After a good breakfast in the hotel, we met in the lobby to begin our day. We were met by a very comfortable bus and had seat assignments to separate groups and allow us to get to know our fellow travelers. This probably won’t last for the whole trip but Jeremy wanted us to help create a fun group for this trip.
Our driver, a natural comic, took us all around Auckland to see many of the beautiful areas, describing the museums, parks, and buildings of note, as well as the older sections of the town, filled with charming shops, galleries, and restaurants. We drove around the harbor to get an up-close view of the thousands of boats near the Harbor Bridge.
Around 11:00, we boarded the ferry to take us to Waikele Island, the second-largest island in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand. It is New Zealand’s most densely populated island. We didn’t know what to expect exactly, other than the mountainous island, with 50 dormant volcanos, has the perfect ecosystem for wine and olive production. It has a micro-climate that is warmer than Auckland and less rainy but with enough rain to make the island lush and green.
The 40 minute ferry ride to the island was smooth. We were met with another bus and a charming driver who has lived on the island for about 20 years and was funny and very knowledgeable. After we drove around a bit, we were taken to the Stony Ridge Winery. This winery is relatively new but in the past 20 years, their numbers have grown from about a dozen to 30 on the island.
They grow a number of different grapes and make white, red and rose wines. We had an initial tasting of a Reserve Vionier and a Syrah (or Shiraz). They don’t export, nor do they bottle a huge amount of each type of wine. Their wines range from $60-70 NZD ($35-42 USD) per bottle. We had a tasting of the two wines and they were spectacular – honestly. We were very impressed with the smoothness and quality of the wines. We then went into the restaurant for our highly anticipated lunch.
We had a set menu but were given the opportunity to choose what two wines we wanted to have with our meal. We started with a charcuterie board that included housemade hummus, white fish salad, salmon, sourdough bread and special crackers for dipping, prosciutto, salamies, cheeses, and so much more. As you can see, the offerings were just amazing and we filled up on this course, not knowing what was to come.
I ordered the Rose and then the Pinot Grigio to go with the meal. Several folks ordered the Cabernet Sauvignon and everyone loved their choices. Our next course included incredible lamb with wine-carmelized onions and a wine sauce on a bed of an amazing mustard. We also had an herb-crusted salmon (with fennel and mustard seeds) with a garlicky aioli and grilled lemon. The roasted potatoes and amazing salad rounded out this course.
Finally, we had tiny desserts, to taste all kinds of flavors. There were macaroons with a filling to match their color. The green ones had a pistachio filling, the brown ones had chocolate, the yellow ones had lemon, and the pink ones had strawberries. Truthfully, I missed taking a picture of the whole tray. When I took the photo, half were eaten already! The meal was another amazing example of cuisine in New Zealand. We were all stuffed.
But, the fun didn’t end. Our next stop was an olive tasting at Allpress Olive Groves. This olive farm grows a number of varietals to make oils that are balanced, smooth, and unique. The constantly add new olive trees to their growing area by transplanting them in the rich, volcanic soil. Last year’s harvest didn’t produce the best olives, compared to 2021 or 2020 but they still created oils that absolutely had the qualities that they are known for – peppery, or grassy, floral or delicate. You could taste the difference. Of course, the cubes of foccacia they gave us to sample the oils didn’t hurt either. With the weight limits for our luggage, we couldn’t buy any of the olive oils that we liked. However, they do ship to the US. Maybe we will consider ordering some once we are home.
Feeling beyond full, we went into the main town, Oneroa, to check it out. The shops and galleries were interesting. Truthfully, at this point, all we wanted to do is relax and let all the food digest. However, some walked to the beach, only a few minutes out of town. The water in the cove was calm but the temperature of the water is only about 70F, certainly not warm enough for us old folks. Even the tempting gelato store in town didn’t sway us. A quick walk around and we were ready to head to the ferry back to Auckland.
It definitely was a full day and going out for dinner was definitely out of the question. Relaxing in our room gave me the time I needed to catch up on posting what we did today and the pictures to go with it. Tomorrow morning, we pack our bags and leave early to head to Rotorua, with some interesting stops along the way.