Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Monday, April 22, 2019

IWFS Auckland Festival March 8th to 10th 2019 - Day Four

International Wine and Food Society Asia Pacific
Auckland Festival March 8th to 10th 2019

A recollection and remembrance of eats, drinks, sights, sounds, and people from across the event. Organised by IWFS Auckland in New Zealand, it brought members from all across the world to enjoy the food and wines of the country. 

Monday 11th March 2019 - Day Four and Epilogue

Not much on IWFS in this post - mostly my recollections of a last lazy day in Auckland and the trip back to Kuala Lumpur. Also some reflections on what makes for a good pint of Guinness. And a cute story on Malaysian customs at the KLIA.

I had plans to walk around Auckland domain gardens. Didn't happen. I woke up in nowhere near a fit state for it. All fuzzy and aching. Bleugghh. Again. Room mate Richard had stirred around 8am and took breakfast before heading off for a 9.30 bus to catch a plane with some of the pilgrims to visit Queenstown. I eventually surfaced and packed some final bits and eventually managed to shut the suitcase (is a very sensitive case, you have to get the locks lined up precisely and no bits of things like shirt poking out) and stumbled down for 9.45 toast (no coffee, the machine had seemingly run out; maybe no bad thing). I sat with Jag and Sue and traded info about airport transfers and flights and airlines. Then I went back up to clear the room and check out and somehow got a charge for a bottle of water which I know I did not drink. Not sure if Mossie did but now no way to check so just pay and move on. I did fiddle with the fridge to store some wines and I wonder if the fridge might have been one of those automatic ones where if you remove something you get a charge even though you put it back in later. Lesson - make a mental note to check with room service at all future hotels. My luggage got tagged and stored and I spent some time sat at reception clearing email and doing Facebook and WhatsApp whilst the wifi was still free and connecting me with the world. 

To my surprise I managed to check in to my MAS flight over the mobile phone and also to download the boarding pass. I was quite impressed at the speed. Whilst parked in my chair, I was able to say goodbyes to Michael and Grace and Richard and Reina before deciding to wander out to look for some Manuka honey to take back to Lenglui as she had requested at about 11am. There was one store just up from the hotel which had earlier looked promising, the NZ Export. A quick look showed they were charging NZD48. A pharmacy further along was charging NZD75. This felt expensive, and pretty much on par with what would be paid back in KL. I ended up in the Countdown Supermarket where I got local Auckland Manuka for NZD30 which felt fair. I also checked the route to take to catch the airport bus which avoided stairs and uphill lugs of the case before wandering back to the Stamford, where I rested for about three hours snacking on potato chips, making notes and people watching. I was magically still connected to the hotel wifi so I was able to respond to Whatsapp messages. Partly for this reason I decided to stay put at the Stamford and wait out the day. Still having a fuzzy head and feeling a bit stiff and having a convenient toilet to take advantage of helped to tip the balance in favour of this decision. And it kind of felt good to just rest up ahead of the flight. I later heard that Dr Jag and wife had risen at 6am to get a bus to visit Rotorua and only got back to the hotel at about 7pm to get bags and get to the airport. That sounds like a hard day - I get it that one has to seek to maximise time and load in as much of what can be seen and done when travelling. But I think there is also a need to make time for downtime to let internal batteries charge and ready for the journey. If not, then fatigue sets in and in my experience this is when the bad things happen - accidents, theft, which seem to result from being distracted and not fully alert to the surroundings. So - a day in the chair with a nearby bathroom it would be. And potato chips. 

And so I parked up on a chair opposite the Stamford reception and slowly recollected thoughts and memories from across the trip and typed them up into the iPad. The Hotel sound system was playing some jazz standards by Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra, not too loud and very pleasant to help the writing. There was what looked like a Rotary event taking place, presumably a lunch. Also lots of female hotel executive looking people wandering about with seeming purpose. Seem to be a lot of ladies in senior positions in Auckland. 

View from the bar stool
I eventually stirred enough to rise on to the haunches and lug the backpack and Celebrity tote with its Manuka booty out of the hotel and toward a place opposite the hotel with the name Food Alley, a place of apparent award and note. Someone along the Festival had suggested it as worth a look. Okay, why not. On walking through the sliding doors, I got hit with that stale oil stink of too much deep frying and promptly turned around and went back out. Not a very welcome smell and reminiscent of deep fried everything from back in Kuala Lumpur. I toyed with the idea of going to the seafood bar that others had highly recommended for the freshness and taste of the produce, but decided against - again, the fear of the one bad oyster or prawn with a ten hour flight in prospect militated against this.  So I ended up back at the Shakespeare Hotel, partly from not wanting to drift too far from the stored bag at the hotel, and also to remake my acquaintance with the delightful tasting and elegantly crispy beer battered fish and the somewhat ordinary chips. And some salad which went untouched (I rarely trust salad at restaurants - just takes one rogue sneeze in a kitchen on the wrong piece of lettuce). And along with a couple of pints of the excellent Guinness. There is something beyond words, something totally sublime about parking in a bar and slowly sucking down a pint or two of the black stuff. The first one sleeks the sides and draws down the dry off the throat while the second one slips across the palate and the roasted malt and toasted oat taste of the beer leaches into the throat and slides and slides and slides...  O my lord how it slides and sleeks and slakes and makes one say thank you God and Jesus for the black beer. Absolutely sublime. Brings out the lyrical bard as well - F***ing wonderful. Legend goes that Willie himself created the F word. And the Shakespeare was playing Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Of course.

