Over the madness of mall shopping yet? Peeved at the Parking Fairy? Well here's a civilised idea. Grab a friend and head to Matakana on the newly minted Collectables Trail. Better still, take Friday afternoon off, book some accommodation and make an adventure of it.
The Collectables Trail brings together seven outlets with the shared aim: "up-cycle, recycle and revive" once-loved pieces. Set up in barns, sheds or ex-factories, these are spaces where the cobwebs in the rafters tell of a productive history.
You will be guaranteed an original gift and a good measure of pre-Christmas fun. Viva meandered along the Collectables Trail to meet the faces behind the finds.
It wasn't difficult to decide on a name for this vintage boutique alongside State Highway 1. Annie Fenlon and her daughter, Annie Corry, share care of the counter in this store that salutes the glamour of a bygone era. They've commandeered a section of the barn, painted its corrugated facade girly pink and filled it with the fashionable and the feminine. Above a mantelpiece hangs a selection of elegant, Hepburn-style evening bags while hat-boxes sit atop a period wardrobe. "Just imagine ladies in the 30s and 40s getting on the train with their hatboxes," says Annie Fenlon. Apart from white fur coats, velvet trains, opera gloves, cameo brooches and perfume bottles, there are antique chairs. "I love saving old things. Imagine what they've been through - all those bums on seats!"
With 14 grandchildren, Annie says she enjoys sharing her passion with a younger generation "for them to appreciate there's more to life than computer games".
The Red Barn
Step inside this former hay shed and your senses reel at the sheer volume of collectables. Venture past the first room, crammed with woodturning tools, vintage bottles and Crown Lynn pottery, to find, amid this cornucopia, the true gem of The Red Barn experience - Margaret Hetherington. She has lived in Matakana since 1976 when she came here with her husband, Rob, to run dry stock. Rob was a keen wood-turner and Margaret's passion was restoring old furniture. Thirty years on you'll still find her in the workshop, waxing wood or distressing a piece for her "Shabby Chic" room. Although the "brown" furniture doesn't move as well as it once did, she still loves it. Her latest project is an oak travelling chest from the early 1920s that opens to reveal four drawers and a hanging rail. Apart from the chairs and tables she restores, there are suitcases, picture frames, old irons, teddy bears, doctor's bags, pretty tea cups, Art Deco glory boxes, hand-sewn dresses made of vintage fabric - you get the picture. Margaret says her greatest pleasure is chatting to her visitors, even while she works. "It's just delightful when people pop their head in the door to say hello."
When Janine and David O'Sullivan returned to New Zealand from several years living in Britain, they wanted to recreate a little of the magic they'd enjoyed on their travels through Europe. "We loved to drive off the beaten track to find treasures," says Janine. Now visitors to their mini emporium get to share in their passion for the interesting and the quirky. There's a high percentage of French antiques, some delightful English finds and a few items, such as the old framed photograph of Wenzlick Cottage, sourced locally. "Whenever we get a piece, I wonder who's owned it and where it's been." Be it a butcher's block from the 1840s, a table made from a 500-year-old oak door, or an English ship's trunk lined in silk, Janine is happy to share the stories. "I get to meet such wonderful characters; sometimes I feel like I'm on the set of Lovejoy!"
If antiques aren't your thing, you need not come away empty handed. Recycled kauri serving platters make an ideal Christmas gift. (They're put to fine use across the road at Ascension Wine Estate's 'The Larder', where the Grape Picker's Platter makes for the perfect casual lunch). There's a bonus with Jack Boots: Janine also runs a fabulous b&b. Staying at Jack Boots provides the Collectables trailer with a base camp, meaning the trail can be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace. Before you leave, buy some of Janine's free-range eggs. Pure sunshine on a plate.
When you're a born collector, it's sometimes impossible to let go of things, admits Yvonne Clifton. A La Gloria TV set and a bevelled mirror frame with a kaka print are just two items that haven't made it on the shelves at Rummage. Just the other day, Yvonne found it hard to part with a Feltex tapestry rug from the 50s featuring the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Not that there's a shortage of stock - quite the opposite! A yacht was once built in this quintessential shed, its loftiness now brimming with everything from retro tableware to knitted golliwogs, books, 1950s fashions, vinyl records and all manner of glass and pottery.
"When I saw the big old shed, I knew it would be perfect," says Yvonne. The property also came with a 1950s cottage; its original kitchen bench has been recycled to become her shop counter. She painted it in Porter's Liquid Iron to match the shed exterior. Yvonne is a fan of the blues, which she plays to edify you while you rummage for treasures.
