It was only 6 a.m. but we caught a Super Shuttle (reasonable rates) to Sofitel Hotel Viaduct where we were immediately welcomed. The receptionist plied us with water and bright green cups of kiwi juice, helped us register, and directed us to the hotel spa so we could shower, put on fresh clothes, and brush our teeth in luxurious surroundings. Our rooms weren’t ready yet so we checked our luggage and went looking for breakfast.
Sometimes I am better at researching things to do before a trip than others. With New Zealand, I found myself frantically thumbing through Lonely Planet’s chapters on Auckland two days beforehand, reassuring myself that I’d have more time to line up some ideas once I got on the plane. Except that the book ended up being too large to pack so I arrived in Auckland with only a few memorized names. That’s what we’re paying Classic Journeys for, I reassured myself as I asked the receptionist what he thought about “Ugly Bagel”. Everyone seemed to agree it was a great choice so off we went.
Two things soon became apparent. Auckland is under massive construction (the World Cup is coming in March 2021 among other things) and the two of us have very different ways of navigating the streets. My sister prefers to use her phone GPS while I’d rather rely on the kindness of strangers. After circling around the same orange cones, fencing, and men in bright vests and hard hats while being bombarded by the sounds of large machinery and horns blaring, I cornered a spiky-haired, tattooed man with the requisite horn-rimmed glasses and a thick accent (Canadian) who just happened to be a huge fan of Ugly Bagels. He led us through a parking lot and pointed us in the right direction. Was it worth it? Yes!
Ugly Bagel offers a selection of around 14 bagel sandwiches, including the colorful and healthy avocado and tomato Judie ordered and my meat and cheese. Other fillings are Koko (a New Zealand Nutella), fish, and free-range eggs. They make the bagels right in front of you so there’s no question that you’re getting the real thing. Even better than the food was the atmosphere, just this side of raucous, that puts you in a good mood the minute you step through the door. The employees are exuberant-shouting out each new order as it comes in-and between the loud music and the sound of people laughing and talking, you have no choice but to smile and enjoy your breakfast. Great way to start a morning.
Fun fact: Coffee in New Zealand is served black (short, long, or Americano) unless you ask for it “white” then it’s mixed with whole milk.
That afternoon we relaxed in the hotel pool and hot tub, then had an early dinner at the Botswana Butchery on the waterfront. It was there that I fell in love, not with our Belgian waiter (!) but with my heirloom tomato salad. It turns out that the end-of-August tomatoes in New Zealand are even better than the ones in New York and were just what my winter-wrecked body had been craving. The corn, leek, and scallion fritters were delightful too, as was the people watching in this international city on the water.
Tomorrow we will meet our local guide and fellow travelers for the coming week!