Sometimes, it can feel as though everyone has left Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau for summer. But for Ensemble co-founder Zoe Walker Ahwa, a holiday at home in the city has been the norm in recent years and is the perfect chance to truly explore the places she hasn’t had time to.
The co-founder of Ensemble lives in the inner city neighbourhood of Herne Bay, with a small, private garden that becomes a sunny oasis of calm over the summer period. It’s there that she spends most of her time, sunbathing, reading, having BBQs, catching up with friends, and hanging out with husband Dan and cats Jem and Phoebe.
When she does head out, the offerings can be slim with many of the city’s restaurants and cafes closing for the two weeks from Christmas to January 10 - but there are some great local spots that stay open, for those who stay behind...
Where do you get your morning coffee - and what’s your coffee order?
Bacio - described as "Land of old lady food" - in the Herne Bay shops is my local, and thank god it’s open on Boxing Day (this year it’s open December 26-29, then closed for two weeks). I go for a flat white and the best cheese scones in Auckland/New Zealand. Dear Jervois is also reliably good with friendly service - and open over the break (except public holidays).
Favourite place for a drink?
I haven’t sat in a bar for months (thanks lockdown) and most places that I would usually frequent are closed over summer. But I’m a fan of a backyard drink. Fine ‘O Wine in Pt Chev always has a broad offering of natural wines and other things (like cans and craft beers if you’re into that type of thing), and I’m also a big fan of Everyday Wine’s packaging-free and wine on tap offering.
The restaurant you’ve been going to for years?
I’ve never had a bad time at Amano. It’s one of the best restaurants in Auckland, and also one that stays open over the holidays (it’s closed on Christmas and Boxing Day, and January 1 and 2).
I’d also like to say Azabu in Mission Bay which is open over the holidays (closed December 25-26; January 1-2; January 10-11). We don’t go there often, but our wedding reception was held there a few years ago (when it was Mission Bay Pavilion) so it’s a nice nostalgic spot to revisit and summer’s the perfect excuse.
Best ‘cheap eat’?
The Ponsonby Food Court (open December 27-31; normal trading from January 4). No explanation needed.
Favourite place for date night?
Gusto Italiano in Three Lamps is one of those restaurants that’s been in Ponsonby for years, is always busy with loyal regulars, but doesn’t get name dropped. It’s classic with its long and never-changing menu and red gingham tablecloths (they have opera nights on Wednesdays though not over the holidays and I’ve never actually been for that).
Brunch on a Sunday: where would we find you?
It has become something of a tradition to meet my mum, sister and nana at the cafe in Kings Plant Barn in Henderson most weeks (closed Christmas Day). It’s not 'cool' but the coffee, food and service are all great and it does the job - and we can look at plants afterwards!
Where do you go for summer necessities?
One of my local dairies, the Herne Bay Mini Mart, always has a very good selection of dairy flowers - an under-appreciated joy.
An afternoon swim?
Herne Bay Beach is just down the road from my place and if the tide is right, I’ll head down for a quick dip in the afternoon. I don’t love hanging out down there pre or post swim as the tiny beach can get super packed, and I’ll often see about 15 people I know through work... So I’m very lucky it’s so close so I can just nip down then skip back home in my togs and a towel.
A favourite shop?
One of my favourite things to do over summer is to visit second hand stores, whether it’s those that I know in Auckland or new ones on a road trip out of town. The regulars I do visit include those in New Lynn and Henderson (The Hospice Shop, SPCA Op Shop, Red Cross, St John, Habitat for Humanity ReStore; you have to check that they’re open); Hunter & Foster Collectables and Antique Alley on Dominion Road; Hard to Find Bookstore in Grafton; Dominion Books in Herne Bay. came across the Hospice Retro store in Birkenhead when I went to get my vaccination earlier this year and can’t wait to visit again; it had a great edit.
Favourite gallery or museum?
Because the city clears out and so does my diary, I find summer the perfect time to visit the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (closed Christmas Day) and look through exhibitions totally unhurried. There are a few that I’ve wanted to go see and will actually make time to over the break, like the Mary Quant and Bill Culbert exhibitions, and the slightly terrifying clowns in the atrium for Ugo Rondinone’s vocabulary of solitude.
I also love heading out west to visit Te Uru in Titirangi (closed Christmas Day) which has some great exhibitions on right now, including Stars start falling featuring the work of Teuane Tibbo, Ani O’Neill and Salome Tanuvasa.
Where do you go for some relaxation or a beauty treatment?
I grew up in the Waitākeres, so being out there surrounded by the bush is like a nostalgic salve. It may sound dramatic but I can feel the stress falling away even if I’m driving through it. Sometimes over summer we’ll head to one of the west coast walks (respecting the Rāhui and sticking to tracks that are open), including the Mercer Bay Loop near Piha which admittedly was the total opposite of relaxing and almost killed me last year. Jaw dropping views but I did find the vibe quite spooky.
The closest thing I usually get to a ‘beauty treatment’ over summer is booking in a ‘paradise’ traditional Chinese pedicure, where they scrape off your dead skin off your feet, at Nature Reflexology in Takapuna. It’s ideal pre and post summer!
Best kept shopping secret?
The cheap fruit and veges at The Strawberry Farm, one of my favourite places in Auckland. Love the prices and the people watching but mostly, I love the fresh strawberry ice cream.
For a treat?
Anija’s Fresh Fruit Ice Cream in Henderson is iconic. Did I mention that I love ice cream?