Bridget Lysaght has lived in the Huapai district since she was a pony-mad 13-year-old. She tells Catherine Smith why this is her favourite part of Auckland. Bridget works at Ricoh, where she has encouraged a team of workmates to join the Cure Kids Walk on the Wild Side, a 17km fundraising walk around Auckland's west coast on November 14. (walkonthewildside.org.nz)
I've always been in love with horses and animals, so I got a pony when I was 13 when my family moved out here from Te Atatu. My parents really encouraged us to have a work-life balance, to have the relaxed lifestyle, so now, even though I work in the city with the hustle and bustle, the minute I get past the motorway at Kumeu everything relaxes and people wave.
Work supports us to do the healthy stuff and so this walk is a chance to show off where I live and the best of west Auckland as we run through coastal land, private farms and the Riverhead forests.
I live with my parents on one acre, and we're just a stone's throw from Nobilos; I still hop in there when I head out to the beaches. Bethells is for when I want seclusion as I can let the dog off to play (Muppy is a German short haired pointer). You get to know the other people and the idiosyncracies of each dog, it's a social interaction place for single dogs.
For families and social it's Piha. And then Muriwai is the bustling area with the horse riding, the walking and cafe, the tree adventure people and 4-wheel drives.
But the west coast is still all rugged beauty, it's not developed like the east, it's still untouched.
People here are very natural and down-to-earth, here for the simple lifestyle. We all look after each other. There are lots of local foodies - I love to cook and I just use what's fresh at the markets. Most of my friends grow veges or do the free range hens, you should see my mum's vege garden. Everything here is so fresh and seasonal, the things you buy at the little vege shops are just grown out the back. They are full of flavour, the real New Zealand, even if they don't look as pretty as they do at the supermarkets.
The Riverhead market is just down the road, there's fantastic simple food from Brendan at Fire and Ice. The Hallertau Brewery or the Kauri Gum cafe are good for Sunday mornings, or I stop for a cheese platter and a glass of rose at Soljans. I don't have a horse now, but have friends who do, so we take their horses and ride to the beach.
I did the pony club scene till I was 21 and I don't think I'll ever get it out of my blood. It's hard work training and getting the horse out every day, but it also teaches you fair play. I have lifetime friends from that.
There's a Western Club at Waimauku, or for other sports I've played touch and there's the tennis club. You can't stop suburbia from happening, but the people who come out here still want to keep the country atmosphere. You might have an event where there are people straight from their city job in a suit and a farmer in stubbies and everyone's very accepting. I'm sold on here for life, I'm a country girl through and through.
All the locals get into the Hoedown in the summer to raise funds for the fire station, the vineyards do bud-burst festivals and then the mashing of the grapes. The local businesses and schools have a scarecrow festival, the whole road is involved - once you get past Westgate these scarecrows keep popping up all over the place. A couple have stayed and they're part of the community now."
* Nobilo's Tasting Room 45 Station Rd, Huapai, ( ph 09 412 6662)
* Kauri Gum Country Store and Cafe 22 School Rd, Riverhead 09-412 9555
* Soljans Estate Winery Cafe 366 State Highway 16, Kumeu 09-412 5858
* Hallertau Brewery 1171 Coatsville-Riverhead Highway 09-412 5555
* Coatesville Market Hall & Reserve Coatesville-Riverhead Highway, Coatesville First Sunday of the month, 10am to 3pm. More than 100 stalls with local crafts, fresh produce, olive oils, great food, handmade clothes - all New Zealand made.