Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Far and wide: New Zealand's 'destination shops'

They're out of the way, but worth it. Diana Clement visits stores that are destinations in themselves.

The cheeses at Mercer are award-winning and well worth the detour. Photo / Christine Cornege
The cheeses at Mercer are award-winning and well worth the detour. Photo / Christine Cornege

A fly on the wall following me around the country might wonder about the strange driving routes I take. Whoever else would drive from Coromandel to Auckland, via Mercer? Or Auckland to Hamilton via Whatawhata?

The answer is those who know the joys of visiting Mercer Cheese, or EquipOutdoors.

These and other "destination shops" dot the countryside. They're often better than the equivalent in Auckland or other cities. Their locations, however, are somewhat peculiar, requiring customers to go the extra mile - literally - to visit them.

Excellent arts and craft shops and cafes exist in all corners of the country. Weekend went looking for some of our region's more unusual destination shops:

Byrning Spears, Raglan

Ray Finlay doesn't just get visitors from all over New Zealand making pilgrimages to his Raglan surf shop - famed for its channel bottomed surf boards - customers come from all over the world. Finlay has even had Argentinian and Russian surfers turn up on his doorstep.

"It's a surfing destination. I pursue the hardcore recreational surfer and do a lot of retro style [surf boards] and alternative shapes," says Finlay.

Even more surprising for the unassuming Kiwi, is that surfers write to him wanting to work for the business or be an apprentice. They don't realise that despite Finlay's expertise at designing and building boards, he runs a cottage industry not a big factory.

The Byrning Spears story starts more than 20 years ago when former owner Alan Byrne set it up and began hand-crafting custom boards, which turned heads in the surfing fraternity. Finlay worked for Byrne originally and eventually bought the business.

The boards range in price from $825 to several thousand dollars each. The shop also organises surfing lessons and has a house bus for hire on site.

It doesn't have surfing fashion wear, which sometimes surprises customers.

Open: Monday to Sunday, 9-5pm.
Where: 398 Wainui Rd, Raglan
Phone: (07) 825 0538

The Clock Shoppe of NZ, Tirau

If you can't go to Germany to buy a Hermle clock, why not bring the best clocks of the world here?

Nestled in among the corrugated iron palaces of Tirau is a shop boasting the biggest collection of clocks for sale in New Zealand.

Originally called the Clock Peddlers, the shop was taken over by horologists (clock and watch repairers) Michelle and Robert Russell last year.

The Clock Shoppe sells a mind-boggling variety of clocks. Hundreds of them. That includes grandfather clocks, wall clocks, cuckoo clocks, moment in time clocks, rhythm clocks, magic motion clocks and many more. And if it doesn't have the make or style you want, The Clock Shoppe will import it especially for you.

The shop itself is a wonderland for adults and children alike with the constant sound of tick tocking punctuated by the chime of grandfather and cuckoo clocks.

Customer service is key to the business says Michelle. Her husband delivers and sets up the grandfather clocks personally virtually anywhere in the North Island. A local clock repairer is contracted to do the job for South Island deliveries.

The most popular clocks currently are traditional station clocks. The most obscure is a tin can clock with a whisk as pendulum.

Some people chance upon the shop. Others make a beeline for it. One family that drove through recently spent many thousands of dollars in a single afternoon buying clocks for the entire family including two cuckoo clocks, four grandfather clocks and an alarm clock.

Open: Monday to Sunday, 9-5pm.
Where: 25 Main St, Tirau
Phone: (07) 883 1314

EquipOutdoors, Whatawhata

I get terribly excited when I drive through the metropolis of Whatawhata, population 2064. Most people view the small Waikato town as something to slow them down as they take the back route south from Auckland along State Highway 39.

Until I discovered this shop, I didn't even realise that Whatawhata had back streets. But tucked out of sight on School Rd, opposite the local primary school is one of New Zealand's best outdoors shops.

For me a pit-stop at EquipOutdoors it's a chance to see what new stock might be at this out-of-the-way camping shop. So far I've bought two tents there and a 4WD mat.

Apart from the Hong Kong-made Luxe tents that EquipOutdoors stocks exclusively, most of the other gear can be found at mainstream shops, but isn't common. If, for example you want Australian Oztrail or Roman gear, it's not that easy to come by in the cities, but EquipOutdoors has a good range.

It's also price competitive.

The company was originally online only, selling through and on Trade Me. The shop opened in 2007, although about 90 per cent of business is still mail order, says owner Geoff Rawlings.

Once online customers realise there is a physical shop, they often pop by to check out the stock. Rawlings has had customers from as far afield as Invercargill drop in when they're in the neighbourhood.

Open: Tuesday to Friday 9-5pm. Saturdays by appointment.
Where: 50 School Rd, Whatawhata
Phone: 0800 CAMPOUT (22 67 68)

Mercer Cheese, Mercer

My father "discovered" this shop in the 1980s, way back when I was a teenager. Ever since, it has been impossible for family members to drive past Mercer without stopping.