View of the Bar and Brewery
But you have to let it settle, let the bubbles all rise to the top and help to form the perfect head. The you drink the nectar through the creamy foam and....   Phwoooargh... Slinky and smooth and sucky on the throat... Perfecto. I had to have a third.

The Shakespeare
Albert Street
Auckland New Zealand
tel +64 9 373 5396
email - info @shakespeare.nz


After the three, they were keen to serve a fourth but I declined. An itch had formed. Even though it was five hours to flight time, I wanted to move. I wanted to get home. The trip was probably over earlier that morning, and the day was just marking time until it was time to gear up and kick the tyres to get underway. I remember reading somewhere that the trip always ends way before the landing on the home runway (I think it might have been Jupiter's Travels by Ted Simon from the 1970s - he went around the world on a motorcycle). The itch, the desire for familiar faces and places kicks in way before the appointed hour. So I retrieved my suitcase from the Stamford (which was still playing Frank) and trundled around to where the SkyBus Airport shuttle would stop. Within five minutes it had arrived. I humped the bag, paid the NZD19 and we were off. Well, for a short distance around the corner to the Sheraton Points Hotel - seemed driver decided he would have to stop there for five minutes. Of course. But homeward bound I was and very happy to be so. 

An uneventful but sunset pretty drive got me to the airport about 7.30pm and check in would only start at 8.15pm. So a gentle wander to find the bathroom and an up and down the gate hall still left 15 minutes. I saw some people doing self check in and getting luggage tags and figured - why not? I eventually got it, though the on screen steps were not absolutely clear and I nearly left the thing without the luggage tags - it was only when I saw someone getting theirs from a neighbouring machine that I figured I had to get them as well. There was a little button bottom left saying "next" that led to the printout page. Darn confusing for us ageing farts. 

The gate opened, the queue began and ten minutes later I was ambling toward the departure gate and customs and immigration. It was still massively early so I parked and polished off the remains of the bread ham and cheese and potato chips and water ahead of the processing through immigration and security. I parted ways with the undrunk and unopened half bottle of Chardonnay gifted to all the pilgrims on their arrival. I could not pack it due to space and weight constraints and figured to maybe drink it with the food. Nope - still tasting the Guinness. Into the waste bin it went, along with a plastic tube of sunblock I had forgotten to pack in the main case. Dang…  darn good sunblock this was too, not greasy like most of the gunk that gets sold. First time I had ever wilfully thrown booze into a bin. Felt oddly lightened…

Pretty fast through Immigration and Security and into the Duty Free to be spoilt for choice for Gin. I wanted something local, and eventually stumbled across a tasting bar where little plastic sips of various booze was being offered. I asked for NZ Gin and got a thimble of something that felt a bit fiery until it got mixed with some lemon. Not bad. Then tasted a second - also not bad. So i opted to buy a bottle of each, figuring it would be quite a while to get the chance to share it with the home gang. 

And that was pretty much it. Ambled toward the departure gate and ran into Dr Jag and Malkit, boarded the plane, watched a few movies and drank a couple of beers and the plane was soon landing. Eased through Immigration, though the bag took a bit of time to come through. I was keeping a sly eye on the Customs to see if they were stopping everyone as I had somewhere read they were recently threatening to do. They indeed were. A pretty long queue was forming and the luggage scanners were rumbling away. I would clearly get caught with the bottles of wine in the case. A friend had previously told me that if you come clean, the customs people appreciate it. So I did. I asked the lady at the desk where to pay for bringing in wine and she directed me to a very affable chap who took down the details and worked out the cost (his math was a bit off though - four bottles should have been 3 litres and he called it for two; I said nothing). I paid the RM50 (which he said included a discount which made me laugh), got a receipt and he escorted me past the scanner and into legitimate freedom. Did not check the bag, and I got a pleasant thank you for my being up front. This alone was worth the RM50 paid. Honesty occasionally has greater benefits than expected. 

I decided to take the KLIA Express and get a taxi from KL Sentral. My previous attempts to Grab have failed because for some reason my phone takes quite a while to get back on Malaysian time. Smooth KLIA Express trip to find that all taxis out of KL Sentral are now by coupon - no meter taxis seem to be permitted anywhere near the place. The Standard rate to get home to Kenny Hill was RM15. I got home at about 7.45am to a welcome hug from the Lenglui, a cup of Cafe 21 and a lazy day to get over the jet lag. Good to be home.


