48 Hours in Auckland: Coffee, Food, Shopping and Things To Do

I came to Auckland three times during my fortnight in New Zealand, although only went into the city twice, for one full day each time. I was supposed to have an extra afternoon and evening the day I arrived from Sydney, but my Qantas flight was cancelled and rescheduled so I got in at 00:30 am rather than nine hours earlier. It was perhaps for this reason that I didn’t really take to New Zealand’s largest city the first time I arrived. I don’t like arriving in new cities after dark — and especially not at 2:00 am — and my late arrival meant I woke up late and grumpy on the following day.


Things were going better the second time, when I arrived at the airport from Queenstown at 11:30 am on my last day in New Zealand. Unexpectedly, I was able to check in my suitcase so I grabbed my somewhat heavy carry-on backpack and headed for the SkyBus into the city. During the day, the buses run every 10 minutes and the journey takes about 45–60 minutes —unless the bus breaks down in the middle of a junction before even leaving the airport, which it did. Once we were eventually able to board another bus, I was on my way again and got to the city centre around 1:00 pm. This time, I found myself really liking Auckland. It helped that the city was much livelier on a mild and intermittently sunny Saturday than it did on a Tuesday afternoon.

I’ve organised the things I did on both days by neighbourhood. The first time, I stayed two nights at a pleasant motel called Abaco on Jervois (the owners were really friendly and it was quiet, comfortable and well appointed), near Ponsonby Road, and spent most time there and in the CBD. When I returned, I visited the hip Parnell neighbourhood, did a little shopping in the CBD, and caught the ferry over to picturesque, arty Devonport, before heading back to Karangahape Road for dinner.


CBD
With little time in the city, I decided to follow my Lonely Planet North Island New Zealand’s suggested city centre walking tour, which covered some of the key sights. I started near Karangahape Road, known as K’ Road, which has lots of interesting restaurants and shops (I particularly liked The Bread and Butter Letter, which focuses on New Zealand-made goods and vintage). Inside St Kevins Arcade, there are some eateries and bars far cooler than the period décor might suggest. I had a passable piccolo and very nice cake at the popular Besties, which I think might have been a better brunch option. It has great views down the hill over Myers Park, particularly if you nab one of the window seats.


I returned to K’ Road for my last supper, which I had at Coco’s Cantina, an awesome restaurant run by two sisters, which was recommended to me by multiple people. You get the impression that the sisters just created what would be their ideal restaurant to eat at and there’s a pasta happy hour (!) and sweet notes to customers with suggestions of small ways to be kind to their fellow customers and the staff. I had the pasta special of the day — pappardelle with chicken, nduja, broccoli and parmesan — which was delicious and filling, and a cocktail called Becka the Wrecka. This was also a nickname of mine when I was younger so I couldn’t not order it; it was essentially a pimped-up Pisco Sour.



Continuing on with the Lonely Planet walk, I descended through Myers Park to Queen Street, the CBD’s unlovely main drag. There are a handful of points of interest there, but kept up walking up to the Auckland Art Gallery. You will notice from my verbs that Auckland is a very hilly city and your legs will be grateful if you master the topography. I spent an hour or so in the New Zealand art galleries, and there was even a local dance group rehearsing on the mezzanine, which was fun to watch.


Next to the gallery, leafy Albert Park connects the CBD with the University of Auckland campus, where there are a few interesting sights, including the (literally and figuratively) striking clocktower. The walk then brought me back down to Queen Street, where I went to Eighthirty for coffee. This roaster has several coffee shops in Auckland and I had by far the best piccolo of my first day at their central branch, a stark-white café tucked away down an arcade off High Street.





It was a short walk over to Britomart, an area which houses the train station and a main ferry terminus, as well as a number of cool restaurants, bars and shops in the warehouse-style buildings a block or two back from the harbour. I window-shopped at Deadly Ponies, a New Zealand handbag and leather goods brand, and stopped for a delicious chocolate, salted almond and caramel patisserie at dessert bar Milse. I didn’t have time this trip, but just next door, the Italian restaurant Ortolana is also supposed to be excellent.



I walked along the waterfront, through the harbour to the Wynyard Quarter, admiring the views of the nearby islands and the stunning turquoise colour of the ocean. There are some funky restaurants and bars, and a few pieces of public art in this area and it’s a pleasant place to stroll on a sunny day. I ended up walking all the way round to Westhaven, where you can do a harbour bridge climb. I didn’t think it would compare favourably to Sydney, but I enjoyed the views of the bridge and the gulf. It was then a short, if steep, walk back to my motel in Ponsonby, just west of the city centre.


On my return to Auckland, after a month of almost no shopping, I finally let down my guard and bought a few things. The catch was that as I had already checked in my suitcase, everything had to fit in my small backpack and even smaller handbag. The bustling Queen Street is best for the high street chains. I liked a shop called Cotton On, which seemed like a slightly nicer version of H&M, and which had a particularly good loungewear and activewear section. Given the antipodean spring weather, I kept forgetting that Christmas is on the way, but the pirated-themed decorations in the windows of department store Smith and Caughey’s soon set me straight. I picked up a few gifts and enjoyed browsing the fashion and homewares section — once again, I almost bought the hot pink Frank Green reusable cup I’ve been coveting, and once again, I didn’t have enough space.


Lorne Street is one block east of Queen Street but has some more interesting and independent shops. There were a couple of nice book shops there — Unity Books for new, and Jason Books for second hand — and a shop called Pauanesia, which had some unique New Zealand-themed gifts. On the clothing front, boutique Flo & Frankie has a great combination of fashion, accessories and homewares (they also have a branch in Ponsonby); Untouched World has nice merino clothing; Storm is a slightly more upscale womenswear boutique; and Decjuba reminded me a bit of Zara. Industrie (menswear) and AS Colour (a bit like Uniqlo or American Apparel) also caught my eye.



Ponsonby
Just over a mile from the CBD — although you have to go downhill and then back up again to get there — the bobo neighbourhood of Ponsonby has stacks of great places to eat, drink and shop. I decided to stay there for this reason, although ended up having less time to take advantage of it than I’d hoped. Most places are on or near the Ponsonby Road, which runs south from College Hill.


I had a nice piccolo at the Allpress coffee bar — you can buy beans there too, although if you have more time and it isn’t the weekend, you may prefer to visit their roastery in Freemans Bay instead. One day, I had brunch at Orphans Kitchen, which was great. I had heirloom tomato and nasturtium pesto on toast, which was delicious and unusual. The coffee was decent too.



There’s a popular gourmet food hall called Ponsonby Central, which has many different food and drink options, and a few shops. There’s a branch of Eighthirty here if you’re in need of caffeinating. For dinner, I was spoiled for choice, and considered having rotisserie chicken at Bird on a Wire or Boy & Bird, but ended up going for Neapolitan pizza at Dante’s Pizzeria, which was really good. A friend recommended that I go to The Golden Dawn bar, but it was closed for a private function.