I even plan holidays around Mercer Cheese's opening hours.

If we're going to travel back to Auckland on a Sunday, when it's closed, I make sure we buy our supplies on the way down instead.

The business was set up by Dutchman Albert Alferink, who started in 1981 with two Brown Swiss cows, which produce high protein milk ideal for cheese-making. The shop opened two years later.

At first, Alferink lived in the back of his shop, but later bought a dairy farm nearby.

More than quarter of a century later and Alferink is still making his trademark gouda rounds.

Other cheeses on offer at the shop include blue, goat, sheep, parmesan, and maasdam cheese.

The shop is very simple. It quite literally has rounds of cheese stacked on shelves behind the counter.

Choose your cheese and Ineke Alferink, wife of the cheesemaker, slices off the amount you want and wraps it. There are also a few typical Dutch delicacies for sale including traditional liquorice, coffee, appelmoes (apple sauce), mayonnaise and biscuits.

Mercer Cheese is a low key shop, but the cheese itself has won award after award over the years.

The most recent was in March, when Alferink's 50/50 cow/sheep gouda won the Cuisine Champion Artisan Award at the 2011 Cuisine New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards.

Open: Monday to Saturday 10am- 5pm
Where: Roose Rd, Mercer
Phone: (09) 232 6778

Horopito Motors (aka Smash Palace), Horopito

Horopito Motors has to be New Zealand's most unusual car wrecker's yard.

Even if you're not fussed about poking underneath a bonnet, this place is a must-see.

The yard has been in the same family since some time in the 1940s when Bill Cole arrived in Horopito and set up a motor garage and repair shop.

Cole's philosophy was never to send any car or bits to the crushers just in case it came in useful.

As a result the yard houses 4500 old car bodies, some dating back to the very early days of motoring.

You can't really miss the place as you drive from National Park to Ohakune on SH4. It's on your left and covers 5.5ha of land.

Need a radiator from a Morris Cowley Bullnose or a 1913 AC? Horopito Motors has it. Or early wire wheels? You might even find those as well.

Immortalised in the film Smash Palace filmed in 1981, the wreckers' yard is still going strong under the management of Cole's daughter Barbara and her husband Colin Fredricksen.

Customers don't just come from all over New Zealand (although they can also buy by mail order), car club groups from overseas often have a stop at Horopito Motors included in their itinerary.

Open: Monday to Saturday 8am-5pm
Where: 40 Matapuna Rd, Horopito, Ohakune
Phone: (06) 385 4151

Eclectic Culture Co., Tutukaka

It's hard to pigeon-hole the Eclectic Culture Company.

It's part-designer clothes emporium, part-retro, part-craft, and part-knick knack/gift shop, with a strong recycling bent.

The store, which is quite frankly - eclectic - was the brainchild of Wendy Nelson, founder of the Chlorofile label of clothing that women of a certain age will remember from Auckland's Ponsonby.

Life moved on and Nelson headed north a few years back to be closer to family.

You can't keep a good shop owner down, however, and the Eclectic Culture Company was born just over a year ago.

The huge 111sq m shop offers six designer clothes ranges, but one of its biggest sellers is cushions and ornaments made from recycled blankets.

Hundreds of grannies' old blankets have found their way to the Tutukaka store's workroom and are turned into imaginative gifts.

Word is spreading fast and business is building up.

Some customers simply drop by to look at the inspired front window display.

If you do, expect to see mannequins wearing designer dresses topped off with anything from a lamp shade to a tea cosy doubling as a hat.

Open: Wednesday to Friday 9am-4pm, Saturday/Sunday 9am-5pm.
Where: Shop 3, Oceans Hotel Resort, 11 Marina Rd
Phone: (09) 434 4211

More destination shops

Alphra Lavender, Te Awamutu
Lavender products. Brotherhood Rd, off State Highway 3, South of Te Awamutu.

Oraka Deer Farm, Tirau
Deer products such as handbags and dried genitals. Bayly Rd, 10 minutes south of Tirau.

Greenmount Llamas, Pio Pio
Llama fibre and products including baby garments. State Highway 3 Pio Pio.

Huntly Wild Game Meats, Huntly
Specialist purveyors of wild game meats. Main Rd, Huntly, 07 828 8670

Wooden Earth Creations, Whangaroa Harbour
Cabinetmaker and joinery business. Whangaroa Harbour, Northland, New Zealand.

More options ...

Guy Bucchi Artisan/Designer, Matakohe: Iron work.

Black Dog Furniture, Matangi: Hand-crafted, quality, solid-wood furniture.

The Shearing Shed, Waitomo: Merino wool and angora fibre.

Polwarth Design, Dargaville. Women's fashion.

Scintilla, Raglan: Women's fashion.

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