Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Waiheke Island

Picture perfect weather greeted me for my first day in Auckland...low 60s with bright sunshine. A superb day to walk around and gather the flavor of this place. I started by walking down Queen Street, the hip commercial center of this city of 1.4 million (one-third of all Kiwis live here). My hostel here is centrally located, and it was maybe a 10 minute walk until I reached the harbor. They call Auckland the "City of Sails" and it's not hard to see why. The city is packed in with bays on both sides and you see sailboats everywhere.

I then caught the bus (Auckland is pretty spread out) and visited the Auckland Museum. It had a large collection of Maori artifacts and some rather chilling remnants of wars past (mostly WW1), but most interesting thing learned was that Auckland sits on the edge of a large volcanic crater, and historically there has been an eruption in the Auckland area once every 5000 years. So fingers crossed that I don't end up in a big ash cloud! (literally) The country of New Zealand sits at the edge of the Pacific plate with the Australian plate passing underneath, so they claim to have built early warning systems for potential eruption events.

I then took the bus back to the harbor and booked a ferry passage to Waiheke Island (rhymes with Waikiki) -- from what I had read an island full of delightful vineyards and beautiful beaches. It did not disappoint! Only a 40 minute ride in the harbor but a world away from the metropolitan hum of the city.
New Zealand is a treat for oenophiles. Temperate but not too cold, the country is famous for its crisp sauvignon blancs from the Marlbourough region South Island, and also makes some rather presentable reds in the north. I started at the Goldwater Estate, the first vineyard on the island, first planted in 1978. Though not locally grown, the sauv blanc was a clear winner -- a little peppery and to-the-point...none of the bitter aftertaste that turns me away from a lot of whites. Situated on a hill with a scenic view of the water.

I then visited the Saratoga Estate, named for the town in northern California where the owner is from (recently adopted Kiwi). They produce a delightful syrah that I'm told pairs well with Mexican food, which they actually serve in their Spanish mission style building.

For sunset I reached the long, sandy Onetangi beach. Terrific beach for walking at low tide and enjoying the end to a wonderful first day in New Zealand.

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