Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chinese new year with family

It is that time of the year again, a time for family members to gather, a time to celebrate, a time to rejoice. It is the year of rabbit this year. This year, i have the luxury of being on holiday for two months. Sadly, my wife's leave application got turned down, hence my Chinese new year celebration in Auckland instead of Malaysia. On the better side of things,my folks and sister flew to Auckland for the new year gathering. Their trip was fairly short, which limited our choices when it came to planning our out-of-Auckland trip. In the end we spent most of our time together exploring Auckland. We spent a sunny afternoon at Cornwall park. Then on the following day we took a ferry to Waiheke island and spent a night there.

Cornwall park is one of the many parks in Auckland city. Together with the neighbouring park One tree hill, Cornwall park is the biggest parkland in central Auckland. Here, you will find an interesting landscape formed by many hills and terraces, a result of volcanic activity in the distant past. One tree hill, the neighbouring park is centered on an inactive volcanic cone. Built around this cone, was ancient Maori fortresses from the pre-European era. They said the domain was called One tree hill because there used to be a tree standing solo on the hill top. Unfortunately, that tree has suffered from some kind of disease and had to be removed. All we are left with now is a monument on the hill top. Nevertheless, Cornwall park and One tree hill domain are still an excellent place to have a stroll, jog or summer barbeque. Speaking of the latter, there are dedicated areas with permanent built in BBQ facilities for everyone. There are extensive walkways and walking paths running between the mature oak and Kauri trees. There is even a Cornwall restaurant in the middle of the park, a popular venue for weddings.

Here is a shot of my sister sitting on the floating roots of a tree.

Mum and dad seemed to have a good time walking around the park.  Here is a shot i took of mum, with my camera close to  the ground. It was difficult to get the subject in focus when i couldn't actually see through my view finder. The live view mode on my D90 has never been working that well for me somehow. I prefer using the viewfinder but i was reluctant to get dirty lying with my tummy down on the tarmac. In the end, i think i got the effect i wanted.

The following photo is one with my sister trying out her photography skill with her iphone. Hers is a 3Gs, not the one with the 5 megapixel chip that you will find in iphone 4, which is the one i'd much prefer. I am amazed by the picture quality an iphone 4 can produce. I have been wanting to get a pocket camera that i can bring to dinner parties. Sometimes, lugging a big DSLR to a dinner party is just not very "cool". I was eyeing on the Canon S95. Lately, i have been thinking maybe i should wait until my current cellphone (a Nokia) goes kaput and needs replacing, then i will get an iPhone 4 or iPhone 5 if they have one by then. It just makes more sense to me that way, since i carry my cellphone everywhere i go anyway. Why bother filling up another one of your pocket with another chunk of electronic device when the one that you use as a phone is perfectly capable of producing nice photos. Afterall you are not doing a proper photoshoot for fashion magazine at a dinner party. The 5 megapixel lens with a large aperture of f2.5 should do the job most of the time.

We spent 15 minutes observing the cows at Cornwall park. My sister lives in Australia. They don't get to see cows or sheeps unless they travelled far out from the city. Who would have thought you can see so many cows grazing the parkland in the middle of Auckland. That is exactly what i love about Auckland. It's a big little city. It is big enough for most things but small enough to blend rural into your buzy urban city life. Fantastic if you ask me.

We spent a day on Waiheke island.  We departed from the Auckland main ferry terminal at the viaduct. The ferry to Waiheke departs from pier 2.  

My sister on the ferry.

The place we stayed in was Anzac villa. Here are some photos taken at the property.

The villa is quite an old premise but fairly well maintained. You will find many little decorative details in the house, which add a personal touch to the villa. I have found the villa quite "funky". Most importantly, it is very clean.  The kitchen is well equiped with oven , cooktops, microwave, kettle and all kinds kitchen utensils.  The island's biggest supermarket, the Woolworth is within walking distance from the villa. We bought  fresh pasta and cooked up a simple but delicious dinner and had the dinner at the villa's front porch, by the water. To top it off, the villa comes with a courtesy vehicle for us to use. In our case, it was a spacious Toyota Estima, a seven seater people carrier. I understand the owner also has a big bad Landrover that he sometimes uses as the courtesy vehicle.

Complimentary tea and coffee.
Waterfront is right at our doorstep at Anzac villa.

Waiheke island is famous for two things. Wineries and beaches. Our Waiheke experience would not be complete without a visit at one of the wineries. Choosing winery to visit is not as easy as i thought. There are more than 30 different wineries on the island. I have been to Mudbrick winery some time ago and liked the mediterranean feel it has and its beautiful Lavender garden. But i thought i'd try somewhere else. So i did some googling and found Te Whau. We had lunch at Te Whau winery.  Te Whau is a smallish vineyeard but it's restauarnt is award winning and has been crowned the best Auckland rural fine dining restaurant. Sure enough, the food was absolutely amazing. So was the service. We started off with a basket of bread to share. The we had a main course each. We had pan fried salmon with king prawn and Vietnamese salad, eye fillet with potatoe tart, pan fried snapper fillet with tomaoe fondue and twice cooked duck.

We had an enjoyable and relaxing time on the island. I liked the villa we stayed in. One thing i will advice you not to do though is visiing a garden called Te Whau garden. It was a total waste of money and time if you ask me. It is basically a private residence with a big compound with partial landscape and partial wetland and flax bush. The garden has been advertised as a sculpture garden, but there were hardly any sculptures worth looking at. Entrance fee was $10 per adult. We only spent 20mins there and left disappointed. If you like garden, the are many much nicer gardens around Auckland, most of which are free for everyone to visit. I highly recommend the Auckland botanica garden in Manurewa (Hills rd).

For those of you planning to visit Waiheke, i recommend two things. One, stay at Anzac villa. Two, having lunch at Te Whau winery. Check out their websites. Here's the website address.

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