Some of the shops that caught my eye included: Everyday Needs (beautiful and useful homewares); Iko Iko (gifts and toys); A Little Shop (clothing and accessories); The Open Book (second-hand books) and Widdess (clothing).
Parnell
One of the difficulties of planning extensive coffee-related activities in antipodean cities is that most coffee shops are shut by 3:00 pm; some (especially cafés located inside roasteries) don’t open at weekends either. Thus, I had a pretty tight schedule for Saturday afternoon, not helped by my airport bus problems. From Queen Street, it’s a hilly 25-minute walk to Parnell, an area with lots of cafés and restaurants, many in warehouse-style buildings.
I managed to get to the Red Rabbit café–roastery on Faraday Street just before their 2:00 pm closing. Although I had some Red Rabbit coffee at Frank’s in Wellington, I didn’t get the chance to visit their café so I was glad I caught them in time. I had a really excellent piccolo there in the industrial-style coffee bar. They were a busy getting set up for a wedding that afternoon — what a great wedding location! — but took great care of me nonetheless.



A few doors down is Simon and Lee, which I’d read about in a coffee-industry magazine while I was in Sydney. They serve espresso-based coffee drinks and single-origin filter coffee (batch brew, of course, this being New Zealand) from Flight, and a Korean-influenced all day menu. I had a Colombian filter coffee, which was very nice and came in a beautiful mug. I also fended off my hangriness with a delicious eggs benedict with bacon, kimchi, miso truffle béchamel and nori. The stylish, colourful interiors and friendly staff make this a great all-day eatery.



My third coffee destination of the day was the Parnell branch of the Espresso Workshop, a café that also runs training for baristas, retail clients and interested home-brewers. I arrived just before they closed at 3:00 pm, and ordered a single-origin Tanzanian espresso, which had some nice blackcurrant notes. As their name suggests, there’s no filter coffee, but there is a good selection of coffee-making and coffee-drinking kit.



Devonport
I initially planned to take a ferry ride — perhaps to Waiheke Island — straight after I returned to the CBD from Parnell, but then the weather looked like it was going to turn and I got distracted by the shops. By the time I’d finished shopping, at about 5:00 pm, I realised that I needed another activity as I didn’t need to get a bus back to the airport until 10:00 pm and even I can’t spend five hours eating dinner. I thought about going up the Sky Tower, but instead decided to take the ferry to Devonport, just across the Hauraki Gulf. The return trip costs $12, the ferries run frequently and the journey takes about seven minutes. There are some good views of the Auckland harbour and skyline as the boat pulls out of the port.


Devonport itself is pretty and characterful with colourful period houses, a nice esplanade along the waterfront and Victoria Road, which has myriad shops, cafés and watering holes. I spotted a second-hand bookshop called BookMark, a great looking cinema/theatre called The Vic, and an arts and craft workshop called Marbles.

After a quick stroll around the shops, I made the steep climb up to Mount Victoria, which has panoramic vistas of the city and of the Hauraki Gulf and nearby islands. Unfortunately, the bright sun I enjoyed during the ferry ride went into the clouds by the time I got to the top, but the views were still great.

InStyle Parties: The Complete Guide to Easy, Elegant Entertaining All Year Round


The editors of InStyle Magazine are celebrating the publication of their beautiful guide to chic, effortless gatherings–Instyle Parties: The Complete Guide to Easy, Elegant Entertaining All Year Round. The 192 page book includes menus, signature cocktails, tabletop inspiration, hostess tips, wine pairings, a moment-by-moment timeline, and more. Continue Reading »

12 Great Speciality Coffee Spots in Wellington, New Zealand

After a couple of intense periods of speciality coffee consumption in Melbourne and Sydney, I reverted back to ‘normal’ levels until I arrived in Wellington, New Zealand. I already had a number of local roasters and coffee shops on my list for the New Zealand capital, but I was also lucky that a coffee-loving Wellingtonian offered to show me around the city and its coffee scene. Lovely Tim (@coffeelater on Twitter and Instagram) seemed to know almost everyone who works in coffee in his home city and introduced me to a number of the movers and shakers, for which I am endlessly grateful.

I only spent 48 hours in Wellington but managed to check out 12 cafés and roasteries during that time, leaving many more coffee bars for the return visit that I’m hoping to make at some point. I’ve added everything to this Google Map, and another great resource for speciality coffee in Wellington and several other New Zealand cities is the Neat Places guide to New Zealand coffee roasters.

CBD North
Coffee Supreme
I first came across Coffee Supreme via their Melbourne café, which I didn’t have time to visit, but the company has been roasting in Wellington since speciality coffee was a mere twinkle in London’s eye — 1993, to be more precise. As I’d already been to Coffee Supreme’s Customs Brew Bar (see below), I wasn’t planning to go to their Midland Park coffee bar too, but walking past, I was drawn in by the cool merch on sale. I love their ‘we eat coffee for breakfast’ slogan and would have bought a mug if I’d had room in my case, and I’m sure the ‘barista socks‘ would have been a great gift for someone.


I ended up getting a coffee: a really top-notch espresso with their limited espresso blend, which, thanks to the utmost care of the barista, was very drinkable with milk chocolate and strawberry notes. I also got some beans to take home — again, the barista helped me to select a variety that would work well in my Aeropress at home and that had been roasted recently enough to last until I was home. And I’ve been enjoying the Ethiopian Sede at home all week.


Coffee Supreme is located at 31 Waring Taylor Street, Wellington. Website. TwitterInstagram.

Frank’s
On my last morning in Wellington, I did a final fast-and-furious coffee tour and Frank’s was the first stop. The small, busy coffee bar is located on The Terrace, not far from the cable car. They serve coffee from Red Rabbit (who originally roasted in Wellington, but have since moved their roasting operation to Auckland) and a few breakfast goods and sweet treats. I had a piccolo made with a single-origin Guatemalan coffee, which was prepared very well, along with a double-chocolate muffin. The décor is minimalist and the staff were very friendly, although they were so busy during the morning rush that there wasn’t much chance to chat.



Frank’s is located at 116 The Terrace, Wellington. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Mojo Coffee
I hadn’t heard of Mojo Coffee before Tim mentioned them to me, but as with a number of the other Wellington roasters, they’ve been in the business for well over a decade. They now have over 30 cafés in Wellington (you can find them in both the domestic and the international terminals at the airport) and Auckland and I visited their waterfront location on Customhouse Quay, which is right next to their roastery. With its blue-accented, industrial-chic interiors and coffee-related words of wisdom embossed on the windows (‘coffee, never a rational thing’, for instance), the bright, airy café is attractive and inviting.


During my visit, they were serving one of their house espresso blends, the intriguingly named Dr Mojo’s Medicine, for coffees with milk, and a single-origin Ruvuma AA for black coffee. I had a piccolo, which was very nice, and stuck to scrambled eggs on toast for my lunch. They have some more interesting options on their all-day menu too.


Mojo Coffee is located at 33 Customhouse Quay, Wellington (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

CBD South (Te Aro)
Customs by Coffee Supreme
With what must be one of the most beautiful coffee menu boards in the world — a repurposed wooden arrivals board, which hangs over nine large vials of coffee beans — Coffee Supreme’s Customs Brew Bar was another recommendation from Tim. The slim coffee bar is gorgeous throughout, with wood panelling on some of the walls and the counter and mid-century furniture, accessorised with funky vintage pieces.



I was hoping for a pourover and a doughnut, but neither of these were possible — they only get doughnuts later in the week and it was a Tuesday, for one thing, and hand-brewed filter coffee tends to be rare in Wellington and in New Zealand more generally. Although I couldn’t quite be tempted by one of the many toasts that are served all week, I did happily indulge in one of the two batch-brew filter coffees on offer, made with care using the Fetco. The Kenyan Guama, with its sharp grapefruit and redcurrant accents, was a lovely morning drink, particularly as it cooled. There’s even a poster of this variety on the wall at Customs, which will appeal both to lovers of coffee and graphic design.