She calls her business "an upmarket op shop" and enjoys the challenge of mixing it up so there's something to appeal to all ages.
Yvonne credits her mother with helping her find beauty in the ugliest object. "She taught me not to take things at face value."
Translated from Afrikaans, the name of this delightful store in the Matakana Village means: "beautiful, beautiful". When Kim Hewitt left the wine region of South Africa where she'd lived with her husband and three children for eight years, she wanted to continue to support the creative artisans she'd worked with there.
"They have such a different design aesthetic to us," says Kim. "There's not only the African influence but the French and Dutch side, too."
Imported from South Africa, many items here are up-cycled. There are toys made from tin cans, coat racks fashioned from telephone wire, and distressed wooden photo frames.
Cape Town-based designer Heath Nash, whose work has appeared at the Milan Furniture Fair, specialises in making things from "other people's rubbish". His lightshades and lamps re-use plastic milk bottles and yoghurt containers.
Kim keeps her prices reasonable for the simple reason that if stock moves, she can order more from her suppliers, some of whom are struggling in hard economic times. She also brings in Sticky Fudge, a range of all-cotton kids clothes, designed and made in Cape Town. Says Kim: "Their textile industry is in crisis. So many women have lost their jobs but this super-nice brand is still there."
A favourite with Mooi Mooi customers, though, are the Wonki Ware platters, bowls, teapots and jugs by Di Marshall. Cherished worldwide for its handmade organic form and a glaze that's dishwasher proof, it's still produced ethically from a boutique studio in George. As Kim says, "it's pretty but not precious".
"I was one of those creepy kids who collected skulls - it won you show-and-tell awards but not many friends," remembers Kate Arbuthnot, the creative spirit behind Fossick Collected Interiors.
Kate's particular combination of collectables - that she terms "a little bit vintage, a little bit gothic, a little bit Golden Girls" - is now winning her fans. With a background in visual arts, she also works as a stylist and says: "I'm constantly plucking props from the shop ... it's an excuse to buy more!"
Her Matakana Village store, in the freezer room of an old dairy factory, is infused with character, courtesy of the old cork-insulated walls and vault doors. A line-up of vintage cinema chairs at the entrance hints at discoveries to come. Inside is a fascinating array of finds: a black-and-white poster featuring a glammed up David Bowie and guitarist Mick Ronson, eating bangers and mash on a British Rail train, overlooks the scene. There are industrial metal light-shades, shapely bell jars, ex-military boxes, filing drawers, pretty crockery, and a table sparkling with crystal glassware. Then, of course, there's the odd bit of vintage taxidermy - Kate's childhood eye for the unusual gets to roam freely at Fossick. "Having the shop legitimises my obsession with garage sales." Yet, if something old doesn't grab your imagination, something new might. Take a look at photographer Todd Selby's intriguing, artful books. His original thinking appeals to Kate's love of the extraordinary.
When renovating The Matakana Village Pub, Hannah and Duncan Anderson had to get the balance right. "We wanted to retain the pub feel and not turn it into an Auckland bar," says Hannah.
Built in 1903, this two-storey kauri villa began life as a boarding house. In the 80s, it had its first outing as a pub-cum-restaurant. Locals were hanging out with parched tongues for four months while the changes were made. In the main area, hallway walls were removed to open up the space yet a sense of "rooms" still remains.
The bar was extended and the interiors freshened - with a nod to history. In the dining zone, the patterned carpet was replaced in updated form and, to reflect the fact that once there was an entire wall of taxidermy, artist Ross Lewis was commissioned to paint a series of animal-headed portraits. "We call them our 'dead heads'," explains Hannah. This tongue-in-cheek approach is evident, too, in the bathrooms where the ceilings have been covered in jazzy wallpapers. Once the outside space was maximised with clever landscaping, to create a family friendly garden bar, the graceful old girl was back in business. "Michael Van de Elzen of The Food Truck consulted on our menu. We have low-key table service with an emphasis on fun dining, not fine dining," says Hannah. Yes, burgers and fish and chips are here but an investment in a Montague Broiler means the steaks are pretty darn good, too.
Just one look at the clientele on your average afternoon and you can tell the new owners have cracked it. Hannah describes it best, "There are guys in gumboots on one side and ladies in heels on the other."
Visit the Matakana Collectables Trail, get your flyer stamped at all six outlets (flyers available at every participant), and present it at The Matakana Village Pub to claim your free post-shopping Collectables Cocktail.