Kiwis love their sweets, and the global trend that's seen the rise of artisanal doughnuts, cupcakes and other classics has reached New Zealand's shores, too. Next time you're in Auckland, go beyond downtown and visit these three bakery-cafés for a cuppa or flat white (that's one-third espresso, two-thirds steamed milk, with a touch of froth) and a tasty snack or meal.
161A Hillsborough Rd., Hillsborough; bluebellscakery.com
The vibe: Owner Karla Goodwin trained at London's Primrose Bakery before returning home to start a business inspired by British boutique bakeries, local flavours and her own vintage style. Her tiny shop offers a rotating selection of sweet and savoury goods such as scones, biscuits (that's Kiwi for cookies), slices and cupcakes; don't miss the jars full of classic New Zealand lollies (candies), or a chance to sit at the wooden tables and chairs and flip through some of Goodwin's pretty cookbook collection.
The must-tries: Goodwin's coconut ice – a Kiwi sweet staple with a British pedigree made from condensed milk, sugar and coconut – comes stylishly studded with flecks of dried raspberries or passionfruit. Or try the traditional N.Z.-style doughnuts: long, sweet, bread-like dough filled with whipped cream and topped with raspberry jam.
The souvenir: Bluebells Cakery, Goodwin's first book, is packed with recipes for gorgeous-looking homemade treats, plus DIY instructions for icing beautiful cakes in photoshoot-worthy ombre, rosette or ripple patterns.
The calorie-burner: Earn your dessert with a tramp along the Hillsborough Bay Circuit, a 2 1/2-hour loop that passes just down the street from Bluebells; sights include a reserve of native forest, a cemetery with a view and, at low tide, the rocky, algae-covered harbour's edge.
Little Bird Unbakery
1A Summer St., Ponsonby (also 385 New North Rd., Kingsland); littlebirdorganics.co.nz
The vibe: A chalkboard pillar lists the "pecking order" – that's the wait list for tables – at this cheerful, raw-vegan café that opened in mid-2013, the second location for the city's premier raw-foods business. High ceilings, exposed brick, wooden tables and rafters and plenty of bright light make for a space that feels comfortable and airy even when crowded.
The must-tries: Breakfast or lunch, come for a full meal; start with a smoothie or juice and then enjoy a bowl of Little Bird's popular granola, say, or the pad Thai they became famous for (and which quickly sells out). On the sweet side, browse the dessert case for the daily selection of delicious, often nutty cheesecakes, cookies, tarts and cakes, all made without animal products, soy, gluten or cane sugar – think passionfruit-topped cheesecake, ginger slice or chocolate-mint fudge.
The souvenir: Browse the corner shelves of packaged goods for snacks for the rest of your trip, such as a bag of house-made raw, organic coconut macaroons in flavours such as passionfruit and macadamia and cacao and raspberry, or raw chocolate bars from Hine Cacao blended with N.Z. superfoods such as manuka honey and kumara, a type of sweet potato. (And yes, word has it they're working on a cookbook, too.)
The calorie-burner: Besides the long wait for tables, Little Bird's location in trendy Ponsonby is notoriously bad for parking. Plan to take your time and check out the shops along Ponsonby Road: browse local lifestyle and food magazines at Mag Nation; visit Devonport Chocolates for giftable N.Z.-city-themed bars with hokey pokey; or drop by Rocket Kitchen to stock up on iconic Kiwi sweets such as chocolate fish, fish-shaped strawberry marshmallows coated in milk chocolate.
Little and Friday
43D Eversleigh Rd., Belmont (also 12 Melrose St., Newmarket); littleandfriday.com
The vibe: Packed communal tables and bustling staff highlight the popularity of this suburban café, renowned for its gorgeous tarts, pastries, cakes and other delicacies, set in perfect rows behind glass on a white tile counter. When owner Kim Evans started the business in 2007, it was open only on Fridays – now, both locations see lineups seven days a week, and she's taken over space in adjoining shops to meet demand.
The must-tries: Little and Friday is known for its delectable cream- and chocolate-filled doughnuts, but for a modern take on an Australasian classic, try the cone-shaped lamington: Traditionally squares of sponge cake coated in chocolate icing then coconut, this version replaces the sponge cake with a rich, brownie-like inside, making it the ultimate chocoholic's treat.
The souvenir: Little and Friday Celebrations, Evans's second cookbook, devotes each chapter to a get-together theme, among them weddings, Easter, Mother's Day and a "chocolate 21st" buffet – deep, dark and rich baked goods for the country's traditional coming-of-age birthday.
The calorie-burner: The flat four-kilometre Belmont Bay Walk around this North Shore neighbourhood and its coast and wetlands includes the new Bayswater Bridge, a transportation link for cyclists and pedestrians whose materials include recycled totara, a native tree. Hard-core hikers can carb up at the café before heading out on the 23-kilometre North Shore Coastal Walk, which was the first fully marked-up section of Te Araroa, New Zealand's 3,000-kilometre continuous tip-to-tail trail.
The writer travelled with assistance from Tourism New Zealand. It did not review or approve this article.