“Where are they going to take us?” we wonder sceptically, “Kaikoura?”. But it’s such a beautiful day, we’ll take any excuse to set sail.
Less than an hour later, somewhere out near Whangaparaoa, we’re gripping the boat’s railing with feverish excitement.
On such a calm day it’s easy to spot – a gleaming black island arching slowly on the surface. It comes up four times to expel air, causing “oohs” and “aahs” and a flurry of snapping cameras with each appearance.
My own whale photography doesn't prove to be too flash, and I'm not sure my friends are entirely convinced when I show them the pictures later. "Are you sure they're not just dolphins?" one asks, but I swear we saw four Bryde's whales that afternoon.
My boyfriend and I have decided to play 'tourists' for the weekend, and we’ve abandoned our Ponsonby flat for the much more glam Hotel DeBrett. The eclectic boutique hotel is set amidst a string of tempting shops on High Street, and is right on the doorstep of the new Britomart precinct.
Being able to walk everywhere is a virtue I associate with Wellington but, from our downtown base, Auckland seems just as foot-friendly. From here we amble down to Xuxu, a dimly-lit Vietnamese style bar for a strawberry cocktail, and then on to Everybody’s in Imperial Lane for dinner.
Later, while dunking cinnamon crostini into a gooey gorgonzola soufflé, I try to imagine what Everybody’s must have been like. The two-storey restaurant was once a grand Victorian theatre, but was damaged by fire and left to languish for 50 years. The ornate plaster ceilings hint at its history, but now sleek 60s curves and bursts of indoor greenery fill the restaurant. The combined effect is one of old-world Hollywood glamour, and it’s easy to forget which city we’re in.
For a more quintessentially 'Auckland' experience, we head west to one of its famous black sand beaches the next day.
Rounding the towering dunes onto Bethells Beach, we find an arresting panorama of wide open space: inky sand that stretches out to dramatic cliffs at each end, and endless terraces of waves that take forever to reach. We pull up our hoods and watch a jack russell tear gleefully across the beach, kicking dark sand in the air like a tiny tornado.
My favourite part of being a tourist is eating, so I spend the majority of the weekend doing just this. It’s important to make the experience genuine, after all.
We have a long and lavish lunch at The Tasting Shed in Kumeu, dithering for an age before choosing lamb brains, scallops with curried marshmallow and an exquisite duck parfait from the tapas-style menu.
At the Hallertau brewery we sample some locally made beer, my favourite of which is a chardonnay barrel-aged sour ale called Funkonnay. We’re told it’s a limited run, so we leave with three bottles for the cellar.
And at the French Markets, La Cigale, Auckland’s foodies are out in force – queuing to buy soft cheeses, cured meats and freshly-baked bread. We order industrial-strength flat whites and weave through the heavenly-scented stalls, just narrowly resisting the almond croissants and paella.
Back at the hotel, our king-sized bed is begging to be napped in. But a tourist’s work is never done – and we’ve barely put our feet up before it’s time to eat again.
Karangahape Road is awash with rain when we reach it, and we make a dash for the refuge of Coco’s Cantina. Admittedly, I’ve been here before many times, but there’s something about the buzzing little bistro that I can’t go past. Tapping our feet to the swinging rock ‘n’ roll, we squeeze in at a table and order buttery handmade ravioli and an Italian wine I can’t pronounce.
This is the life, I think. Those tourists really know how to live.
Reported by Alice Galletly for our AA Directions Winter 2019 issue