Customs by Coffee Supreme is located at 39 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. TwitterInstagram.

Flight Coffee Hangar
Flight Coffee’s flagship café, The Hangar, was on my list almost as soon as I started my antipodean coffee research. They came to my attention during the great Wush Wush rush of 2017, and I visited The Hangar twice during my visit. The first time, Tim and I stopped by for an afternoon coffee. I had a wonderfully flavoursome Rwandan Vunga, which had apricot and black tea notes and which was brewed through a Gino Dripper. Tim enjoyed a Guatemalan Las Joyas as a cold drip.


The coffee menu is extensive here: there were three espresso options (plus a limited edition), three single-origins available as Fetco batch-brew filter coffees (one also available as a pourover) and several cold options. I’d have dearly liked to have a Flight Coffee flight — you can choose among one coffee three ways (espresso, cold drip and flat white), a flat white flight (one with each espresso), and a filter flight (three Fetco-produced filter coffees) — but it was late in the day and I’d already had a lot of coffee.


Instead, I returned on my last morning to buy some coffee beans and tried the limited-edition espresso, a Mexican Garabandal washed Geisha, which was brewed meticulously and which had lovely blackberry and peach notes. They have had the same coffee in natural- and honey-processed formats too and it’s been very popular.


Flight Coffee Hangar is located at 119 Dixon Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. TwitterInstagram.

Gentlemen’s Beans
If you visit the Gentlemen’s Beans kiosk on Courtenay Place at the right time, you can get a margherita as well as a macchiato — the micro-roaster’s owners also serve pizza and subs. I arrived early, just after my morning run and so stuck to a piccolo and a pastry whose name I’ve now forgotten, but it looked like a Danish, only with a ricotta and espresso filling.


Gentlemen’s Beans is located on Courtenay Place near Taranaki Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Goldmine by Lamason
Brand-new to the Wellington coffee scene — it had been open only a couple of days when I visited — Goldmine is a spin-off of former Peoples Coffee trainer Dave Lamason’s popular Lamason Brew bar. I was excited to check it out, partly because it was new but mainly because they serve hand-brewed filter coffee — using a V60, no less. There were three single-origin Peoples Coffee coffees available as pourovers, and I selected the Ethiopian Guji, which was delicious, with rich, plummy notes. I was too early (or was it late?) for brunch, but the food menu looked great too.



Goldmine is located at 171 Willis Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Facebook.

Havana Coffee Works
Wellington is a little bit obsessed with all things Cuba, from the busy, restaurant-filled Cuba Street in the CBD, to Havana Coffee Works, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2019. Tim took me to their Tory Street HQ, whose interiors resemble a colourful street in the titular Cuban capital. Havana’s coffee is served in many cafés and coffee shops across Wellington and far beyond, but you can also have a coffee or buy beans at the roastery.


They now sell a number of single-origin espressos, but it was the chocolatey Five Star blend that I tried in my piccolo, which was brewed on the most revolutionary La Marzocco customisation I’ve see for some time.


Havana Coffee Works is located at 163 Tory Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

Milk Crate
Just next door to Customs on Ghuznee Street, Milk Crate is a sleek, minimalist espresso bar with a cool adjoining lifestyle boutique called Precinct 35. Put off by the lack of hand-brewed filter coffee (I hadn’t yet learned the Kiwi ways), I missed the chance to try the Kenyan Thunguri from Rich Coffee on the batch brew. It was hard to mind too much, though, when I had a really excellent piccolo instead made using the Rich Coffee seasonal blend.


I sat at the counter, admiring the red coffee cups and the Rich Coffee-branded La Marzocco Linea. I soon found out that the espresso machine had travelled almost as far as I had because it was a parting gift for one of Rich Coffee’s two owners, Richie Russell, when he left Monmouth Coffee after ten years in 2015. The machine, before its refurb and rebrand, used to live in Monmouth’s Borough Market location, just down the road from my home.


Milk Crate is located at 35 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

Prefab (Acme & Co)
Tim and I met for a late lunch at Acme & Co‘s Wellington café and hub, Prefab, on the day I arrived in the city. I gorged on a giant burger and duck-fat fries and enjoyed a lovely piccolo — served in an Acme cup and saucer, of course. Tim then introduced me to founders Bridget Dunn and Jeff Kennedy, who were working behind the counter alongside the 8kg roaster. It was fascinating to chat to them both about Acme, coffee, Wellington and nori, among many other topics, and their warmth and their passion for their work came through very strongly.



Bridget and Jeff very kindly allowed me to choose a new Acme cup to add to my collection and I opted for the new version of their tulip cup in grey — alas, I didn’t think to ask for their thoughts on a special, limited-edition neon-pink Acme cup just for me.


Prefab is located at 14 Jessie Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Newtown
Peoples Coffee Café
Another of the old guards of the Wellington speciality coffee scene, Peoples Coffee have been roasting since 2004 and have long been leaders in the ethical and sustainability world. I didn’t have a coffee in their small, cosy Newtown café as it was the end of the day and I’d already had my fill for the day, but I did buy some beans. I also got to try their coffee at Goldmine the following morning and really liked the Ethiopian filter coffee I had — so much so that I’ll happily forgive the absent apostrophe in their name!


Peoples Coffee Café is located at 12 Constable Street, Newtown, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

Rich Coffee Roastery
Last, but certainly not least, is Rich Coffee. Founded by two people who have had big roles in the once burgeoning and now booming speciality coffee industry in London — Richie Russell (formerly of Monmouth) and Cam McClure (who used to own Flat White) — in 2015, the company is a relative newcomer to the Wellington coffee scene.


The roastery, on a quiet Newtown side street, opens up to the public at the weekend, but Tim arranged for us to drop by to meet Richie one afternoon. I really enjoyed talking to him and Tim about the coffee world both in London and in Wellington, and inspiring to hear about how it’s definitely possible to launch a new speciality coffee company in a saturated market like Wellington if you can offer people something different and are willing to work your socks off.


I love their clean, minimalist branding (not just because, given my full name, I’m a sucker for the letter R). Richie made me a great-tasting, fruity piccolo with their current seasonal espresso blend. Their other coffee of the moment is the washed-process Kenyan I failed to sample at Milk Crate, whose flavour profile is making my mouth water even now. If the roastery isn’t open and you’d like to try some Rich Coffee, head over to Milk Crate, who will brew you up an excellent cup.

Rich Coffee Roastery is located at 369 Adelaide Road, Newtown, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

Slice of Life

Simplifying and minimizing are the key words for 2018, but I'm not waiting for January1st. The last six weeks have been filled with household organizing and purging: I'm bringing order to every cupboard, closet, and drawer. Today, I'm getting the kitchen and pantry ready for heavy duty holiday cooking, and this weekend, I'll focus on the garage, creating zones for garden equipment and bird feeding supplies. Continue Reading »

Thrills and Chills in Queenstown, New Zealand

After a bit of culture — coffee and otherwise — in Wellington, it was time to get back into the great outdoors. I almost didn’t come to Queenstown, but everyone I spoke to told me I was mad to come to New Zealand and not visit the South Island, so I ended up booking three nights in the self-proclaimed ‘adventure capital’ of the world. There had been snow overnight — very late in the season as it’s almost summer — and the landing into Queenstown Airport was beautiful, with the mountain range known as The Remarkables looking particularly spectacular with more than a dusting of snow on top.


