"Meet me outside Sky City at 9.20 am" She messaged at 7.30 am as I looked dubiously out the window at the rain pelting in sideways, completely obliterating all hope of any kind of view from my Hotel room. By 9.15 am though, I needn't have worried as the clouds had parted just as a sleek new black Mitsubishi SUV pulled up to the front doors and out she jumped - a bubbly effervescent bundle of energy, shaking our hands warmly and welcoming us to New Zealand - 'She' being the self proclaimed 'Big Cheese' ofThe Big Foodie Tour Company', with a Big personality to match - English Ex-Pat, Elle Armon-Jones.
Our tour comprised of just three guests, an intimate gathering, although not surprising given the weather and that being early September we were only just beginning to see the first shoots of spring break through, but Elle was quick to assure me that large numbers were not a problem and as the tour progressed I got the feeling nothing would be too much for this super organised, 'Kiwi can-do' focused Tour operator. For the next three hours we were treated to a running commentary of interesting anecdotes and funny little pearls as we circumnavigated the city first heading up Queen st to Millers Coffee House in Cross st, part of the now uber-groovy 'K road' precinct. This little Gem fits right in with it's surroundings, housed in an unassuming commercial barn conversion, a perfect balance between the rough hewn, unlined timber walls, juxtaposed against the most glamorous crystal Chandeliers hanging from rough timber rafters, the decor is as much a treat as the coffee roasting demonstration. Everything happens in the one room and its all very simple, with only one blend produced, a mixture of Papua New Guinea, Colombian and Kenyan beans, and it's outstanding! They make no bones about the fact that its all about the coffee, and in that respect they do a pretty fine job! The entire operation is not much bigger than a double garage really, but the smells of coffee emanating from the coffee roaster at the back of the room came wafting out into the street to greet us on arrival and only intensified on entry.
After a hefty caffeine shot, it was back into the SUV and through the pouring rain to Sabato in Newmarket for a lesson on local, homegrown produce, and here our Tour guide Elle's knowledge really shone, introducing us to tastes and combinations I had thought were only grown in warmer climes!. Who knew that New Zealand grows olives and produces olive oil? The store showcases local grown and produced delicacies including an extensive range of cheeses, preserves and oils, and other yummy things, as well as hand made pottery and other kitchen gadgets and artifacts. They also run a kick-ass coffee shop with a huge range of home-baked cakes and pastries, guaranteed to bust the resolve of even the most rigid of dieters!
The flow of conversation never lets up as we are soon back in the car, and listening to quirky little points of history, and facts about the local area, en-route to the Auckland Fish Market. Fish you might ask? Yes! fish is one of New Zealand's biggest exports, earning over $1.7 billion per year and most of it is bought and sold through here, in a huge traders gallery which looks more like a stock trading hall, with pictures of the fish to be sold, projected onto the wall behind the auctioneer! Very civilised - no fishy fingers in here!
After a wander through their retail outlet which sells the days catch, including huge green lipped mussels, fresh live crayfish, oysters and a whole host of other native species, the tour ended with a delicious seafood platter and a chilled glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc at Marvel Grill, one of Auckland's premier seafood restaurants, on the North Wharf, the perfect way to wrap up the morning!
The tour itself is well worth a look, for the local insight and facts alone, as well as a sample of the many local tastes and delicacies on offer, but you simply don't want to miss the entertaining and informative commentary offered by our personal 'Big Cheese' Tour guide, Elle. Her knowledge of the local producers and their backgrounds is extensive and fascinating, but her personal approach and friendly manner will very soon have you completely at ease, and feeling like you've just been out to lunch with a mate. An absolute must tour whilst in Auckland - and likely as not even better in fine weather!