Wednesday, 9 December 2009

48 hours in Auckland :: 7-8 Dec'09

Being sent on a business trip at the last minute to Auckland, New Zealand wasn't on my planned weekend agenda. And so with great difficulty, I hauled my brunch drunk mind to the airport after a six hour champagne-fueled session. Thankfully, I was travelling business class, so my position at the low-lit Krisflyer lounge bar sipping more champagne was not exactly a shock to the system. I was more alarmed that the first class lounge (I was sneaked in by my fellow frequent travellers) was not proportionately better than the business class lounge. Why was I not drinking out of a gold-plated goblet and being fed grapes?

Ten hours on a flat bed later, interrupted only by my next door neighbour laughing maniacally at his screen, we rolled into our waiting car and enjoyed the slow drive to the city centre through rows of two-storey houses and green fields. I won't lie: "more sheep than people" kept resonating through my mind.

On arrival at The Westin, I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed to a hotel right on the quayside, overlooking a vast array of yachts, large and small. Still, though, Where Is Everybody?

After our meetings finished around 6 pm, we were astonished to find out that all shops, except for the supermarket and a pharmacy had closed. It was hard to come to terms with the grief at not having Singapore style late night shopping to keep us occupied, so we consoled ourselves with enormous steaks at Jervois Steak House & Saloon, washed down with some fine local wines before heading to the ONLY bar in Lighter Quay that had any kind of 'atmosphere' (a.k.a PEOPLE), Danny Doolans. Two guys with guitars belted out familiar tunes such as 'Brown-Eyed Girl' whilst we sipped whiskies and answered emails from colleagues working on Singapore business hours.

The next day, we were treated to a late start which allowed me to indulge my oyster fetish. Six of some of the largest and juiciest rock oysters slid down my neck before we were trapped in our meeting room until 7 pm. Given that it was our last night, however, and that the meetings had progressed well, we all headed off to the exquisite Kermadec at Viaduct Harbour, just a short stroll from our hotel.

As locally caught and freshly shucked oysters were a special on the menu, it seemed a crying shame not to indulge once more. They were different from any I had ever tasted before - hats off to Head Chef, Richard Highnam. To follow, I opted for the Confit Hapuku Fillet with asparagus étuvée, toasted wheat and scampi pilaf, baby sorrel, Cotriade stock, and one eye bouillabaisse. To finish, I had the simply titled but delectably complex, 'Rooibos Red Bush Tea and Caramel Custard', which was a divine selection of five different desserts in one. A delicious Rippon Valley Riesling from 2007 helped to oil the chatter cogs whilst I learned about the quiet life on North Island, New Zealand. Apparently, it's all about owning a boat.

In all, my forty-eight hours in Auckland was enjoyable, primarily because of the superb seafood, steak and ludicrously low-priced wine (by Singaporean standards). It was a good experience to be somewhere so serene that starkly contrasted with the hustle and bustle of Singapore life. The Kiwis have perfected the 'work to live' approach to life and with so much outdoor space per capita to enjoy, who can blame them?

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