There are airport shuttles into town, but you can also take the public bus, number 11, run by Ritchies. I found this a bit confusing to use and ended up walking half a mile outside the airport, directed by Google Maps, to a bus stop, which cost $7.50 to travel into the centre of town. On the way back, a ticket to the airport cost $12, although dropped off right outside the terminal. There is supposed to be a bus stop for the Queenstown bus outside the terminal, which would be more convenient if you don’t mind paying $4.50 more to have a shorter walk and can find it.

I stayed at the YHA Queenstown Lakefront, a 15-minute walk from the CBD along the beautiful esplanade along Lake Wakatipu. I thought I’d booked a private single en suite room, but it actually shared a (large and clean) bathroom with three other private rooms. The hostel has recently been renovated and both the bedroom and other facilities were in good condition. My room was tiny but I could catch a glimpse of the lake from the window if I tried hard.


The town is small but attractive, surrounded by mountains and with the glistening Lake Wakatipu at its centre. There are lots of hikes and bike rides in and around Queenstown and nearby Wanaka and Arrowtown, and plenty of good cafés, bars and eateries. When I saw that many of these were open long after midnight, I was glad to be staying in the more peaceful lakefront hostel. Numerous opportunities to do adventurous and/or thrill-seeking activities are available from the myriad tour agencies in town, so fear not if you haven’t already booked your adrenaline rush.
Skyline Queenstown
It was a glorious day when I arrived: crisp but sunny and with clear blue skies. As such, I headed straight from my hostel to the Skyline Queenstown, a scenic gondola ride that takes you up Ben Lomond. It costs $35 for a return gondola ride, but you can also combine your ticket with various other activities, including the luge. I paid an extra $17 to have three rides on the luge — you have to go on the ‘novice’ track on your first ride, so you’ll probably want to book at least two — and then headed on up. The views from the top were absolutely stunning and I took hundreds of photos.


To get to the top of the luge track, you have to take a chair lift (you can also walk but it takes a bit longer). Once you’ve got your helmet on and have been given some basic instructions, off you go. I really enjoyed riding the luge and my North Island road trip driving experience came in useful for some of the tightest bends. I met a guy who was taking part in a contest where he had to submit as many photos as possible of his Queenstown Marathon race number in scenic places in town, and as I helped him with a few photos, he gave me his extra luge tickets, so I had a couple more rides, before heading back down to town.


Milford Sound
Although the Milford Sound fiord — named for its Milford Haven namesake and once described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world — lies only about 50 miles northwest of Queenstown, to go by road, you have to go the long way, via Te Anau, a journey of about five hours (including a few stops). I wouldn’t usually want to spend so much time on a coach just to do a 90-minute cruise but the journey is also extremely scenic. I booked in with Cruise Milford, mainly because I got a discount through my car rental agency, and paid about $175 for the cruise and coach transfer. I was impressed that our driver made the whole journey by himself and that he does the same trip most days. We were picked up from near the hostel at 6:50 am and made it back to Queenstown just before 7:00 pm.

The 2.5-hour journey to Te Anau was itself pretty impressive by anyone else’s standards, but it was the second part of the journey that was really beautiful. The heavy snowfall on Tuesday night meant that the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound was closed on Wednesday, although the people on the tour only found that out when they got to Te Anau, and had to come back on our group’s tour on Thursday. We were treated to a rainbow on the lakefront in Te Anau, which I spent so much time photographing that I missed the chance to try some Roar Coffee, apparently the world’s most southern roasted coffee. Alas.

We lost the sunshine almost as soon as we lost mobile phone reception on leaving Te Anau, and it was grey and rainy for most of our time in the Fiordland National Park. The steep, winding roads through the snow-capped mountains were still very beautiful, though, and the numerous waterfalls were on particularly good form. We made a few stops along the way, including in the Eglinton Valley, the Mirror Lakes (sadly not very reflective that day) and a series of powerful waterfalls in the woods called The Chasm. We saw quite a few friendly kea — mountain parrots — in the Chasm car park.




We got to Milford at about 12:30 pm, and boarded our boat, which departed about 1:00 pm. Cruise Milford has smaller boats than some of the other operators — there were about 80 of us on board that day — and the enthusiastic staff were really great, pointing out geological, historical and ecological points of interest along the way. The outside deck had a glass roof, which offered some shelter from the rain, although not from the constant waterfall spray (especially when we drove through one — for fun!), and although a jolly in the sunshine might have been more pleasant, the views of the fjord’s sides and of the waterfalls were dramatic and impressive.




If you didn’t face the five-hour return journey, you could upgrade to a helicopter option. I didn’t ask the price but I figured it was probably way out of my budget. Besides, I enjoyed the coach journey, even if I dozed off during the most scenic part.

Skydiving
I thought I should challenge myself to do at least one extreme activity while in New Zealand, and tandem skydiving appealed more than bungee jumping — not least because the experience lasts longer. I booked with NZone Skydive, and arrived at their CBD office just before my allocated 8:30 am check-in time. I’d booked a 12,000-feet drop but on a penultimate-day-of-the-holiday whim upgraded to the 15,000-feet option ($349 vs $449). And of course, you’ll want photos to help you remember the fear and exhilaration, right? The cheapest package, which includes both photos and videos from your tandem master’s two GoPros, costs another $189.
The weather had been so bad last week that there had been a lot of cancellations so it wasn’t until I suited up and boarded the small plane at the drop zone, a few miles out of town, that I knew for sure I’d be jumping. There was quite a lot of hanging around — an hour at the office and another hour in the drop zone — which didn’t help my nerves, but was, I suppose, unavoidable. We got to watch the tiny plane taking off and landing a few times and a few other skydivers landing.

I then met my lovely tandem master Mike, who took great care of me. We, along with another Brit and his tandem master, were the only ones in our group going to 15,000 feet, which meant we got to watch everyone else go first. The flight on the plane was great fun — and quite something not to be wearing seat belts or anything like that, although we were all wedged in pretty tightly — and had fantastic views of Lake Wakatipi and The Remarkables. At 15,000 feet, we had to put on an oxygen mask to prevent hypoxia, and it took a few minutes for the pilot to get us to a safe jumping point.


I was pretty cool and collected right up until it was our turn to go, when I did feel a stab of panic, but once I told Mike I was ready, it was pretty much out of my hands, and before I knew it, he’d rolled us out of the door and we were freefalling for about 60 seconds. For the first few seconds, I was very scared, but then I began to enjoy it, although as the video shows, Mike had to pull my hands off the straps to get me to ‘fly’ (I’d tried myself, but I’m not sure if it was my survival instinct or gravity that brought my hands back to the straps).



Before I knew it, the chute came up and then we were gliding, which was probably more fun, if less literally breath-taking. Mike let me take the reins briefly, until we hit a spot of turbulence (it’s never a good sign when your tandem master starts saying, “oh shit”), but before I knew it, we were landing at the NZone drop zone.


There was a bit of a wait for a shuttle back to town, but I was so revved up and happy that I didn’t mind. I hadn’t pre-warned my friends or family that I was doing this (not least because, given the weather, I wasn’t sure I would be able to) and for a few hours, only the few strangers in the plane and I knew what I had done. I loved the whole experience and although I wouldn’t do it again tomorrow, say, I don’t think this will be the last time I skydive either.

