As I sat down to write this I wondered about my title, I tossed between "Don't forget your belt" and "Drinking $200 bottles of wine". "Don't forget your belt, was a travel tip for men. If you are going to go away with your wife for the weekend, heed my advice and pack early, if not you will be like me rushing out of the house late, forgetting your belt and will spend all weekend pulling up your jeans. :) Anyway, I'm sitting here buzzing after a weekend away with Sonya where we spent two amazing days exploring a jewel in our own back yard, Waiheke Island. As many people know I am passionate about business, and delight in coming across those that share the same values as Queensberry. This weekend was wonderful, not just because I got to spend time with the love of my life, but because we had so much fun discovering other people doing what's important. That is, loving and being passionate about what they do, ensuring they use of the highest quality ingredients, providing outstanding service and obviously having fun. This post is a celebration of them, they should all be very proud of what they do. You see these people don't do things for the lowest price so that they can compete with McDonalds, they do everything they can to ensure you have the most wonderful experience and hopefully provide you one you will remember forever. [flickr style="padding:2px" width="100px" valign="top" alt="on our way to Waiheke"]tag:goingtowaiheke@stephenbaugh(small)[/flickr] As soon as Netball was finished yesterday, we dropped the girls at their Grandparents and took off for Waiheke. I must admit I was a little apprehensive. I've been working too hard recently, was feeling stressed and just wasn't really 100% in the mood, but no sooner had we got on the water and that changed. Crusing on the Waitemata Harbour is absolute magic, and that feeling continued all weekend. Iluka Homestay - [flickr style="padding:2px" width="100px" valign="top"]tag:iluka@stephenbaugh(small)[/flickr] On arrival we decided to visit Iluka where we were staying and drop off our bags. Mum and Dad had gifted us the trip as our Christmas present, so really we had no idea where we were going. We were delighted to meet Kathy and John, our hosts. They are a wonderful couple, and the place was delightful. Just the right balance between being "being part of the family", as you do at a home-stay (especially at breakfast), and being able to retire to the privacy of your part of the house. We didn't spend much time there as we spent all our time exploring, but the place was great, Kathy cooked a delicious breakfast and John made a mean (good) fruit salad. They certainly set the scene for a great weekend by sharing lots of local knowledge and Kathy organised our amazing dinner at Te Whau Vinyard. Waiheke Island Brewery - [flickr style="padding:2px" width="100px" valign="top"]tag:waihekeislandbrewery@stephenbaugh(small)[/flickr] We hired a car on the Island, nothing flash, but it allowed us our freedom and we took turns being the "designated driver". First stop was the Waiheke Island Brewery. We entertained ourselves, tasting wine and beer and having a look around. The beer was delicious and as hard as I tried I couldn't avoid a Pétanque arse whopping by Sonya. The setting was very pleasant amongst the vineyard and the staff delightful. Stonyridge Vinyard - [flickr style="padding:2px" width="100px" valign="top"]tag:stonyridge@stephenbaugh(small)[/flickr] Stonyridge, which was our next stop was spectacular, in fact as we sat eating a late lunch we heard people comparing it to Tuscany; the vineyard was covered in brown leaves due to being late autumn and you sit on the edge of the lovely olive grove. This made for an awesome experience. The staff were professional and we sat for hours chatting as the sun set behind the hills. There was such a strong temptation to return today, as we had such a tasty dish of Bruschetta covered in Goats Curd, Caramelised Onions and Prosciutto. OMG so yummy, an amazing example of how good simple food can be if you use great ingredients. You would never have known there was a recession on, because as we arrived a group of women left having finished lunch at the vineyard. In itself not unusual except they left in the two helicopters they had waiting down at the Croquet club. That's what is so nice about Waiheke, there we were in our old rental, there were the two guys on their rented scooters and eight woman in their helicopters ... perfect, anything goes. Te Whau Vinyard - [flickr style="padding:2px" width="100px" valign="top"]tag:tewhau@stephenbaugh(small)[/flickr] Everything about the weekend was wonderful, but one of Sonya's and my two favourite experiences was having dinner at Te Whau Vineyard. Te Whau, according to their website, has been voted "One of the thirteen "Finest Winery Restaurants in the World" by Wine International Magazine and it is easy to see why. Not only is the food wonderful, the wine collection impressive, and the setting incredible but watching Tony Forsyth work is an honour. He is such a gentlemen. As you observe him attend to each table in the restaurant, you know this is someone that loves their craft and is living their passion. He talks of food and wine and his wider business with a gentle excitement that really is moving. Another testament to Tony was his preparedness to recommend another winery for our lunch the following day. He didn't just rattle off a few names. He spoke of Casito Miro with real enthusiasm despite their being a competitor. People