Thumbs up for city sojourn

Holiday escapes generally take Aucklanders well beyond their home city but over the festive period, HELEN PERRY, with husband in tow, spent two nights in the heart of the city, an experience she highly recommends.

Although scenic and beachfront destinations beckoned, this year man about the house suggested spending a couple of nights in downtown Auckland – namely The Viaduct.

Seemed like a plan to me so we booked in at The Sebel (apartments) located above that corner of The Viaduct which is home to a string of restaurants such as Giraffe by Simon Gault, Portofino, The Viaduct Grill, Soul Bar and Restaurant, Danny Doolans and several others.

Unfamiliar with this particular Accor property, I was initially surprised at it having no bar or in-house dining until I realised it was apartment style accommodation with all that The Viaduct offered just outside.

We were on the first floor and found ourselves with a small lounge plus dining area, kitchen with packed bar fridge, separate bedroom and a generous two-way bathroom. Attractively furnished without being luxurious, the outlook was perfect – overlooking yachts moored below and across to the Wyndham Quarter.

We had only to walk through double doors from the foyer lounge to be confronted by a plethora of attractive eateries, a fascinating maritime walk, places of interest and a glittering sea.

We had planned to book in then head for Waiheke Island on our first day; the Fullers Twilight wine tasting and dinner tour appealed. But from the moment we arrived in town, The Viaduct enthralled us. What’s more we managed to snaffle an early 6pm booking at Soul Bar & Restaurant on the proviso we were out by 7.30pm which actually suited us.

How lovely was this setting? A massed display of hanging baskets filled with petunias was spectacular; the outdoor, covered deck was a treat and inside the elegantly dressed tables meant that although some diners might forgo the outlook, the flipside was a cool interior with a real sense offinesse. Although seated inside, we were close to the windows so enjoyed the best of both worlds.

Furthermore our evening turned out to be doubly enjoyable. Not only was the meal memorable but we ending up chatting with guests at tables on either side of us – young American honeymooners and a retired American couple who were returning to the South Island for their second visit. What a pleasure it was talking to them all.

And, what a pleasing meal we enjoyed, too – tuna carpaccio, oysters from three regions and trevally on toast with parsley lemon mayonnaise for starters followed by mains of hapuka topped with crayfish ravioli and truffle dressing, broccolini with Nancy’s mustard crumb (very yum) and red skinned potatoes.

To finish – the best ever ginger crème brûlee with pear sorbet, ginger bread and walnuts like I’ve never had before. Presentation and that ginger/walnut crumb were superb.

Replete, a walk to the silos was in order before we popped back upstairs for a coffee and nightcap, a little TV, then lights out!

Our second day was equally as enjoyable. It started with poached eggs on toast at Giraffe by Simon Gault with a side of bacon for me and a side of mushrooms for my man – the latter were, indeed, magic! I must ask the chef for his recipe.

Afterwards we took the maritime walk, reading ever plaque along the way – fascinating history. We were equally intrigued by several yachts owned by the Tino Rawa Trust – their histories and preservation made for interesting reading, too. We certainly learned something new.

Then it was onto…

Riverhead Cruising with the Red Boats:

Funnily enough, I had read about this cruise in our very own EastLife magazine and immediately decided we must do it one day. Well, December 28 was that day – warm, sunny, calm; ideal for the 90-minute trip each way with full commentary ($35 per head) and including a two-hour stop over at the Riverhead Tavern for lunch (the latter booked and paid for separately).

What a delight. Locals and visitors would surely enjoy this outing as much as we did. With bar service and snacks available on board, patrons quickly settled in for the tranquil journey upstream, most of us learning a lot along the way.

On arrival we were directed to our table on one of several decks outside this grand old lady (completely renovated in 2010), where green and leafy, 100-year-old oak trees provided the perfect canopy. Glimpses of the river below completed the picture.

The lunch meals were simple bar food – fish and chips with salad, burger and chips, steak sandwich, nachos and the like – inexpensive (around $14-$18) with plenty of beer and wine options. However, on those days when the cruise brings guests for dinner (dependent on tides) I saw there was a more extensive and upmarket selection of dishes.

Frankly, I could have stayed much longer. The location was an idyllic spot; you know the kind of place songs are made of – down by the riverside, up a lazy river, rolling on the river, river of dreams and a whole lot more.….

But, before we knew it, our Red Boat beckoned and it was back to town with the leisurely cruise seeing more than few heads nodding including my own!

Indeed, this was a day to remember as was our whole Viaduct escape – perfect location at The Sebel, eclectic dining choices, sightseeing galore (Waiheke next time), and a chance to renew our acquaintance with this stunning part of Auckland. A return break is in the pipeline.