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Tanuki’s Cave

Tanuki’s Cave

Tanuki’s Cave (319b Queen Street)

Japanese food, cheap, quirky and convenient – what more could one ask for?! At the upper end of Queen Street, Tanuki’s Cave is a great spot for a pre-dinner show, evening snack or late night visit. It’s grungy, dark and vibrant. Most of the tables are seated around the bar, so I wouldn’t recommend it for big groups unless you can book a table in advance (because you are sitting in a line, next to the people you came with). There is a range of sake’s, beers and wines as well as a few non-alcoholic drinks, and a large menu where everything is priced around $6 – $15. Lots of the dishes come out on skewers, so make for great sharing. The food comes out quickly, so I would recommend ordering a few things between you and just adding on as the food comes out. Make sure you go downstairs when you visit, because there is also a restaurant upstairs. My favourite: the deep-fried chicken and cheese balls (pictured above)!

Olaf’s Artisan Bakery

Olaf’s Artisan Bakery

Olaf’s (1 Stokes Road, Mt Eden)

Tucked off Mt Eden’s main street, Olaf’s is an artisan bakery serving a range of baked goods and coffee to eat in or take away. The cabinet has a range of fancy and not so fancy cakes, tarts and baguettes, and the shelving behind the till is stacked high with loaves of fresh bread. The atmosphere is unusually stiff, I find it a little (unintentionally) formal, but you don’t really notice it so much when the place is full. It serves wonderful coffee, so it’s great spot to go for coffee and cake, and it is certainly somewhere that I would often go to meet friends for a catch-up as it tends to be easy to get a table.

Circus Circus

Circus Circus

Circus Circus (447 Mt Eden Road)

And a carnival themed cafe it is. Large, loud and festive, Circus Circus may seem small when you first walk in, but not dissimilar to a circus tent, it is deceptive and enormous inside. You’ll be greeted by a tall skinny cabinet, filled with large slices of a variety of cakes as well as some savoury goodies as well. The cheesecakes all come highly recommended!

The menu is large and reasonably priced. There is something for everybody on the menu, and the portions are decently sized. We had the chicken burger with fries as well as the chicken curry and we barely had room for dessert! The coffee was also good.

The place is extremely family friendly so there were lots of children running about. The place was big enough though that you barely noticed them! It had a busy vibe, I really liked it but I probably wouldn’t come here if I was after some peace and quiet.

XuXu Dumpling Bar

XuXu Dumpling Bar

XuXu Dumpling Bar (Corner of Galway and Commerce Streets)

Talk about a secret little hideaway. This place is in such a central location, yet it is such an easy place to miss. Right across the road from the Britomart Train Station, it makes for not just a delicious stop, but a convenient stop – especially as the food comes out extremely quickly. My partner and I stopped in on our way to Matilda the Musical, and boy were we in for a treat. The cocktail menu is large (albeit pricey), each sounding just as delicious as the next. The dumpling menu was exciting too; quite a few to choose from. Ironically, our favourite savoury dish of the night was the pork steamed buns – they were so hot and flavoursome we had to really resist ordering more.

I would aim to save a little spot in your tummy for dessert, because the dessert dumplings are not just unique, they are also delicious! We tried the chocolate fondue dumplings (which are pictured above, and were designed to look like little mandarins), made from a kumara (/sweet potato) pastry and had decadent chocolate ooziness inside. Believe it or not, the banoffee dumplings actually took the win in terms of taste (also pictured above), the little pieces of fresh banana combined with the sweet caramel were of just the right consistency to create a bite full of goodness!

Cafe Hanoi

Cafe Hanoi

Cafe Hanoi (Commerce Street)

Cafe Hanoi is in a great location; tucked away in the Excelsior Building right down in the heart of Britomart. It’s extremely inconspicuous; it would be too easy to walk straight past and not realise you had done so, if not for the Cafe Hanoi sign on the front door.

It’s vibe is fast, funky and fresh. The tables are relatively crammed, but the place still has the feel of being spacious. The menu is fun; designed for sharing, there are a range of smaller plates and larger dishes, accompanied by an extensive drinks menu with loads of cocktails and also plenty of dessert options for afterwards.

As is common with Asian fusion style restaurants, the menu is quite pricey, but when you go in a group of four or five, you certainly get to try a fair few dishes for the price that you pay. Pictured in my photos are the rice paper rolls, which were well constructed and came with a tasty dipping sauce; the vegetarian curry, which had the most delicious sauce and included some interesting vegetables within; and, last but not least, the cinnamon donuts, which at $2.50 a piece, were an absolute steal. They were so hot, cinnamony and doughy, plus the sauce was so tasty it could have been eaten just by itself. Yum!