Mike’s 200-odd photos and the video were great. Most of the freefall photos were hugely unflattering but they do capture the fear, excitement and joy I experienced very well. And despite my doubts about whether I’d actually watch the video or show it to anyone, I suspect I will indeed look back on that day when I challenged myself to do something really scary. It was also fun to take off over the drop zone on my flight to Auckland the following day and snap a few photos from the window seat.

Walking
On my last afternoon in Queenstown, after a thrilling morning of skydiving, I wanted to go for a run to help me unwind. The staff at the hostel suggested I go to Sunshine Bay, an easy 30-minute (allow an hour if you’re walking) round trip route from the hostel, along a path that hugs the lakefront. It’s a little steep in places, although nothing by Queenstown standards, and there are some great viewpoints, including from Sunshine Bay itself, where the sun was indeed shining.


One evening, I also walked through the Queenstown Gardens, the botanical gardens that fill the small peninsula that sticks out of the southern part of the town centre’s waterfront. There’s frisbee golf, plenty of rope swings and some nice trails for a short, relatively flat walk. It’s particularly nice at sunset. 

Food and Drink
There are many dining options in Queenstown from fast food and cheap eats, to fine dining, although some are a bit overpriced — the curse of the resort town. As much of my budget for this stage of the trip went on activities, I tried to limit my food and drinks expenses, stocking up with breakfast and picnic food and snacks at the Fresh Choice supermarket a short walk from the CBD, and making most of my coffee in my Aeropress.
I’d heard from several sources that Shotover Street burger joint Fergburger was worth a visit and there was always a queue outside (it’s open from 8:00 am until 5:00 am, and at peak times, you’ll probably wait about 10 minutes to place your order and another 15 or so to receive it). For both convenience and financial reasons, I ate there twice: the Ferg Deluxe (bacon cheeseburger) was pretty good, although the Codfather (cod tempura) was less impressive, not least because the fish barely filled the huge bun. For under $20 for a burger and fries, it wasn’t cheap but it was tasty and good value.

I almost went to FergBurger again on my last night but did a quick bit of Google Map searching instead and came across Ivy & Lola’s, a bar and bistro on the waterfront. The menu had slightly creative, Asian-influenced modern New Zealand cuisine, and I ordered a really nice grilled salmon with various interesting accoutrements. I also had a martini made with a New Zealand gin called Black Robin, which was very nice.

After my skydive, I treated myself to a ridiculous and beautiful brunch at Bespoke Kitchen. I had the vegan cinnamon pancakes with poached apple, berry compôte, chia clusters and coconut cream. I don’t normally go for sweet brunch options but I felt like I needed a bit of a sugar rush. The coffee, from Allpress, was pretty decent too.

Spiders and Pumpkins: A Halloween Party

Every October, I pull out the Halloween goodies and decorate the house with childlike delight. When the boys were small, I put up spooky trees and iced spider web cookies, loving every moment. One year, I froze punch in surgical gloves, and when I peeled them, icy fingers adorned the punch bowl. On Halloween night, I always made chili–with chili dogs for the boys–and we'd watch a movie marathon. All these years later, I still enjoy the playful side of Halloween. I'm not the only one–this week, I'm partying with a group of darling, talented bloggers for a Halloween Tablescape Blog Hop.Continue Reading »

New Zealand North Island Road Trip II: Rotorua, Taupo, Waitomo and Hamilton

At the end of the first installment of my New Zealand North Island road trip, I had just arrived in Rotorua. Unfortunately, the beautiful sunshine of the Coromandel Peninsula shifted into grey skies and persistent rain that didn’t stop until I left Rotorua three days later. I didn’t let the weather get in the way of my enjoyment, though; having a car of my own also helped me to stay as dry as possible. Here’s what I did in the second part of my road trip.

Rotorua
I must confess that I was a little underwhelmed by Rotorua when I first arrived. The rain didn’t help, of course, but I had thought that the small city, located on the shores of a lake of the same name, would be prettier. Before long, though, I warmed to the place — and not just because of the thermal springs, geysers and other geothermal activity in the area. The people were friendly and very welcoming and it was a nice base for a relaxing few days. I stayed at the Six on Union motel, a short walk from the city centre. The hosts were very friendly and the room was large and comfortable, if rather dated and with the worst hotel wifi I’ve ever had (worse than the Atlantis in Melbourne; most of the time, I couldn’t even connect to the network and when I could, even Google wouldn’t load most of the time).


Most of Rotorua’s attractions lie outside the city centre but there are a few things to do in town. Unfortunately, but understandably, the Rotorua museum is closed for earthquake strengthening work, but I enjoyed a stroll through the Government Gardens that surround it.


Nearby, you can also visit the Polynesian Spa, a series of mostly open-air mineral bathing pools of various (hot) temperatures, some of which allegedly help aches and pains while others are said to yield ageless beauty. I don’t know about that, but after two visits, my skin did feel very soft. Entrance to the adult pools is $30, plus $5 if you need a towel and $5 if you want a locker (most people leave their belongings in the boxes freely available for all visitors). I went first early on a Friday evening and there were several big groups there, although it quietened out after 6:30 pm. Locals used to be able to visit any time of day for a monthly fee but now have to pay extra in the evenings so it is quieter then than it used to be. I also went at lunchtime on a rainy Saturday and it was much quieter and more relaxing — I loved the feeling of the cool rain on my face while I soaked in the hot water.


If you want a free bit of geothermal action in the city centre, head to Kuirau Park, where you can watch the mud pools bubble and there’s also a hot foot bath. If you drive south on Fenton Street, you might also catch a glimpse of Pohutu Geyser, which erupts frequently but sporadically.


Initially, I decided against booking a cultural experience at one of the Maori villages in the area as I was concerned it would be too cheesy and touristy. Instead, I was planning to go to Hells Gate for a mud bath, but after reading some of the reviews, I felt that a Maori experience would be more rewarding. I booked an evening village experience at the family-run Mitai Village. It cost $116, including minibus transfer and an authentic earth-cooked hangi dinner. I ended up really enjoying the evening and learned a lot about the history and culture of the Maori people in general and the Mitai family in particular. We watched a haka and various traditional songs and dances, and after dinner, we went for a short bushwalk, looking at the traditional buildings, as well  impossibly clear Fairy Springs and even a few glow worms.



A few miles south of Rotorua is the Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest, which has a number of different walking and biking trails. The day I went, it was pouring with rain so, I opted for my wine-selection strategy and picked the second-shortest walk, which took about an hour. I’d hoped that the rain would abate but it didn’t. Still, the redwoods were perhaps even more beautiful in the rain and I did at least have most of the paths to myself.


I was trying to eat and drink cheaply while in Rotorua (it helped, perhaps, that there wasn’t any good speciality coffee that I found, which meant I was self-caffeinating by brewing up the Kenyan coffee I bought from Reformatory Caffeine Lab in Sydney). On Thursday evenings, there is a street-food market on Tukiterangi Street. Despite the rain, it was bustling and the food I tried was cheap and generally pretty tasty. Most of the more interesting restaurants are on a covered section of Tukiterangi Street called Eat Streat. I had dinner one night at a lovely restaurant called Atticus Finch. I had the Harper Lee cocktail (of course) and some chicken with lentil salad and spinach. The menu has various interesting small and large sharing plates, and the staff were really welcoming.


Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park
Perhaps my favourite activity of my stay in Rotorua was my visit to Wai-O-Tapu, a thermal park about 20 miles south of Rotorua. The region’s geothermal activity is highlighted in technicolour here, and you can take one of three linked walks through the stunningly beautiful park. The longest takes about 1h15, although it took me longer because I stopped to take so many photos. Entrance costs $32, but I thought this was well worth it.

