Auckland with the Stuarts

We returned to Auckland and our Whakapapa (extended family – educational this blog is) on a hot, hot day that was allegedly Auckland’s hottest November day on record. It was so hot I had to take my shoes off whilst driving. What I’m trying to say is that it was hot when we arrived in Auckland last Saturday. When we left Auckland on Thursday morning at stupid o’clock in the morning it was cold and wet – we had clearly outstayed our welcome!

We rolled Nushy up Neil and Paula’s seriously sloping drive and she climbed her last hill under my stewardship, fingers crossed the 5,000kms covered have been a good blow out for the engines and not a last gasp cruise.

With the car unloaded of our stuff which has clearly been having a whale of a time as there is now twice as much as before we set about handing over the wine we had failed to drink. After populating Neil and Paula’s wine rack we spent the next five days decimating it.

And what a five days it was. If Queenstown was the perfect playground then Neil and Paula’s house was an adventure playground. It was non-stop from dinner on Saturday night, a trip to The Hardware and a bottle or two despatched all the way through to lunch on our last day with new Sky TV intern Ella.

Whereas a Sunday for us in November in the UK would probably consist of a lie in, followed by reading the paper, a roast dinner, watching the football and falling asleep Sunday in Auckland was something else:

We started with the recorded Rugby League World Cup Semi-Final between England and New Zealand. Watching with Neil at 7am it was pretty clear that his blood now runs black as he leapt for joy when the kiwis polished off England in the final 20 seconds of the game. Ian back in England had less patience for his English brother after a second gloating phone call in the space of 8 days.

Next was breakfast at the Hardware and a walk around the market in Titirangi to pick up a picnic lunch for the boat. Hot smoked salmon, kumara (sweet potato) rolls, olives, dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) and hummus in case you were wondering.

A quick stop to catch our breath and pick up Joe from his house which looked eerily like Harlaxton Drive, Nottingham from 2nd Year at University. Joe thankfully was in better condition than his housemates and was soon bouncing on the waves as Neil skippered us out on his boat to a deserted beach for a quick swim.

Jen happy on the boat
Annie relaxing before the swim

We motored on to a little fishing spot and we promptly caught 5 fish of which only one is really mentionable: Jen’s whopping kahawai… (cooked on Monday night as a starter, very nice)

Kahawai? Don't mind if I do

As the tide turned we headed for one more spot but we were out of luck so headed home to relax for the evening. On our return though Peej had texted Neil with the offer of nine holes at 4.30 so we picked up the clubs and headed out the door. The golf was poor (Kev our fourth had other words for it which are not suitable for a family blog), but the weather was glorious and the post-game curry with Jen, Paula, Annie and Ella was perfect.

All of that on a Sunday. It was no surprise we rose a little later the next day but were still out of the door in good time for coffee down in Blockhouse Bay and to sort out our visa for Australia. Paula was our guide having kindly taken the day off to show us around Kerekere and Piha – beautiful beaches up North of Auckland in the Waitakere Reserve.

Stroll on the black sand beach

Kerekere was the setting for one of Jen’s favourite films The Piano so that was a nice unexpected surprise as we saw the big rock lurking beyond the black sand. We also checked out a pretty cool waterfall that serves as an awesome wedding venue (long white cloud permitting). Piha was filled with surfers doing their thing as we chatted the day away and enjoyed lunch at the café. It was great spending most of the day just the three of us and catching up with Paula as we evaded hooligans in their cars.

Can you tell where it is yet?

We ate Jen’s kahawai for dinner followed by some lovely burgers and generally gathered up our strength after a hectic two days in preparation for our visit to Auckland city itself and another round of golf in the afternoon for me.

Our time in Auckland itself was mainly spent in the Maritime Museum down on the viaduct checking out New Zealand’s history from a seaward perspective (pretty sure that’s a word). We were also there to see a model  of a ship that my granddad had sailed in to New Zealand waters during the war. It was a big beast and a model that Grampy Jack had seen when he came out here to visit Neil and Paula and actually managed to step foot on New Zealand soil.

A round of golf followed in the afternoon keeping to things in honour of Jack who no doubt would have relished the hilly course which we sort to conquer. Unfortunately my golf disappeared once more as pitching wedge after pitching wedge finished right of its intended target. Neil did crush a drive on the 4th which would be remembered several times as some kind of beacon of light as our poor form plunged us into deeper and darker territory. The promise of curry and pub quiz spurred us on throughout and I contrived to miss two makeable birdie putts on the last two holes.

Mmmm, curry. Top in Town do an excellent curry. I have no idea how to spell what I ate but I had it with Bombay aloo instead of rice and that was an inspired choice (copied from Neil’s example). We hastened to the pub quiz where we were joined by the merry men and women who would take on some 20 other teams in the Dominion Pub Quiz.

Team Phil

Our small army of Neil, Paula, Joe, Annie, Hamish, Peej, Deano, Jen and your faithful correspondent fuelled by pitchers of beer and wine (glasses not pitchers thankfully) marched stubbornly on to the final few rounds still in contention. We were rarely put out of our stride although a crafty music round had appeared like a storming river we would have to forge. After bridging this with a poor 5 out of 10 we were left looking up at a few names on the leaderboard. BUT. Oh ho, yes there is a but – we had yet to play our two jokers where points scored in those rounds would count double. The tension I am sure you can tell could be broken by a knife. Or at least by shouts of “stop googling”.

The two rounds in question were food and drink followed by can you guess… Sport. Now nobody present had questioned the choice of sport although our netball knowledge was a little weak there was some debate over the food and drink choice. It was inspired, 10 out of 10 with very little sweat, answers such as Taramasalata, seaweed and caipirinha whispered like answers to our prayers.

And so it came to the final round. Sport. With a few sports fanatics around the table there was unbridled confidence and as question after questioned was despatched with unbecoming ease this confidence soon turned to jubilance as the crown was ours. 10 out of 10, 20 out of 20 for the final two jokered rounds. Stuarts around the world rejoiced and a $50 bar tab was won. Huzzah for king and country and all that.

After the excitement of the previous night we were met by Wednesday morning and a solid Arsenal win over Marseille followed by a call from dad and then lunch with Ella who had jus returned from her induction for a Sky TV internship that starts on Monday. An excellent lunch it was too so thank you very much indeed Ella.

With the rain pouring down for much of the afternoon we planned some of our upcoming Australia trip, booked some flights to Vietnam for Jen and Sally’s birthdays and generally sorted stuff out that we had neglected for the last few weeks. We also looked through some old photo albums and Ella noticed the resemblance of Harry Hill to Neil. Please note this is not the comedian Harry Hill!

[I apologise that this blog appears to be going on and on but several people have been telling us that they read it before they go to bed so please think of this as a cure for insomnia rather than a long-winded blog!]

Our final night we had a roast in the bag roast chicken. I had never seen it before but the chicken was excellent, very moist and went down very well with dauphinoise potatoes and a host of veg including broccoli, asparagus (stinky sticks), beans and carrots. All washed down by some more wine it was a great last dinner in New Zealand before our early morning flight to Australia!

Before (finally) ending this blog post we want to say a huge thank you to Neil, Paula, Joe, Annie and Ella for helping make Auckland seem like a home from home. We had an incredible time and can’t wait to return to celebrate Christmas.