I did enjoy this IWFS Festival. The food, the wines, the people, the restaurants, pretty much the entire vibe of Auckland. Enough to engage yet not as standoffish as some of the big towns come across to be. Food highlights were the fish and chips at the Shakespeare, the lamb at the Sails, the lamb and Pavlova at the Giraffe, the Salmon at the Tantalus Estate. Wine highlights were the Quartz Reef at Sails, the Nautilus Albarinho at Giraffe, the fizz and the Cochette at Tantalus. People and places highlights - the view from the Sails, the Auckland Domain, Simon at the Giraffe and the lawn at Tantalus. But ultimately it is the IWFS pilgrims and the coming together in search of new experiences and tastes and the camaraderie that comes with it. Reconnecting with old faces and friends, making new connections with others - can't fault it. Well, maybe I could - the inner Scotsman did find the costs leaning toward the stiff with regard to the pre and post tours. Which was partly why I did my own to Marlborough and taking in visiting a cousin en route from there to Auckland - though the Bed and Breakfasts in Blenheim are all around the NZD140 mark unless you go real budget - the 15 on Dillon was NZD145 a night and the NZD75 Hop On Hop Off Bus and the NZD195 for the Dog Point picnic started to add up. Not the cheapest of places to holiday, but for the probable once in a lifetime you just shut your mind and pay. And as a result I have some priceless memories from across the bits of New Zealand that I did. 


I found the amount of water that comes out of the public taps and toilets across the nation to be utterly astounding. At least a pint is delivered from a tap for you to just wash the hands after a pee. Unbelievable. Given the water shortages that are impacting the globe, one wonders whether and how such a natural resource can be preserved or packaged for sale and export - ice it up and float it to Australia? 

Scenery wise, New Zealand lives up to its reputation, though I didn't do the South of the South Island which is apparently the prettier part in Natural Wonder terms. This should happen next year via a cruise that does all the major Sounds and ends up back in Auckland. But there certainly seemed acres of open space along the route that the bus took from Hawera to Auckland. And some stunning vistas and landscapes - Mount Fuji like cones caked with snow suddenly popping up from behind a hill, all impressive and impassive and dominating in their presence. 

The people I encountered were mostly from across the services sector, though I was also able to interact with "real" people in "real" places. There seem to be a preponderance of females in senior positions in the business sectors that I encountered - wineries, hotels, restaurants, stores, driving the bus. My cousin runs a Sports Chiropractor Surgery with hubby, and a brilliant fish and chip shop in Wellington equally operated by an enterprising 20 something girl with fire in her eyes and originating from somewhere in the sub continent. For some reason it just seemed noticeable. Perhaps it is just that New Zealand doesn't seem to pay that much attention to differences to the genders; if you can do it and you have a fire under your butt to achieve it then all power to your ambitions and dreams. Amen to that.

I found there is both a warmth and a distance in the people, seemingly dependent upon how remote you are from large urban centres. People in cities are pretty much the same the world over - always on the move, save for the crusties living rough and panhandling their ways through life. Though now most city folk have a nose in a phone through which all the important stuff comes to advise, inform or distract. The more remote are keen to strike up a conversation and suddenly you have their whole life history and they have yours. Confidence of a stranger kind of thing - you are sharing bits about yourself you haven't raked over for decades. My driver from Blenheim to Picton, and a lady on the bus from Wellington to Hawera - they seemed able to draw out old, old memories to share as a story to keep the flow going. I remember reading years ago that the greater the distance between homesteads then the more critical it becomes to maximise human contact when it happens. Yet there is little in what we might term as social mixing in the boonies. Families will come together for sports and daytime events, but once the sun puts up the shutters for the night then so apparently do people close their front doors. And so do the pubs - well, pub singular; I was in the mood for a nightcap beer at my "hotel" in Hawera and got there at 9.30pm to find the bar closed. This is apparently just the way it is. The people close early. 

I also observed a small element of "redneck" in Hawera where I was at a breakfast shared with some of the male "rustics" of the town. They seemed to be having a whingefest sharing feelings of being ignored by the Government but still getting their wallets squeezed via increasingly inadequate pensions. Well, at least one of them was holding this particular court with presumably his regular breakfast mates. I was earwigging all this; they must get variations of the same tirade every morning, all wallowing in the same misery. Reminded me of my pub days in Wales; there would always be someone bemoaning their lot. Also been there. Managed to escape. 

So....  overall, I would gladly go back to Marlborough, Wellington, Taranaki and Auckland. The food, wines, people and places are definitely worth a return should the occasion arise. Not always cheap, but there is value in terms of freshness and expertise in the food and wine and growing senses of adventure in the cuisine. You can maybe cut corners in accommodation (or get amazingly lucky with bus fares), but overall you get what you pay for and the differences are not that large. March was an excellent time to visit weather wise, and apparently high summer can get brutal. 

And that is it. Great memories for me, some unforgettable experiences, some fabulous eats and drinks, and a record of it chalked uphere to eternity (assuming the servers keep running!). Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed the ride, and maybe see you somewhere in the world!!

1 comment:

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