February 15, 2013 8:10 pm

Which city wins my Valentine?

A brief stop in New Zealand inspires strong feelings for Auckland

From time to time I sit down in front of this relatively trusty laptop (or prop it up on a pillow on my lap as the titanium exterior turns molten), stretch my fingers, start rattling out the first few sentences of this column and come to a juddering halt.

Occasionally I pause because of some interruption or the need to fix another coffee. Other times I stop because I’ve stumbled upon a restaurant, shop, bar, street or village that’s so wonderful that I want to keep it secret a little bit longer. Do I share this exciting find right away? Or do I keep it locked away so I can sample it a few more times before committing it to pink paper?

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Tyler Brûlé

I’m having that slightly selfish inner conflict at this very moment following a brief stop in New Zealand this week. So strong are my feelings that I wrote a Valentine’s letter to express my passion for the place and, against my better judgment, I’ve decided to share an edited version of the note I sent on Thursday.

Dear Auckland,

I realise it’s less than 96 hours since we parted company but I can’t stop thinking about the wonderful weekend we spent together. While I thoroughly enjoyed our first encounter in late 2011, this time was different and you were on better form – the sun was out, your locals were looking fit and tanned, and there was this wonderful feeling of a city still on summer holiday but also getting on with work at the same time.

As before, the food was excellent (sliders and fish tacos at Depot were a high point), and the generosity of your residents was truly remarkable. Given all the outstanding industrial design and architecture going on in and around your city (your Commonwealth cousins Canada and the UK would do well to embrace your love of modern architecture), it would be great if you could come up with some better sleeping arrangements for our next meet-up. Don’t get me wrong, our nights were absolutely delightful but all that local talent could be turned into the best 50-room hotel in the South Pacific – I’m sure you’d have little trouble filling it. I’d also get the clever crowd who run Dizengoff, with its excellent coffee and superb breakfasts, to look after the menu.

Healthy looks aside, you also seemed to be in a good place mentally. I got the sense that you’re doing your own thing and not concerning yourself too much with your big neighbour to the west. I think that’s a sound strategy, and I’d be inclined to follow the example of Norway and Finland, with which you share many similarities, in continuing to forge a strong identity.

We must also talk about another neighbour as well. The wonderful Waiheke Island is an absolute charmer. As I’d heard so much about it, I had high expectations but it really went far beyond what I’d imagined. The logistics going over are a bit complicated (there’s definitely room for someone to start a proper water taxi service around the bay) but once you get there it’s hard to believe you’re still officially in the “city”.

From the moment I stepped off the boat I was already keen to look at real estate and get a read on what properties are selling for. With its rolling hills and dry(er) climate, it reminded me a lot of Tuscany. The many vineyards dotted around the island also had me thinking about a fuller lifestyle overall (the idea being to own a vineyard rather than just drinking more wine later in life).

I can imagine there must be more than a bit of tension between families who’ve had little baches (beach houses) on the island for decades and all the international owners of some of the mega-homes. While one resident told me there “are some real shockers” on the island, I mostly saw low-slung, modernist compounds that blended handsomely with the environment. If I had my choice, however, I’d opt for a little bach fixer-upper.

One of the highlights was sampling the newish Oyster Inn in Oneroa. Owned by a pair of former Londoners, the operation is mostly focused on food and drink but they also have three cosy rooms tacked on the back. The best thing is that it’s right in the heart of the main village, so visitors are cut off from the rest of the island. We did a party at the Oyster Inn for Monocle subscribers on the Saturday and then spent Sunday running around looking at houses, then lying on the beach and taking it easy. The food highlight was dinner from the wood-oven pizza truck at Little Oneroa beach. It was pure bliss to watch the sun go down while munching on excellent pizza and drinking a local Pinot Grigio.

I’m counting the days till my return (sadly nothing fixed at the moment) and I hope I’ll be able to check out more. Keep doing what you’re doing (focusing on liveability) and I look forward to our next weekend together.

Affectionately yours,

Tyler

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

tyler.brule@ft.com

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