 

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island

Only a short ferry ride from Auckland itself, Waiheke Island can feel like a world away. Remove the traffic, the crowds and the bustle that is the big city, and you’ll find yourself in the serenity of Waiheke Island. It’s not completely deserted though, it is far more commercialised than Rangitoto Island for instance. There is so much to do and see there, yet there is actually so little at the same time: we only had a day, which was enough – but I can see how it would be easy to spend a whole week there.

Jump aboard the boat from Auckland’s Queens Wharf, it costs $36 for a return ticket and leaves half hourly. The trip takes about 40 minutes. On arrival, it is possible to hire a car, or you can just head outside where you will quickly spot the abundance of buses. My family and I jumped on a hop-on hop-off bus which I think is a very convenient way to see the island if you only have a short period of time. The hop-on hop-off buses come every half hour to a number of stops across the island, so it is really easy to fit everything into a day.

First stop was Oneroa, which was only 5 – 10 minutes from the ferry terminal. This town was definitely the most touristy on the island. There are lots of cute cafes, boutique shops and gift shops. I was surprised at how affordable all the shops were – I certainly had an expectation that the prices would all be bumped. The beach is also right there, so everything is basically at your fingertips. Make sure you check out the Island Grocer for fresh produce and other supermarket goods (the prices here are definitely inflated) and also Hot Shot Espresso for your caffeine fix.

  

Back on the bus, this time to Ostend. This area could be described as the local hub. The industrial area is nearby (which includes home-ware shops, gardening shops and also a recycling station) and every Saturday there runs a cute wee market with arts and crafts, knick-knacks and a few food stalls. Typical me, I couldn’t go past the fudge stall without stopping, trying and eventually buying – the pineapple lump fudge is to DIE for.

 

The last main area that is worth a mention is Onetangi. A beautiful sandy beach, with clear flat waters, this is definitely one of the prime spots on Waiheke. It would be so easy to spend a week away here, and judging by the number of baches dotted about the place, I’m not the only one who thinks so. It was certainly limited for food options though; due to winter closures we literally had the choice of just the one (Charley Farley’s) – thankfully it was good.

There are stacks of wineries on the island, including Stoneyridge, Cable Bay Vineyards and Wild on Waiheke to name a few, but note in advance that a number of them shut down across winter for scheduled maintenance. Waiheke Island is a fantastic trip from Auckland. You can either glam it up and taste around the wineries, or do as we did and set out on more of an exploration of the island. Too easy!

 

Tonys Lord Nelson

Tonys Lord Nelson

Tonys Lord Nelson (37 Victoria Street West, Auckland)

An institution I was told; I was yet to be impressed. My brother’s choice (a steak house, so not surprising), my mum informed me that my family had been coming here for years, and that I had probably been here as a child. The place is very, very cool. Deliberately old-school, dingy and exclusive feeling. The place was massive, it was packed, AND there was a second storey, which was also packed! The menu was your typical bar menu, but add on about $15 to the expected price and it was basically what we were looking it. I have to admit I was rather impressed by the MASSIVE steak menu; probably every different cut and every different sauce I would have thought possible. Unfortunately for me, beef is off limits so I opted for a classic chicken schnitzel, fries and salad. It was tasty, and almighty delicious, but rather expensive, and more than what I think it was worth. The staff were super friendly and our food came out pretty quickly.

Conclusion: considering that it’s not really my kind of place, I really enjoyed the experience and the food was good. Too expensive for my liking though; it just felt like well cooked pub food to me.

Charley Farley’s Restaurant & Bar

Charley Farley’s Restaurant & Bar

Charley Farley’s Restaurant & Bar (Onetangi, Waiheke Island)

Waiheke Island is somewhere that I wanted to visit for a very long time before I actually got the opportunity to go there. Recently (August 2017) I went to visit my brother and mum up in Auckland and we made the journey across to Waiheke. The weather was pretty good; a relatively warm winter’s day with not much wind. We hopped aboard the hop-on hop-off bus (which I would entirely endorse if you are heading over for a day-trip) and made our way around the island. It was apparent that during the winter time lots of the wineries and cafes close their doors to do some maintenance & renovations etc which meant that when we got to Onetangi we were pretty stretched for choice. And by stretched, I mean we had no choice. However, our tour guide was strongly of the opinion that even if everything had been opened, Charley Farley’s is the place he would recommend anyway. We were happy to oblige.

