It’s during a conversation with a random character on Auckland’s Queen Street that I first hear about the world’s coolest ice-cream shop. I mention I’m on the lookout for the sweet stuff. “Oh,” my new friend coos nonchalantly. “You must be looking for Giapo.”
A few minutes later, I’m sitting in what I guess is technically called an ice-cream parlour, but with diners more like participants in a science-cum-art project.
Giapo’s ice-cream flavours, cones and tubs are strange and quirky creations. The cups and cones are sculpted from chocolate, spices, seeds, freeze-dried titbits, dipped in gold or candied fancies or even shaped like the famed Auckland Sky Tower. Or if you prefer, you can have your creamy hit served up in Yorkshire pudding or Rewena – Maori bread.
“For us, it’s a leap of faith,” Giapo tells me as he shows me some of his creations using a 3D printer, a mould and a table setting for the world’s only 16-course ice-cream degustation.
He explains how Masterchef George Calombaris popped in by accident and begged Giapo to come to Melbourne to embark on a shared project. But Giapo declined, saying he wanted to focus on Auckland.
“I want to make New Zealand a landmark for ice-cream.”
He then proudly shows me his newest creation – an ice-cream cone shaped like a spaceship. Another diner chips in: “have you told Elon Musk about this?” referring to the Tesla mastermind.
“Yes,” Giapo replies, “but unfortunately he was not interested.”
Giapo is an example of something that is happening across Auckland – it’s becoming a true international food destination, as I discover on the Big Foody tour with hilarious British expat Elle Armon-Jones.
“My name is pronounced Elle,” she explains, “like the supermodel, but without the body”. Elle’s food tour of Auckland is a great introduction to the city – by literally eating it.
“We’re sitting on a bucket-load of volcanoes, which means we’ve got incredibly fertile soil,” she explains.
She says while New Zealand only has 4.5 million people, the country grows enough food for 45 million, with 95 per cent of its dairy also getting exported.
But the overload of food in Auckland also has another great side-benefit – the city has some of the best farmer’s markets you’ll ever visit. Elle takes me to La Cigale Market at Parnell, introducing me to delicacies such as kumera/sweet potato Maori bread that is sweet, juicy and dense.
But it’s the Manuka honey that grabs my attention first. I’ve noticed it being sold all over Auckland, sometimes for hundreds of dollars per jar. But is it really as good as people claim?
“Yep,” Elle answers, unhesitatingly. She tells me a story of a woman who had a skin cancer scar that hadn’t healed in 10 years. The woman applied Manuka honey – admittedly one of the strongest Manukas on the market – but within nine months, it had healed entirely.
Our next stop is to a wholesaler Elle describes as “a little piece of heaven”. Sabato is run by a husband-and-wife team who began bringing European delicacies to New Zealand 25 years ago. Now, they also sell a huge range of New Zealand-made and grown delicacies.
It’s worth a visit here to try the Number 29 cold-pressed olive oil from Waiheke Island, the Mahurangi oyster mousse by Genevieve’s that Elle describes as “like a wallop of the ocean”, the delicious Auckland-grown wine barrel smoked mushrooms or the pure wasabi from the South Island. All these delicacies seem to bring something new; it’s not just wasabi, it’s not just a mushroom – these are products with an unusual and intense flavour that give you the impression you’re eating something special.
The store also houses an impressive cheese collection – make sure to try the Evansdale brie named after a woman called Tania.
“We reckon she must have been pretty smoking hot because this is a very hot smoked cheese,” Elle says.
Also try the champion Mahoe very old edam from Kerikeri and the Mount Eliza sheep’s blue cheese “Sheep Shagger”.
Auckland’s trendy districts of “K-Road” (Karangahape Road) and Ponsonby Road are also food hot-spots. The mandarin cronut – a cross between a croissant and a doughnut – at Tart vegan bakery should not be bypassed.
For something of an unexpected food destination, Auckland is worth exploring through your tastebuds. It’s also worth packing goodies for presents back home – after all, just about anyone would prefer to literally taste your holiday than get a drab postcard or a Kiwi-shaped soap.
Getting there: Air New Zealand departs daily from major Australian cities.
Staying there: The Hotel Grand Windsor is a meticulously renovated 1928 hotel in the heart of Auckland. Prices start at $NZ400 ($A373) per night.
Playing there: The Big Foody runs a range of tours staring at $NZ125 ($A116).
The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism New Zealand.
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