My happy place is close by where we live. The coast from Mahurangi to Pakiri Beach and beyond is full of indented bays, rocky islands, sandy deltas and tidal estuaries - my favourite kinds of places.
The landscape varies from the drama of Mangawhai or the sublime beach of Tawharanui, to deep harbours and rivers like the Mahurangi and Puhoi, to the sandy tidal estuary of Whangateau Harbour. I especially love the tidal areas - what Americans sometimes call "thin water".
My favourite place is a tiny bay, accessed at a narrow bridge on the way to Leigh. There's hardly room to park and, at high tide, not much beach. The sandy bay shelves so gently that at low tide, it's just about all beach.
At the head of the bay are mangroves, an old boat shed where two boat builders repair and build wooden boats, a handful of craft moored amongst the mangroves, two macrocarpa trees, which the tide laps at spring high, and a gnarly, beautiful old pohutukawa.
Off to one side, there are some baches - and even the "houses" have not succumbed to the pressure of "resort architecture".
There's even a recycled railway carriage sleep-out. Not many people go there.
The local classic boat people have a small fleet of Zies, IA-s, flush deck mullet boats and others anchored there, and occasionally there will be a family spread out on the grass enjoying "our happy place". You can only park a half dozen cars at best.
The water is crystal clear, the headlands peppered with pohutukawa and the flora typical of cliff-fringed bays of the Hauraki Gulf and Northland. It's sheltered but the gentlest breeze is all that is necessary to send our long pulling boat with its little spritsail effortlessly across and out of the bay.
The air almost crackles with sunshine and peace. And a barbecue with some boat friends on a rusty old thing in front of the boat shed is about the best way to end a day; to taste life as it should be. One could spend eternity here.
* Dr Rodney Wilson was director of the Auckland War Memorial Museum and the founding director of the Maritime Museum. An exhibition of his paintings, Mo's Kitchen is on at Depot Artspace in Devonport from February 11-March 1.