Clevedon has plenty to offer those who want a break from the city, writes Dionne Christian.
We were at Springcurl Lodge in Clevedon, eating the heartiest english breakfast and I simply didn't know where to start: the roasted portobello mushrooms, the poached eggs or one of the three sausages, including a buffalo one?
After a weekend in Clevedon, I can safely say they feed you well. The abundance of good food is no surprise. In recent times, thanks largely to the successful Clevedon Village Farmers' Market, Auckland's south-eastern rural rump has become a premium foodie destination.
But there are an increasing number of non-foodie activities in the area, which include new places to stay and new tourism ventures which allow visitors to see some of the area's less accessible beaches, rivers and farmland.
I had spied a flyer for Springcurl Lodge and Deer Park, a recently opened luxury bed and breakfast, which looked like a great base for a home-away-from-home weekend, so the family and I drove 12 minutes up the road for a night away.
It started with a visit to the farmers' market, which gave us a chance to inspect its new home at the Clevedon A&P Showgrounds. It's bigger, better and with more room for live entertainment and - weather-permitting - the pony rides our girls adore.
From the market, we headed to Springcurl Lodge, which is situated on a small working deer farm. Standing majestically atop a ridgeline, it is warm and welcoming with never-ending views of the countryside surrounding it. There are three tiers of accommodation: newly and fully furnished king-sized rooms with spacious ensuites; a queen-sized room with a private bathroom or a self-contained barn flat.
Given its closeness to central Auckland, it's the ideal setting for some time out when you don't want to travel to the back of beyond. You can sit back and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere or join hosts John and Christine to feed the animals, which as well as deer include emu, sheep, dogs, cats and chickens.
If you're after an excursion, the hosts provide tours to local attractions through their latest venture, Clevedon Tours. These include visiting buffalo and oyster farms, vineyards, beaches, historical sites or exploring natural features like the Miranda coast or the Waikaretu Valley. They can also draw up an itinerary based on your choice of activities.
With my young daughter developing a fondness for bush walks, we took a 10-minute drive from Clevedon to the Hunua Ranges, Auckland's largest forested area with more than 14,000ha of native forest. The area is also famous for its dams - Cosseys, Wairoa, Mangatawhiri and Mangatangi reservoirs - which supply much of Auckland's water.
The Hunua Falls have been a popular since Victorian times, when visitors would sail by steamer to Clevedon and then take day trips to the waterfall. Today, they are around an hour's drive from Auckland central and a popular site for picnickers.
The Hunua Falls Loop Walk (a 20-minute return trip) climbs from the Wairoa River through native forest and along a shady stream to a lookout platform. But we wanted to explore somewhere different so we drove further along to Wairoa Reservoir Access Rd to the Suspension Bridge Loop Track.
We had hopes of making it to the lookout above the Wairoa Reservoir and then heading back - a 3.5km return walk that takes around 1.5 hours - but the weather was not on our side.
So we headed back to Springcurl and then to dinner at the Clevedon Cafe, where the meals are huge and hearty. It's a great place for a meal if you've worked up an appetite tramping or mountain biking.
Track and Trail is another new Clevedon company to take visitors off the beaten track to some of the area's most beautiful - and, at times, inaccessible - beaches and farmland. It offers three tours: the Overland Trail, the Coastal Trail and a kayaking adventure on the Wairoa River Trail.
As we drove home, I couldn't help but think how lucky we are to have such magnificent attractions so close.
Need to know
* Springcurl Lodge and Deer Park: Ph (09) 299 6491
* Track and Trail: Ph: 0800TRAILNZ
* Hunua Ranges, search aucklandcouncil.govt.nz
Dionne Christian was a guest at Springcurl Lodge.