Kiwis seem to make food displays a form of art. This was noticeable whether I was in the North or South Island. Pastries, pies, sandwiches, it didn’t matter. I didn’t take real notice until my family and I saw the beautiful displays at Copenhagen Bakery last year. I wasn’t so much interested in the confectionary arrangements as I was with the savory ones. The sandwiches there were so attractively presented that it was tempting to grab one of those rather than their meat pies, which turned out to be so delicious.
Even at Auckland International Airport, I admired the sandwiches at SumoSalad. The only other time sandwich displays made such a visual impact was all over Italy where the marriage of bread and Italian cold cuts is celebrated. But in the interest of sampling something distinctively Kiwi, I got savory pies from another concessionaire (Spotless), this time not so good a decision.
When we return to Auckland airport, it will be a no-brainer.
After visiting the Sky Tower, we decided to have dinner on our way back to the hotel. While walking along Wellesley, we came across Homeworld BBQ Restaurant. The menu posted outside seemed interesting, so we ventured inside. At around 5pm, there weren’t any other customers. We decided to stay and eat. The experience was good.
Eggplant, salted fish and pork mince casserole pleased us with its very good flavors. As we discovered in eating out in NZ in the winter, there isn’t much Asian produce available, so restaurants have to use whatever is on hand. There were straw mushrooms and baby corn, both available canned. I’m looking at the dish and I’m thinking, there’s no green, except for a few sliced green onions. Cilantro is practically an essential garnish on Asian dishes back home, but the season here precluded its addition. In the end, it mattered little; though oily, this was a very good entrée.
Eggplant, salted fish and pork mince casserole
Chicken and shiitake, served in a clay pot vessel, topped steamed rice, which developed a nice crusty bottom from the high heat. In not untypical style, the chicken pieces were cleaved through the bone. My wife is not fond of eating chicken or any other meat prepared in this way as bits of bone tend to get in your mouth. Nevertheless, the dish was very good, mixed with meaty shiitake and cabbage in a flavorful sauce.
Chicken and shiitake on rice clay pot
Homeworld BBQ Restaurant
34 Wellesley St West
Auckland, New Zealand 1010
9 369 1238
At 382 meters (1,076ft), it’s hard not to miss Sky Tower, the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand. Today, there was a good deal on admission, so we rode the glass elevator to the observation platform, 192m straight up. The view of Auckland was breathtaking from there. The tower reminded us of the Space Needle back at home in Seattle, on a bigger scale.
View of Auckland from observation deck
For a price, you can partake of other thrills, like base-jumping off the tower (SkyJump), tethered to wires, or walking outside around the perimeter (SkyWalk) on a 1.2m-wide open platform, also tethered to wires in full-body suits from above.
For NZ $225, you can base-jump straight down 192m.
If you’re in Auckland often, you’re not likely to visit this attraction more than once—unless, of course, you’re a daredevil.
The receptionist at our hotel suggested that we have breakfast at Café Melba, a small but popular restaurant in a section of town called Vulcan Lane, an alleyway lined with small shops and restaurants. We walked since it wasn’t too far from the hotel, thanks to good directions by the staff.
We started off the morning with a flat white with hazelnut syrup. A wonderful brew. No one does this kind of coffee like the Kiwis. Their latte art seems to be a source of pride.
Flat white with hazelnut syrup
A special on the blackboard was The Buttie, grilled bacon served on toasted ciabatta bun with hashbrowns, caramelized onions and avocado. The very tasty filling was enough to overcome somewhat dry ciabatta.
On the regular menu is Melba Mince, a savory ground meat sauté on toasted ciabatta bread, topped with a poached egg. I’d never had anything like this before, but I did enjoy it, even if I couldn’t identify the meat.
Melba Mince with Poached Egg
Café Melba is a great place to have breakfast.
33 Vulcan Lane
09 377 0091
We could easily have passed by Kiwi Country, a Chinese-Malay restaurant in the basement of a building near Albert Park. Wide stairs from street level pointed us down to the front door. Once inside, we were faced with a very extensive menu on the wall with pictures to help us decide. Next to each item were slips on which were written the name of the item; you can take one to the cashier when you’re ready to order. The interior space is large. We were the only customers except for one other party.
Pictures and item slips help when ready to place an order
The broth in the Spicy Laksa Noodles with Vegetables was very tasty and spicy, a meat-based stock though the dish had no meat in it. Depending on what’s available at the grocers, the vegetables may vary. Since this was the dead of winter, today’s selection included broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and sliced radishes, with tofu and shredded carrots and green cabbage as garnish. The picture on the wall showed a garnish of cilantro, but there was none today since there wouldn’t be any available for another few months yet.
Spicy Laksa Noodles with Vegetables
Tasty Wonton Noodle Soup included nicely made pork wonton and accompanied by broccoli, carrots and cabbage.