There’s a geyser, Lady Knox, that is ‘helped’ to erupt each day at 10:15 am with a little surfectant — it does erupt if left to its own devices but less predictably. If you want to see the show, you’re advised to arrive at 9:30 am, drive in to the visitor centre, pick up a ticket and then drive back to the Lady Knox car park. While perhaps not as dramatic as Strokkur in Iceland, it was still quite impressive, and the story of the discovery of the geyser given by the guide was quite entertaining.


Even more enjoyable was the walk through the rest of the park. In places, the colours were so vivid and vibrant, whereas in others (the ‘devil’s ink pots’ and the mud pools near the entrance), it almost looked like I’d taken my photos in black and white.


My favourites were (in order below): the multicoloured ‘artist’s palette’, the bubbling ‘champagne pool’, and the lime green (that day, at least; it changes depending on the climatic conditions) ‘devil’s bath’. Even the trees and other plants seemed more vivid and colourful than usual, and I spotted a lone bird wading optimistically in one of the pools (they have to fly elsewhere to find food as the pools are too acidic for anything much to survive).





Taupo
When planning my road trip, I thought about staying the night in Taupo, a town on Lake Taupo with views of the nearby volcanic mountains of Tongariro National Park, which has some excellent climbing and walking. There are lots of outdoor activities in the town itself, from jet boat rides to skydiving, but as I was saving some of those for Queenstown, I figured that I didn’t need a whole day in Taupo. Instead, I spent the afternoon there after visiting Wai-O-Tapu, which is about halfway along the one-hour drive from Rotorua. I suspect Lake Taupo is probably prettier in the sunshine, but I strolled briefly along the esplanade and then went for brunch at a hipster spot called The Storehouse. They serve Kokako coffee, and I had both a piccolo and a V60 pourover, which were both pretty decent, as well as some fried chicken sliders. There’s a small lifestyle boutique inside and it was a bustling, lively café.




After lunch, I tried to find another potential coffee spot, Volcanic Coffee, but Google Maps was misinformed about its location and as I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was trade-only anyway, I gave it a miss. Instead, I visited the small but good Taupo Museum and Art Gallery ($5), which had lots of information about the region’s cultural, natural and geological history. A few miles out of town is Huka Falls. I hadn’t read up on the sight in advance and so was expecting something taller but it was, nonetheless, very impressive to see the impossibly clear turquoise waters of New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato, as they crashed over the rocks. There are a couple of walks you can take, one a round-trip and one back into Taupo, but it was still raining and starting to get a bit dark, so I headed back to Rotorua instead.


Waitomo
About two hours’ drive west of Rotorua, the small village of Waitomo is best known for its series of caves, some of which are famous for their impressive glow worms. I didn’t quite experience four seasons on the drive over, but the heavy rain often gave way to clear blue skies. By the time I got to Waitomo, the grey drizzle had returned. I booked tickets online for both the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves and Ruakuri Cave (a combo ticket cost $91) and I was glad I did because when I reached the visitor centre at noon, there was a three-hour wait for the next Glow Worm Caves tour. By the time my Glow Worm Caves tour started at 3:30 pm, they were sold out for the rest of the day.

Although less famous than the Glow Worm Caves, Ruakuri Cave is, in many ways, much more interesting. The two-hour tour was led by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Pippin, who grew up nearby and was exploring the caves practically as soon as she could crawl. There were hundreds of fascinating geological formations, from curtains of ‘cave bacon’ (I guess it’s a bit like a streaky bacon rasher) and ‘cave coral’, to underground lakes, holes in the process of forming, fossilised scallops and oysters, and, of course, many stalactites and stalagmites.



There were also some glow worms in this cave and unlike in the Glow Worm Caves, we could take photos here. My photos didn’t really convey the beauty of these arguably rather brutal bioluminescent creatures, but they were lovely to look at and we got to study a few of them catching their prey in their sticky ‘fishing lines’. Entry to Ruakuri Cave is through an illuminated, sloping spiral walkway — the acoustics of the chamber are so good that they’ve held concerts here, including Dame Kiri herself.



The shorter, 45-minute tour of the Glow Worm Caves was also impressive, although mainly for the 10-minute boat ride on an underground river under a ceiling of thousands and thousands of glow worms. The Maori word for glow worm is titiwai, which means something like ‘stars reflected in water, and riding through this cave, you could see why. It was a shame not to be able to take a photo but it probably wouldn’t have come out well anyway and it was far better to experience the ride in serene silence, untroubled by camera flashes and selfie sticks.

Hamilton
It was another one-hour drive on to Hamilton, where I was staying for the night. I’d hoped to be able to spend a day in Hamilton itself, which I’d heard had some good shops, eateries and coffee spots, but unless I wanted to completely rearrange my whole itinerary, the only feasible day to do this would have been Sunday, when a lot of places are closed. Arriving on Sunday at 5:30 pm at my motel — the comfortable and well-appointed Camelot on Ulster, a few blocks north of the CBD — I thought the town had already gone to sleep. I went for a walk along the Waikato River — wider and less turquoise than in Taupo, but still pretty and with some amazing houses on its banks.


Wondering if I was going to find anywhere decent open for dinner, I happened upon a second-hand bookshop called Browsers. After browsing for a while, I bought a book and then spotted a ‘Neat Places: Hamilton’ map and guide on the counter and picked up a copy. There were a couple of dozen independent shops, restaurants, cafés and bars listed inside, some of them closed on Sundays or after 4 pm, but happily, I found a restaurant a few blocks down called Dough Bros. Not only was it open, but it was also bustling and had live music (a once monthly occurrence). I sat at the bar and ordered a sourdough pizza and a ‘seasonal shrub’ cocktail, which involved tangelo, Cointreau and — usually — vodka, but the friendly bar tender made me a gin version and it was delicious. The pizza was good too and I also gorged on doughnuts, served with caramel and homemade dukkah. It was such a friendly restaurant — a great neighbourhood spot.


The Neat Places guide also forced me to reconsider my morning plans because there were some great-looking coffee and breakfast spots so I decided to try to fit one in before heading back to Auckland Airport, where I had to drop off my car at 10 am. On Twitter, The Black Chapel suggested I try Needle in the Hay, but they don’t open on Mondays and although SL28, just next to Browsers, opened at 8 am, I settled on visiting the Rocket Coffee roastery, which was slightly closer to my hotel. They also opened at 8 am, and as it was a 1h45 drive to the airport in the morning rush hour, I drove down to save a few minutes. I still didn’t have time to try one of their single-origin pourovers but I had the best piccolo of my stay in New Zealand thus far. I loved the cosy, retro interiors of the café–roastery too.



The drive back to the airport was a bit slow in places and less picturesque than the rest of the trip but not too bad — and despite the roadworks and traffic, I arrived within one minute of Google’s projected arrival time. I had originally hoped to drive all the way down to Wellington but dropping off the car there would have more than doubled the price of the rental (with Go Rentals, I paid $196 for a Toyota Corolla for six days) and as I was also a bit pushed for time, I decided to fly. On my road trip, I drove just over 600 miles during my trip and had to refill twice (about three-quarters of the tank each time, both of which cost about $63). Although internal flights are cheap, fast and frequent in New Zealand and long-distance bus travel is relatively convenient, I was glad I rented a car for this section of my trip because of the flexibility it afforded me — particularly important on such a tight schedule.