Charley Farley’s had a very family friendly menu with quite a few options that suggested the menu was Asian influenced. There was also a large selection of standard beach bar food – burgers, fish and chips, salads and a bunch of slices and quiche in the cabinet. Even though the place was packed, it was big enough that turnover was sufficient to allow us the choice of sitting inside or outside. It was a nice enough day that we opted for outside.

Once making our choices we ordered at the bar and settled back to wait. We didn’t have to wait long for the food, considering how busy they were the food was surprisingly quick. We then had to eat our food quickly to ensure that the hovering seagulls didn’t nab it first. I had the fried chicken burger, and although I thought the chicken tasted like it had been cooked a bit earlier and just kept warm, the rest of the burger was tasty and there were plenty of chips. The fish and chips looked delicious, and the portions were massive.

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner I expect that this place is pretty popular by the locals.

Orleans

Orleans

There are just so many dining options in Auckland nowadays, that I have to make a real effort to eat somewhere new each time I visit else I would never even make a dent on the ever-growing culinary scene (I think I barely do anyway!).

Orleans is located just moments from Queen’s Wharf and Queen Street, as well as being super close to the Britomart Train Station. Visiting on a Friday night was probably a perfect time to see it at its finest; it was already buzzing with after-work socialisers when we arrived shortly after six.

With bar seats down the way illuminated by fairy lights, I quickly realised that Orleans is a whole lot bigger than it looks from the street. Inside was quite the experience; it was so dimly lit that I felt transported to a whole other land. Especially once the live jazz started up – exceptional stuff.

The service was full on; they were very quick to take our orders, and even quicker to bring our food. The waitress was actually so attentive that I found it annoying. I ordered the fried chicken waffles (hard to resist!) and it was to die for – only $16, and it was filling enough that no sides were required. It is a great night out here!

Devonport, Auckland

Devonport, Auckland

Only a short 20 minute ferry ride away from Auckland’s CBD, visiting the seaside village of Devonport can sometimes feel like a whole world away from Auckland.

You can catch a ferry from Queen’s Wharf and it costs $12 for a return trip (although you can get a concession if you plan on making the trip more frequently). They leave regularly – every half hour on the hour for most hours of the day. Devonport is actually a great place to stay when you’re visiting Auckland. It’s a base away from the craziness of Auckland’s CBD, but is still oh-so-convenient. Accommodation prices tend to be lower; although it depends what you are after because the boutiquey stuff can get expensive quickly. There are direct ferries to Waiheke Island (see the Fuller’s timetable here) and there is plenty to do nearby. It takes quite a bit longer to get to by car, as you have to go right over the bridge – so I would avoid doing that if possible.

There are a number of things to do within Devonport itself, but being so small a lot if it may be weather dependent. In saying that though, it rained most of the time I was there but it is still small enough that in the rain breaks we were able to still cover most of the outdoorsy stuff.

When you arrive in Devonport, the main street, Victoria Road, is essentially straight ahead in front of you. The main street is jam-packed with restaurants, cafes (Manuka, Corelli’s and Portofino to name a few), boutique shops and the most well stocked second-hand bookshop (Bookmark) you ever will see. There’s definitely enough in and around Victoria Road to keep one’s self entertained for at least a few hours.

If the day happens to be a wet one, then continue up Victoria Road for a few hundred metres until you reach The Vic: Devonport’s own boutique cinema which also serves some of the best gelato in town. Once doubling as a music vennue, the main cinema sits with the screen at the back of a stage, and the surroundings were painted by someone who clearly used a palette of cutesie pastel colours. Another great indoor activity is visiting Devonport Chocolates. Not far from the main street, this boutique chocolatier is expensive but extremely charming. Luring you in with the offer of free samples, obviously it’s hard to say no – and it doesn’t take long to become mesmorised by the delicious smells and mouth-watering chocolates lining the walls. If you do purchase, I’m sure it will be well worth it – but be prepared to walk away with your pockets slightly lighter (although there’s no denying that you pay for what you get).

Hopefully the weather allows for some outside time, in which case I would head out east along King Edward Parade to North Head. You begin by walking alongside the waterfront, past the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum (another rainy day activity!) and right around the point, which brings you out at Cheltenham Beach. It is a stunning wee spot, rather fancied by kite-surfers, swimmers and the like. There are also some epic caves for exploring. You can also climb Mt Victoria (which was ironic, given we had come from Wellington) which isn’t too far at all and has an absolutely stunning church at its base.

A gorgeous wee spot that I would definitely recommend visiting if you get the chance.