Wonton Noodle Soup
The prices were reasonable and the selection enormous. If it’s your first time, don’t be surprised if it takes you a while to decide.
Kiwi Country Fast Food
3/189 Queen Street
Auckland, New Zealand 1010
09 379 8889
You don’t have to live in Italy anymore to have gelato. It seems that this dessert has taken the world by storm.
As we were walking around Auckland’s beautiful waterfront area, Valentino’s seemed like a very popular place. There were crowds of people in the store. Never being ones to willingly forego gelato, we slipped in. It offers the standard Italian flavors, but the ones that stood out to us were made with fruits native to New Zealand—passionfruit and feijoa. How could we resist? Delizioso.
Passionfruit and feijoa gelati
David Attenborough featured them in his BBC Planet Earth series. Arachnocampa luminosa is found only in New Zealand, more commonly called glowworms.
Technically, they are not worms, but rather the larvae of gnats. To snare food, one larva can exude several mucousy threads of silk that suspend from the roof of a cave, sticky enough to trap tiny flying insects. The bioluminescence is thought to attract its prey. New Zealand has made a cottage industry out of glowworms. While glowworms can be seen throughout NZ, the best place is Waitomo Caves in the North Island. Here, the conditions are said to be perfect for their proliferation.
We purchased a combo tour pack: glowworm cave + Ruakuri Cave. In the former, a boat that holds no more than 20 people took us through a tunnel along an underground waterway in complete darkness. Eventually, we reached the cave and saw them suspended on the ceiling like little blue-green lights high above our heads. The tour was short at about 15 minutes, so really you don’t have much time to marvel at them.
Waitomo glowworm tour (image from waitomo.com)
The Ruakuri Cave walking tour is different. The best part was being able to look at glowworms up close, at eye-level. Our guide shone a flashlight on them so we could see their diaphanous threads and beads, allowing us to look at them as long as we wanted (see top photo). The walking tour also highlighted many interesting cave decorations (speleotherms), an ancient moa bone, an underground stream, waterfall and petrified scallop shells that indicate that the limestone formations all around were formed in ancient seas.
Ruakuri Cave speleotherms
Petrified scallop shell
It’s difficult to take pictures of the worms as points of light against a black background. Besides the technical challenge, the boat tour wouldn’t permit cameras anyway. But on the walking tour, with a flashlight to provide enough illumination, you can take as many pictures as you like.
The Ruakuri Bush Walk, whose trailhead is but a few kilometers beyond the Waitomo Caves attraction, is considered one of the ten best short hikes in New Zealand. In under an hour, you can see verdant forests, limestone outcroppings, caves, gorge, natural bridge, tunnel, and the Waitomo Stream, all in what is called a karst landscape.
Immediately, I was struck by the lushness, many shades of green wherever I looked—Kahikatea trees, parataniwha, tree ferns, liverworts, moss and more, all surviving in dense forest canopy. Continue reading
Sitting atop a hill across from the B&B, Huhu is without question the best place to eat in Waitomo Caves. A restaurant of this caliber would do quite well in a larger urban area. After we dined here the first time (lunch), we knew we had to return before leaving for Auckland. Simply put, Huhu was the best fine dining experience we’ve had on this trip so far. Though the menu most likely changes frequently (and you’re unlikely get the same thing again on a return visit), it won’t matter. The food is that good.
Dinner began with complimentary slices of bread served with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and dukkah, a Egyptian blend of ground nuts, herbs and spices. We’d never had this delicious condiment before, but it’s worth seeking out a recipe for it.
Bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and dukkah
I had a superb braised beef with mushrooms and red wine, accompanied by a cauliflower purée and roasted broccolini. Not only was the beef fork tender, but the entire dish was an umami bomb, beautifully done.
Braised beef with cauliflower puree and roasted broccolini
My wife’s curried pumpkin soup was likewise delicious but fiery, with a splash of sour cream and sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds.
Curried pumpkin soup
We don’t know if we’ll ever return to Waitomo Caves, but one excellent reason, aside from the worms, would be Huhu Café.
10 Waitomo Caves Rd
Waitomo Caves 3943
07 878 6674
One of the places recommended for a lunch by the proprietors of Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge was Curly’s Bar, a tavern in the village just a few blocks up the main road. There are quite a few tables inside, likely filled when tourism is in full swing. There are pool tables and an internet café.
We split a Crusty Burger, a splendiferous version of a NZ-style burger: beef patty, steak, tomato slice, lettuce, fried egg, pickled beet (here called beet root), slice of cheddar cheese (here called tasty cheese). The ingredients are over-the-top perhaps, but the burger pleased my mouth.
By the way, Crusty is the name of one of the owners, Curly being the other.
Te Anga Rd, Waitomo Village
Waitomo Caves, NZ
07 878 8448