It's Tuesday morning and the Dove Hospice Shop in Glen Innes, Auckland, is buzzing. Nadia and I are here on a mission: to find a selection of retro picnic accessories for a festive backyard feast. We want to make an occasion of it, so we're on the hunt for pretty plates, a picnic basket, napkins, glasses and more. Both Nadia and I are keen op-shoppers and are hoping to find a range of essentials we can use time and again.
The Hospice Shop is enormous but well laid out, with sections for clothing, homeware, furniture and books. There's so much to choose from, including a few lovely picnic baskets. We pick one that looks like it's been hand-lined by a clever upcycler. A number of cute plates and dishes and a strawberry-shaped bowl are added to our haul, as are a couple of antique knives, and napkins with jaunty summer prints.
We are easily distracted, and what began as a homeware hunt quickly expands to include clothing – we each find a dress and Nadia grabs a cute floral blouse. Why not get dressed up for our picnic? The money goes towards supporting people with life-threatening illnesses and their families and carers, so we feel good about our purchases.
We fill the car with our finds and head around the corner to The Salvation Army Family Store. The Glen Innes store is reasonably large and has impressive record and book collections, including some amusingly outdated cookery books. A few giggles ensue before we settle on The New Zealand Dinner Party Cookbook and a couple of vintage-style Party Time LPs to jazz up the occasion. We also pick up a glass jug for serving refreshing bevvies in, and more cute crockery.
A bit of trivia for you: the term op-shop, short for 'opportunity shop', is uniquely Antipodean. Other countries use terms such as thrift shop or charity shop. Whatever you call them, Glen Innes has a good selection, all stocked with donated goods and manned by helpful volunteers and paid workers.
The SPCA Op-shop is our third port of call. Giving to the animals is always fun and there's a good selection of homeware and clothes here. More floral plates and a wacky fish-shaped oven mitt (pictured above) are added to our stash as well as a cute-but-not-entirely-useful mini frying pan, a pretty pink vase and another jug.
Our last stop is the Auckland City Mission New Beginnings Shop. The money raised here goes towards health and social services for marginalised Aucklanders. The store is smaller than the others, but it's always busy, especially when new deliveries arrive. We have a good chat to the staff, then grab one last plate, a nifty set of glasses, a glass mixing bowl and a spatula.
Back at my place, we give our purchases a quick wash before Nadia rustles up a batch of pikelets. The plan is to serve these with whipped cream and her delicious Black Doris plum and chia spread (see page 130 for the pikelet and spread recipes), which we put in two cute op-shop dishes.
We prepare salmon, cream cheese and cucumber sammies (reserving the crusts to make cheesy sticks – see page 100) and fill the large jug with soda water, blueberries, cucumber and fresh mint from the garden. We add bowls of fresh cherries, peaches and more berries as the finishing touches to our summer feast.
Now it's time to enjoy the fruits of our labour. We put down a vintage tablecloth as a picnic rug, some cushions and a few other op-shopped items I had on hand, then lay out the delicious spread. It's satisfying to see how much we managed to buy for around the cost of one platter at a regular store. What's more, each of our secondhand plates, serving dishes and glasses comes with a unique history, and the money we paid for them has all gone towards worthwhile causes.
If you haven't op-shopped before, why not make a day of it like we did, and come up with a theme or an occasion to shop for? Beginners may find the idea of op-shopping overwhelming, but with many shops laid out neatly (or as neatly as secondhand goods can be) and most items affordably priced, it's actually surprisingly easy – and so cheap!
The best thing about op-shopping is the unexpected gems you discover. Some are hilarious (like our fish-shaped oven mitt) and some priceless (rare ceramics and hard-to-find records). There's also the feelgood factor – as well as giving money to charity, you're giving new life to items that may otherwise have been tossed.
Then there are the joyful interactions, like the lady who stops to chat and insists on showing us photos of all the op-shop purchases displayed in her home, and the employees who are intrigued to see what we've chosen.
As for any hasty buys we might regret, we can simply continue the cycle and gift them to the next op-shop. With none of our purchases costing more than $15, it's not much to worry about and any returns can just be viewed as an unplanned donation.
Scroll down to see our op-shop picnic purchases
Where to op shop in Auckland
(Where we went)
> Dove Hospice Shop, 185 Apirana Avenue, Glen Innes, Auckland. Open 7 days, 9am-4.30pm.
> SPCA Op-shop, 217 Taniwha Street, Glen Innes, Auckland. Open Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm; Saturday, 10am-4pm.
> Auckland City Mission New Beginnings Shop, 14 Mayfair Place, Glen Innes, Auckland. Open Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm; Saturday, 9am-2pm.
> [The Salvation Army Family Store], corner Mayfair Place and Taniwha Street, Glen Innes, Auckland. Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 9am-5pm; Tuesday, 10am-5pm; Saturday, 9am-4pm.
> All stores are closed on public holidays.