aussies are fired up for the match, which starts at 9pm tonight. Right now I am enjoying a green tea in the lobby of the hotel where the All Blacks are having dinner and are about to head to Eden Park.

The sun is shining and the city is a surge of excitement. Along Queen St and the Wharf it seems to be a competition of who can make the most noise today! The energy this weekend has been building since Friday. Yesterday just after noon I joined the team from Dance Pro Studios for their flash mob by the viaduct.

On Friday Brian and I took a trip to Waiheke Island for some wine tasting and some of the Wallabies were on our morning ferry. As we exited the dock a group of them asked me to take some photos with their friends. If I had been a bit faster on the ball I should have asked them if they needed a photographer for the day! Life is never boring here!