I didn't know much about Franklin Ward apart from Pukekohe, until my hairdresser told me she had a caravan parked permanently at Clarks Beach camping ground, and encouraged me to explore the area.
So one Sunday we found ourselves venturing off Auckland's Southern Motorway at Drury. From there, a 20km drive took us to the small community and holiday destination of Clarks Beach on the shores of Manukau Harbour. On the way we find that the countryside is full of surprises.
At Wrights Water Gardens in Patumahoe we wander amid ponds and the fauna and flora that surround the historic and spectacular Mauku Waterfall and rock quarry. During the 1800s a huge waterwheel stood at the top of the waterfall and was used to power a flax mill.
Post-World War II the land became a quarry, which was lovingly transformed in the 1990s by Malcolm and Dael Wright and is now brimming with native plants, trees, shrubs, waterlilies and flowers. There's also a garden shop and a range of art and crafts. The Wrights encourage visitors to bring a picnic.
Further along the road, at Waiau Pa, we turn into PJ Alpacas. Owners Pam and Craig Follet have 45 alpacas, and you can help prepare their food and feed them if you wish. There's also a selection of soft and luxurious Alpaca wool products for sale. The Follets, who open their property mostly by appointment, have also built up a mini-farm of friendly animals.
It's just past midday, so we make our way to The Village Bar & Kitchen in Patumahoe. We've heard about their authentic Italian breads and sourdough pizza bases, but spot fresh snapper on the menu. A couple of glasses of sauvignon match perfectly.
Then we head to the Glenbrook Vintage Railway. Each Sunday the train operates from 11am until 4pm, when it makes its last trip back from Waiuku. The round trip takes 55 minutes and chugs through the lovely countryside, stopping at the Pukeoware rail workshops before continuing to the quaint township of Waiuku. You can disembark, meander around the town, and catch the train back.
Our final destination is Clarks Beach for a walk around the rocks, with the Awhitu Peninsula in the distance. The beach is peaceful and the perfect end to the day.
Wrights Watergardens: 128 Mauku Rd, Patumahoe, ph (09) 236 3211. Its Lotus Festival is on until February 12. Adults $8, children $4. Dogs on leashes welcome.
The Village Bar & Kitchen: 1 Patumahoe Rd, ph (09) 236 3571.
PJ Alpacas: 120 Saddleton Rd, Waiau Pa, ph (09) 232 1142.
Glenbrook Vintage Railway: Glenbrook Station, ph (09) 236 3546, family pass $42.