like Tony know that one great restaurant is just another great restaurant, a number of great restaurants is a destination and together they form a community. This recommendation lead to our other favourite experience. Mudbrick Vineyard - [flickr style="padding:2px" width="100px" valign="top"]tag:mudbrick@stephenbaugh(small)[/flickr] The next morning after a great breakfast at Iluka, we were on the road again continuing our exploration but with our sights set on visiting Mudbrick vineyard, probably for lunch. We had visited there years ago when Sonya was pregnant with our first daughter and had such a good time we wanted to go back. This time she was able to taste the wine and eat the cheese. What a beautiful spot, my hands still smell of lavender oil from when we picked a little from their garden. It was stunning, the gardens beautifully groomed and the view of the Waiheke coastline and back towards Auckland is breathtaking; it's easy to see why so many people choose these vineyards to get married at. The place was absolutely delightful visually, but we got there a little early. Unfortunately they were technically open but not emotionally; we had coffee served by a lovely waitress, but they were still polishing cutlery, lighting fires and preparing for lunch service and therefore dropped the ball a wee bit on service. We had intended to try a desert or maybe have lunch there but decided instead to head back to Onetangi for lunch at Casito Miro; there are no hard feelings, its a great place and we will be back. Casito Miro - [flickr style="padding:2px" width="100px" valign="top"]tag:miro@stephenbaugh(small)[/flickr] There are experiences you have which you are unlikely to forget, and right from the moment we walked in and saw the winery dog in his splendid pair of pants, we new this was going to one of them. We were met as we entered this quaint cafe by Catherine (Cat) Vosper, co-owner and winemaker. She attended to us over lunch as we ate delicious organic European style tapas and tasted wine from their vineyard, my favourite was definitely the Madame Rouge. Like Tony at Te Whau, watching Cat work was a delight: she's funny, knows her stuff and immediately makes you feel at home by sharing her big heart and sense of humour. She's the sort of person that's so passionate about what she is doing, she makes you want to learn about wine, maybe even go out and get your hands dirty growing your own. She describes the place as a "work in progress", names some of the wines loosely after the kids and obviously along with everyone there has an absolute focus on quality ... that in itself is inspiring. [flickr style="padding:2px" width="100px" valign="top"]tag:waithekegoinghome@stephenbaugh(small)[/flickr] Sadly, all good things must came to an end and we left Waiheke for home. It's wasn't all bad; I got to sit for half an hour or so with my darling Sonya in my arms as we watched yachts out on the harbour. A perfect end to a perfect weekend. Thank you to all these wonderful people for their attention, hard work and wonderful personalities; you gave us an experience we will treasure for ever. So here is what I got from the weekend. 1, You must take time to spend with the people you love, and especially important with the one closest to you. We are so busy, we need these times to reconnect deeply. Sonya and I decide, as we leave on these trips, what we 'won't talk about', and then leave most of the rest to chance. Like the people I've mentioned, Sonya is an inspiration to me, and it's wonderful to get away and see what's changed. 2, I often forget about Waiheke Island, but as I said it is a jewel on our doorstep and more Aucklanders should visit there. Sometimes it's easy to miss what's sitting right under your nose because you are looking into the distance. Let's all remember to enjoy what's in our own backyard. 3, And finally these people have all put their hearts into providing the most wonderful experience they can. This takes effort, it takes dedication and it takes an unwavering passion for excellence. I think we should honour that by taking the time to visit and experience what they offer. It doesn't need to cost a lot, but it is about quality over quantity. What they do is an art and I love them all for that. I hope you do too. [flickr style="padding:2px" width="100px" valign="top"]tag:200dollarwine@stephenbaugh(small)[/flickr] To close, lets go back to "drinking $200 bottles of wine". There is something special about trying an expensive wine, in fact something special about doing anything a little unusual, but most people will say "I can't afford it". What however is so wonderful is that normally there are ways of experiencing these things without the big investment, if you look for the oportunity. When we were at Stonyridge I had a tasting of the "Stonyridge Larose" which has been described as "One of the Top 100 Wines in the World" by Agricola Slow Food, Italy (the world's largest wine publication). This sells at the Celler door for about $220 per bottle, but I was able to enjoy a taste for a mere $15. You see, trying something doesn't need to be expensive, and those that appreciate it will find the means to have more if they enjoy it enough. Don't let the headline price scare you off, find a way. [flickr style="padding:2px" width="100px" valign="top"]tag:viewwaiheke@stephenbaugh(small)[/flickr] For the full size photos, click on those above. For the full Flickr stream click here
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