What to eat, drink and do in Auckland, Wellington and surrounds

From tingling Thai food to a sunny beachside inn and excellent pinot noir, hit these spots on your next trip over the Tasman.

By Maggie Scardifield
Wharekauhau Country Estate
Even a short week in New Zealand is a glorious thing. Auckland's food scene is booming from the high street to the high end, while in Wellington you can start the day with a seal safari and end it with cocktails.
After arriving in Auckland, make a beeline for Depot Eatery (86 Federal St, Auckland, where the simple, bach-life is captured effortlessly in the heart of the CBD. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the good times never seem to slow. In the early eve, meander past the raw bar for a peek at the day's catch (hello, pink diamond clams), then hunker down for a tumbler of natural wine on tap, bubbling bone marrow straight from the wood-oven or classic brioche sliders stuffed with turbot and citrusy mayo (they've been on the menu from day one for good reason - don't leave without ordering them.)
Your eyes are set to tingle at Saan (160 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland, "I love to get high from chilli," says Thai chef Wichian "Lek" Trirattanavatin when asked about his Isaan and Lanna-leaning menu. Highlights include cured beef on betel leaves with toasted coconut and chilli; and deep-fried market fish topped with cashew nuts and aromatic Thai herbs. Saan's fit-out, by Auckland designer Nat Cheshire, is just as memorable as the food: custom ceramic lights, gently curving blond-wood tables, and pale blue and dove grey ceramics sourced in Chiang Mai.
Down a small inner-city arcade and next door to a yoga studio you'd expect to find a Video Ezy or dentist, but instead, within the Three Lamps Plaza, you're treated to fine-diner Sidart (283 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland, You'll be thankful for it, too. With seven- and eight-course degustation menus that change weekly, chef Sid Sahrawat serves up a beautifully executed culinary adventure. A fillet of dory sidles up to pickled onion and parsnip purée, shielded by puffed, seaweed-like pork crackling, while the richest of pork belly is an unexpected win teamed with sweet cashew and coconut cream-laced spaghetti and macadamia. Settle the bill with your American Express Explorer Card and take advantage of earning two points for every $1 spent* - your next meal's paying for itself.
For a more laid-back affair, Ponsonby Road Bistro (165 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland, delivers with dim lighting, a delightful cocktail list (another round of Globetrotters with vodka, limoncello, fresh ginger, lemon and bitters, please) and plates such as crusted lamb chops with new season asparagus or a comforting seafood bisque with charred toast. 
The food and mood are dialled up a notch at Auckland institution, The Engine Room (115 Queen St, Northcote Point, Auckland,, with seasonal plates, friendly staff and a killer wine list. There, Carl Koppenhagen and his partner Natalia Schamroth present seasonal plates such as whitebait fritters with crème fraîche and trout roe, and spring lamb in tomato and chicken broth with broad beans. You'll fall in love with the twice-baked soufflé, the terrine and the rest of The Engine Room's simple, well-executed fare.
For a getaway just 40 minutes from Auckland via the Sea Link, Waiheke Island is a must. Beachside horse riding, lush wineries and a little slice of heaven at The Oyster Inn (124 Oceanview Rd, Oneroa, Waiheke, New Zealand, await. Part-restaurant, part-boutique hotel, The Oyster Inn has just three stylishly appointed rooms for rent; you can stumble from the beach to your bach, your bed to your breakfast in just a few steps - all while taking in views over pristine Oneroa Bay. After you're done drinking jugs of homemade lemonade and eating fish and chips on the wrap-around verandah, book a tour with horse trekking and equine therapy company, Waiheke Horseworx (14 Donald Bruce Rd, Waiheke Island, Owners and horse trainers Karina Wallace and Paora Joseph will take you to the wineries or the beach by horse. Now, riding a horse is one thing - but swimming a horse? That's when the real magic begins.
Meanwhile in Wellington, Kent Clark hosts a 4WD Seal Coast Safari. You'll start by heading up Brooklyn Hill for exceptional views over the city, the Cook Straight and across to snow-capped Southern Island, then it's a bumpy ride across black sand and rock towards the Taputerranga Marine Reserve to search for fur seals. After something more lavish? Wharekauhau Country Estate (Western Lake Rd, Palliser Bay, RD3 Featherston, Wairarapa, has all the grandeur of five-star luxury with antique furniture, fireplaces and formal dining rooms. Just an hour and a half from Wellington, the 5,000-acre property combines next-level luxury with casual comforts such as an onsite kitchen garden, croquet on the lawn and freshly baked cookies in the country-style kitchen.
Some of the best pinot noir in New Zealand can be found in Martinborough at Ata Rangi (14 Puruatanga Rd, Martinborough, Clive Paton planted his first vines in the village in 1980 and they haven't sprayed in 37 years. After a few of their award-winning pinots, hit the spa bath at Pepper's (Peppers Parehua, New York Street West, or keep the good times rolling and return to central Wellington.Matterhorn(106 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington, is your first port of call for winning cocktails and small plates.
This article is presented by the American Express Explorer Card. Want to get there now? With 50,000 Bonus Points* when you sign up for the Explorer Card and spend AU$1,500 in the first three months, you'll be in New Zealand before you know it.
*Terms and conditions apply. Visit American Express Explorer for more information.