Lessons from Nature

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience."– Ralph Waldo Emerson
The speed of modern life makes it easy to overlook mysteries and magic in my own backyard. But when I bend close to the rock wall, I am amazed by the pluck and perseverance of moss. It is rootless, yet it grows in the most inhospitable places, on rocks and rooftops, impervious to the elements. Continue Reading »

16 Great Speciality Coffee Spots in Sydney

After the speciality coffee free-for-all that was my trip to Melbourne, I had about a week to recover before arriving in Sydney. My coffee to-do list was shorter for Sydney than for Melbourne and I also had more time — five full days, as it turned out — but I was staying with friends who are as into their coffee as I am, which meant that my list ended up growing considerably. Another challenge was that of the two biggest neighbourhoods for speciality coffee — Surry Hills and the CBD — the latter’s coffee shops tend to close at the weekends. And when planning, do also bear in mind that many Australian coffee shops close at 3 pm — sometimes even earlier.

In the end, I managed to visit 16 speciality coffee shops during my trip — coincidentally, the same number as in Melbourne — plus a couple of concessions at Sydney Airport, which I’m not counting separately but which will be mentioned below. I’ve organised everything by neighbourhood; some cafés have multiple locations, in which case I’ve noted this below. As usual, spots marked in purple in my map below are my particular favourites. I hope you find this guide useful if you are also planning a coffee-focused visit to Sydney.

AnnandaleTrafalgar St EspressoA lovely sunny neighbourhood coffee shop serving espresso from The Little Marionette, Trafalgar Street Espresso is, as its name suggests, a particularly good spot for espresso-based drinks. You can also buy beans from The Little Marionette, which come in particularly cute packaging (the ‘house blend’ features a house, for instance). If you’re in the market for a pie, this is also a good place to try one — they source them from Black Star Pastry, and they are delicious.


Trafalgar St Espresso is located at 18 Trafalgar Street, Annandale. Facebook.
CBDBRCAfter locating a large, architectural wooden pod at 200 George Street, I thought I had come to Dutch Smuggler (see below) but it turned out that they were in the pod’s ‘downstairs’. The upstairs used to be operated by Edition Coffee Roasters, but the barista told me that their name is BRC. I couldn’t find any more information about them online — whether they are connected to Edition, for example — but the piccolo I had with espresso from Stitch Coffee was very well made. NB: it’s cash only here.


BRC is located at 200 George Street, Sydney (upstairs from Dutch Smuggler).
Cabrito Coffee TradersOnly a short walk from BRC and Dutch Smuggler, Cabrito Coffee Traders occupies a millennial pink building on bustling Bulletin Place. Inside, it’s dark and busy but fret not: once you’ve placed your order, you can take your designated toy animal and pick a table outside in the sunshine.


There were two Ethiopian coffees available as a V60 pourover and, on the recommendation of the barista, I went for the Celinga Yirgacheffe, which was incredibly fruity, particularly as it cooled. I had to wait a while but it was very busy and the barista told me he’d had to make it again as he wasn’t happy with the first one — always a good sign, in my view, and in this case, the second version was very good indeed.


Cabrito Coffee Traders is located at 10-14 Bulletin Place, Sydney. Website. Instagram.
Dutch SmugglerDutch Smuggler, located in the downstairs section of the pod at 200 George Street, does a roaring trade in coffees and toasties of a morning. I wasn’t yet in the mood for a toastie, but I did spot a good bargain: banana bread and a coffee for $6.50. Initially, I thought they were doing take-out only but spotted the gorgeous ceramic cups on the coffee machine just in time and asked for my piccolo to drink in, ‘in’ being one of the tables in the busy courtyard next to the EY office.


The piccolo was very well made and I really liked the cup it came in. The banana bread was good too, so I’ll now just have to find a way back to sample the toasties…


Dutch Smuggler is located at 200 George Sreett, Sydney. Website. Twitter. Instagram.
Gumption by Coffee AlchemyI didn’t have time to visit Coffee Alchemy’s Marrickville roastery but luckily, they also have a coffee bar called Gumption inside the historic Strand Arcade in the CBD. Better still, it’s open unusually late — until 5:30 pm most days and until 7:15 pm on Thursdays — which meant I could stop by after spending the afternoon in Manly.


They had three single-origin filter coffees available as pourovers in the tiny, ever-busy shop and I went for one from Panama, which was so beautifully brewed, with super-juicy blueberry and cherry notes, that I wanted to buy a bag of the beans. But unfortunately, they had sold out. If you’re in the CBD and looking for a hand-brewed filter coffee — particularly after 3 pm — Gumption is a really good place to try.

Gumption is located at Shop 11, The Strand Arcade, 412-414 George Street, Sydney. Website. Twitter. Instagram.
Normcore Coffee RoastersThe Normcore team are coffee perfectionists and their minimalist coffee bar on Castlereagh Street is a great place to stop for both espresso-based and filter-coffee drinks. I went for a magic (when in Australia…) and it was immaculately brewed, tasting smooth and well-balanced. They also sell beans with their suitably normcore packaging.


Normcore Coffee Roasters is located at 209 Castlereagh Street, Sydney. Facebook. Instagram.
Pablo & Rusty’sWith its sleek, spacious, high-ceilinged cafe on Castlereagh Street, Pablo & Rusty’s is a beautiful place for coffee, breakfast or lunch. Having had too many piccolos (I can’t drink too much milk), I was in the mood for a filter coffee but ended up mis-ordering. I’d thought a ‘slow drip’ meant a pourover but, of course, it refers to coffee made in a Japanese slow-drip cold coffee brewer. I don’t usually like to have cold brew as the first coffee I try in a new-to-me coffee shop, but Pablo & Rusty’s was very well made and it had lovely mandarin notes. Moreover, it was 32C outside and the prospect of cold coffee was rather appealing. They don’t, as it turns out, serve pourover coffee, although there was a batch-brew filter coffee available.


I also ordered a spot of brunch. Note: you won’t find a classic avocado toast or eggs Benedict on the breakfast or lunch menus at Pablo & Rusty’s. Instead, they offer creative dishes with unexpected twists. Still grumpy about my cancelled Qantas flight, I was actually in the mood for something classic and went for the most classic item on the menu: a bacon and egg-salad roll, which was really good. You can also buy bags of coffee beans here, and there’s an attached-but-separate espresso bar for takeaway orders.

Pablo & Rusty’s is located at 161 Castlereagh Street, Sydney (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.
Single OSingle O has long been a stalwart of the Sydney speciality coffee scene — they developed their signature Reservoir blend, named for the street where their Surry Hills espresso bar is located, in 2003. I first came across Single O at The New Black in London last year and was keen to visit one of their coffee bars. I didn’t make it to Reservoir Street but I did stop by their CBD espresso bar for a piccolo and an almond croissant after my run one morning. The coffee was very nice, which was particularly impressive given the constant stream of customers, some placing rather large orders, at this busy York Street location during the morning peak.


Single O is located at 89 York Street, Sydney (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.
ChippendaleToby’s EstateIf Single O was a roaster I discovered in London, I first sampled Toby’s Estate coffee at their Flatiron location in Manhattan in 2014, following up the year after with a visit to their Williamsburg roastery. Although lots of cafés throughout Australia serve Toby’s coffee, there are only four ‘signature cafés, including two in Sydney. We went to the Chippendale branch in search of air conditioning and hand-brewed filter coffee. When we asked what they had on the brew bar, we both stopped listening after the server told us that they had a coffee from Myanmar as part of their ‘underdogs’ series, which celebrates coffee from less well-known origins.


