KIWI: South by Southwest AucklandThe rugged bluff where I was standing was as weather-beaten as the chap standing next to me. His name was Frostie. "Life’s too short," he pronounced, as winds buffeted our bodies, "I'm 67 years-old and I still love my hunting, fishing and shooting." It was the shooting he intended giving me a crash course in.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013
The rugged bluff where I was standing was as weather-beaten as the chap standing next to me. His name was Frostie. "Life’s too short," he pronounced, as winds buffeted our bodies, "I'm 67 years-old and I still love my hunting, fishing and shooting." It was the shooting he intended giving me a crash course in.
I was on the west coast, 45 km south of the Manakau Heads Lighthouse and about to take aim. Inside a custom-made trailer Frostie had mounted a clay-pigeon trap. Then from the back of his truck he pulled out an Italian Caesar Guerini ‘over and under’ shotgun. With minimal instruction he had me shouldering the gun and firing at the orange disks whizzing through the air. Even with a strong cross wind I managed to hit one on my sixth attempt . . . not bad for someone who had never held a shotgun in his life!
Next Frostie pulled out an Italian Benelli four shot, semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun. This particular gun was loaded with a cartridge in the chamber and three more below in the stock, so in effect I could fire all four cartridges in rapid procession which believe me, for a first time attempt at clay pigeon shooting, made for a lot of fun and big smiles.
I was on a three-day trip seeking out attractions and a little action along with good food and wine, so it was a surprise to be talking about spades, pitchforks, hoes, secateurs and trowels. On my first day in South Auckland I stopped in at the manicured Auckland Botanical Gardens, then visited River Estate's 1,500 tree olive grove before finally checking into the secluded and serene Zen Gardens - a 75 acre estate of rolling country pasture, ancient forest and a fully landscaped Japanese garden and lodge – a green fingers sort of day really.
One of the City of Sails’ best free entry attraction has to be Auckland Botanical Gardens. Located just off the Southern Motorway at the Manurewa exit, it's Auckland's largest outdoor garden featuring more than 10,000 different plant species. Dodging a rain shower, my first stop was the Edible Garden – a section with a Kiwi blokes shed and veggie patches with small display signs giving good advice on what herbs and veggies like being planted side by side . . . oh and not a weed in sight. Elsewhere in the gardens you can stroll through the magnificent rose, camellias and magnolia displays.
Not far away in Whitford I fronted up to River Estates Olive Grove on Wades Road. I was greeted by Barry Wade, a fifth generation landowner whose great, great grandfather landed in New Zealand in 1842 later obtaining 100 acres in 1852, that's still 'all in the family.'
In the late 1990s Barry planted six olive varieties: three Italian, one Spanish, one Greek and one Algerian native. My favourite on the day was the Spanish Picual, smooth, with robust capsicum pepper flavours. His table olives were also runner up in the 2012 Cuisine Artisan Awards.
On the outskirts of Whitford I snaked up the long and winding driveway to Zen Gardens that's perched high on a hillside with spectacular views looking back across the Hauraki Gulf to Rangitoto, Waiheke Island and Auckland city.
Once the private home of a successful Auckland retailer, the current owners have spent 10 years transforming the Japanese-inspired home and 20-acre gardens into a serene hospitality retreat that hosts a range of private functions and weddings every year. One of the highlights every September at Zen Gardens is the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which attracts over 700 people.
The spectacular main lodge was built with traditional Japanese craftsmanship out of an impressive array of woods and can be booked-out exclusively. The lodge boasts a designer kitchen and can accommodate up to four people in two separate bedrooms. Under a canopy of centuries-old Kauri trees there are also four additional Japanese influenced suites situated close by - named Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn – all offering views across the Japanese ornamental gardens and duck pond.
The following morning I drove about 10 km to Pine Harbour where the weekly Saturday morning French-style market is held. It's modeled somewhat on the 'marche local' or French village green market with blue and white striped stalls next to the marina. It's not a huge market but it's the best place to pick up delicious lunch items such as wood-fired breads, French styled sausages, pates, and a range of oils, gourmet preserves, heirloom vegetables or patisseries.
Then it was time for me to head across to the West Coast to experience a few afternoon activities. As soon as I arrived at Castaways situated on a bluff above the black sands of Karioitahi Beach with expansive views looking out over the Tasman Sea, I was seated in a four-wheel drive Isuzu Bighorn 3.1 litre turbo diesel negotiating rugged coastal farmland on a off-road course designed by Dave Skinner who’s company Trailblazers puts all your driving skills to the test and then some, including a steep, slippery muddy hill-climb. Thankfully I completed the course with a clear round.
After my shotgun tuition with Frostie I finally had time to relax and unwind with a little touch of luxury at Castaways Bersantai Day Spa. Indulging in a 60-minute hot-stone massage is pure pampering at it's best and what a great way to de-stress at the end of a long, activity filled day.
Dinner was at Castaways Agave Restaurant. It seemed only fair, with views out across the Tasman, to order fish so I opted for herbed snapper fillets rolled and served on top of bacon and mozzarella spring rolls with fresh market vegetables partnered with a lobster bisque sauce - a perfect end to the day.
If you make it to this part of South Auckland don't miss the opportunity to drive the 45 km from Waiuku up the Awhitu Peninsula to the Manukau Heads Lighthouse. This scenic drive through rolling undulating countryside of high hills and low valleys is a spectacular part of Auckland, worth visiting at any time of year. The lighthouse is in fact a replica of the original 1874 building that offers sweeping views of the treacherous Manukau Bar.
The story of New Zealand's worst maritime disaster unfolded at the harbour entrance on February 7th 1863 where the Royal Navy vessel Orpheus was wrecked on the bar with the loss of 189 lives. The steam corvette HMS Orpheus was based in Sydney to protect the South Pacific from possible attacks resulting from the American Civil War. Of the 258 men on board that fateful day – average age 22 – few could swim. Ultimately only 69 men survived the disaster. Two years later the lighthouse was erected.
To complete my weekend away in South Auckland I headed to Bracu on the Simunovich Olive Estate in Bombay for lunch. The estate has over 40,000 olive trees, the largest in New Zealand. Mikey Newlands is the head chef here and insists his rural country location is what is portrayed throughout his menu selections.
For starters I was served a white asparagus velouté with brioche and black truffle ice cream. My second course was smoked salmon and salmon roe with an avocado mousse and a Bloody Mary vinaigrette. Yes there was a third and fourth course too - veal cooked in curry butter with spinach, lettuces and a black bean sauce - followed by a caramel tart for dessert.
Head south towards the Bombay Hills and you won't be disappointed with genuine homegrown hospitality and friendly smiles, as well as some great food and wine in a region often overlooked when it comes to a long weekend away. So make the effort and head South by Southwest and you’ll discover the magic that lies hidden on the outer edge of Auckland city.
Auckland Botanic Gardens
T: +64 (0)9 267 4728
T: +64 (0)9 530 8056
T: +64 (0)9 530 9180
Pine Harbour French Market
T: +64 (0)21 740 560
T: +64 (0)9 236 5041
Bersantai Day Spa
T: +64 (0)9 235 7000
Trailblazers Adventure 4x4
T: +64 (0)9 236 5041
T: +64 (0)9 236 1030
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