The coffee was really good! My friend put it best describing the smooth mandarin notes as being like an Old Fashioned. If you get the chance to try one of Toby’s underdogs, I’d highly recommend it. We had other brunch plans, but you can also get a top-notch brunch here.


There are also several Toby’s coffee bars at Sydney Airport, in the Domestic and International Terminals (both before and after security at the International Terminal). They serve espresso-based drinks and batch-brew filter coffee only, and I had a rather good piccolo at the International Terminal.

Toby’s Estate is located at 32-36 City Road, Chippendale (and other locations — including Sydney Airport). Website. Twitter. Instagram.
NewtownCampos CoffeeSomehow Campos Coffee had escaped my notice so I was very glad when my friend suggested that we pay a visit to their Newtown coffee bar. Colourful bags of coffee beans — each country of origin gets its own colour — line the counter, along with various yummy sweet treats. The coffee menu was similarly impressive: three espressos (two single origin and a blend), four single-origin filter coffees, and a cold drip. My friend and I both spotted the speciality auction lot Esmeralda Geisha from Panama on the list and although at $12, it was more than twice the price of a typical pourover in Sydney, I could smell the delicious apricot and orange notes even before the server but the tray down on my table. It tasted even better.


There is a Campos espresso bar inside Sydney Airport’s International Terminal, after security. I had a pretty decent piccolo there, which could make Sydney the only airport in the world (that I know of) that has two good speciality coffee options.

Campos Coffee is located at 193 Missenden Road, Newtown (and other locations — including Sydney Airport). Website. Twitter. Instagram.
St PetersSample Coffee Pro ShopSample’s original coffee bar is in Surry Hills but as we were in St Peters anyway to visit Precinct 75, we decided to pay a visit to the zen, minimalist Sample Pro Shop and roastery. I had a piccolo made expertly with the chocolatey Pacemaker blend, which I really enjoyed. My friend had the single-origin espresso of the day. I forget what it was but she really liked it.



Sample Coffee Pro Shop is located at 75 Mary St, St Peters (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.
Surry HillsArtificer Specialty Coffee BarSpeaking of minimalist coffee bars, Artificer’s airy Surry Hills space is light, airy and with the focus given solely to the preparation of excellent coffee drinks: espresso-based, hand-brewed filter, cold brew and cascara. I’d already had two pourovers in the previous hour so switched things up, opting for a piccolo. The resulting drink was one of the best piccolos I had in Sydney, and my friends’ espressos went down just as well.


Artificer is located at 547 Bourke Street, Surry Hills. Website. Twitter. Instagram.
Haven: Tailoring Coffee JoyouslyPossibly the best-named café in Sydney, Haven: Tailoring Coffee Joyously is also a beautiful spot serving excellent coffee and creative brunch dishes. When you order an espresso or a filter coffee, you can opt for a fruity, nutty or chocolatey flavour profile. Your coffee will then be served with a small dish containing a sample of the relevant accompaniment — currants, almonds and (I assume) chocolate.


I was going to go fruity with my pourover but then switched at the last minute to the coffee of the day, a Colombian Geisha La Pradera. I can’t say that I agreed with the ‘nutty’ characterisation (I was getting more citrusy notes) but I did enjoy the almonds. If you like waffles and unusual flavour combinations, I would also recommend the Amazing Kimcheese egg waffles with kimchi, parmesan, sesame and vanilla bean ice cream from the all-day menu. It was very weird but strangely compelling.


Haven is located at 30-34 Chalmers Street, Surry Hills. Website. Twitter. Instagram.
Paramount Coffee ProjectWe had planned our whole Saturday of caffeination around a late breakfast at Paramount…only to discover, on consulting their Instagram, that they had been closed for a couple of weeks for renovations and would only reopen on the morning I left for Auckland. As they are located quite close to Central Station, through which I would be transiting, I did actually consider going on the way to the airport but decided against it in the end. Qantas had other plans, though, and although when they cancelled by 10:15 am flight, putting me on a 7:25 pm one instead, I was pretty hacked off, it did mean that I got the chance to visit Paramount.


A collaboration between Paramount House and the owners of Seven Seeds and Reuben Hills, the Paramount Coffee Project is a beautifully designed and spacious café in the heart of Surry Hills. The design extends to the menus as well as to the interiors: everything looks gorgeous. The all-day menu sounded great too — the fried chicken waffle, in particular, and I had serious food envy when another customer ordered it — but my disrupted travel plans had affected my appetite. Instead, I ‘just’ had the espresso and peanut banana bread, which came toasted with chocolate butter. It was as delicious as it sounds.


As for the coffee, I went for the filter of the day, a chocolatey Honduran Choacapa from Reuben Hills, which went perfectly with the banana bread. All of the espresso-based drinks I saw coming from the counter looked really good too. If you happen to be in LA, they now have a café there too.

Paramount Coffee Project is located at 80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills. Website. Twitter. Instagram.
Reuben HillsAfter discovering that Paramount was closed last Saturday, we went for our late breakfast/early brunch at its sister company Reuben Hills instead. Although the cool, industrial-chic café was busy, we got there early enough that we only had to queue briefly for a table.


There were two espressos on offer — the house blend and the single origin du jour (the same Honduran variety I tried as a filter at Paramount) — as well as an Ethiopian Gelana Abaya served through the JET 6, and a Guatemalan Geisha La Reforma, served as a pourover. I went for the latter and really enjoyed the fruity apricot and strawberry notes that came through nicely…


…until my super-spicy broken omelette brunch dish arrived. In the interests of not ruining my coffee, I drank it as quickly as I could before getting started on my food. Note to self: don’t order spicy food until you have finished caffeinating for the day! Both the food and the coffee were very good, though.

Reuben Hills is located at 61 Albion Street, Surry Hills. WebsiteTwitterInstagram.
The Reformatory Caffeine LabLast but by no means least — and undoubtedly the coolest venue on my list — the Reformatory Caffeine Lab takes coffee geekery to a new level. With its mad scientist/graphic-novel-inspired décor, the sleek, slim espresso bar should be on every coffee lover’s Sydney list. You also need to be really careful when you are ordering because some of the particularly special coffees can be quite expensive: I had a $15 honey-processed 90+ Panama Gesha Juliette, for example. It was very well brewed and had lovely floral notes and on this occasion, I do think it was worth the price. If this coffee isn’t to your taste, they have 11 other single-origin filter coffees on offer, from seven different countries; only two others are 90+, while the others are a bit cheaper.


My friends tried the ‘legendary’ Colombian Geshsa as an espresso ($20), which they said was superb. None of the flavour notes are given on the extensive coffee menu but if you chat to the friendly, knowledgeable baristas, they will help you find something that’s right for you.


The Reformatory Caffeine Lab also sells an extensive range of coffee beans with their signature mad-coffee-scientist packaging. I bought a bag of $18 Kenyan beans to brew up in my Aeropress on the New Zealand section of my holiday, but again, caution is needed because one of the bags at the other end of the counter sells for $100. I’m sure such a coffee would be excellent in the right hands, but I’m not sure I’d trust myself to brew it well enough — particularly when on the road and with so many variables to manage.

The Reformatory Caffeine Lab is located at 17-51 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills. Website. Instagram.