Mangawhai: Seaside escape

By Megan Singleton

Milestone's Schooner Cottage overlooking the sea. Photo / Guy Needham
Milestone's Schooner Cottage overlooking the sea. Photo / Guy Needham

I am ashamed to confess I had, until recently, never been to Mangawhai. I've lived in Auckland for a goodly number of years yet have never travelled within cooee of the sandy coastal and quiet estuary beaches of this holiday town.

Mangawhai is something of a secret hideaway, frequented mostly by those owning baches there or who have spent years disappearing there on family camping holidays. Its tiny township is a little bit arty and a little bit country.

It is slowly transforming into a groovy little eating and drinking hub, thanks to the many surrounding wineries and the expansion of chocolatiers Bennetts of Mangawhai, which has opened a cafe next to its chocolate factory in a beautiful Mediterranean style building. A friend had invited me to stay at Milestone Cottages because she knew I'd love them. She was right.

It would be a perfect spot for a secluded Valentine's weekend, but on this occasion it was just the girls: three of us, weighed down with wine, but unencumbered by any plans beyond the consumption of our cargo.

These very cute, very rustic and very secluded wooden cottages were built by owners Gael McConachy and Box Milestone, who started a bed and breakfast here in 1991. By 1996, there were six individual cottages on the sprawling 1.6ha property that winds through pohutukawa trees to the sea, where there are beautiful views of the Hen and Chicken Islands.

The cottages vary in size and each is self-contained with a kitchen, barbecue and veranda. There is a pool, a conference room and hidden among native bush are two yurts. No, that is not some dairy-based breakfast food, but a circular hut, typically covered in felt, most commonly found in Mongolia and Kazakhstan. And, now Northland. These circus-like tents are used for the popular yoga and meditation retreats Milestone Cottages run throughout the year.

The umbrella-like wooden spokes in the roof are hand-painted and lead to an open circle lined with felt and canvas. These yurts (imported from Mongolia) have been adapted for the wet New Zealand climate, so are lined with building paper and weather-proof canvas, but retain the traditional felt roof. There is talk of turning them into studios for winter art retreats.

For now, however, we were content with our own picture-perfect setting: a stunning summer evening, a private courtyard, quaffing sauvignon as the sun set, with a few sausies sizzling in the background, waiting to be smothered in Watties.

What to do in Mangawhai:

* March 13-14 is the combination Mangawhai Art Trail and Walking Weekend. You'll find 40 artists showing ceramics, flax-weaving, furniture, glass, jewellery, pottery, photography and sculpture at 15 venues along the walk. It's free and the local cafes and galleries will be buzzing.

* Visit the Kaiwaka Cheese Shop and allow yourself to be tempted with tastings before you buy homemade cheeses cut from monster wheels.

* Drop in to Bennetts of Mangawhai and watch them make chocolate truffles (of course it would be rude not to try), then pop next door for brunch/lunch/dinner.

* If you're there on Saturday, browse the Mangawhai Village Organic Market at the Library Hall and, every second Sunday, the Mangawhai Beach and Country Market in the Domain.

* On Wednesday nights, get along to Poker Night at the Mangawhai Tavern.

* Play a round of golf at the championship 18-hole Mangawhai Golf Club.

* Head out for an afternoon of wine tasting at local vineyards Lochiel Estate, Heron's Flight, Saltings Estate, Ascension Wine Estate and Contour Estate.

Where to stay:

Milestone Cottages
27 Moir Point Road, Mangawhai
Ph 09 431 4018
milestonecottages.co.nz

For more of Megan's travel musings see bloggeratlarge.com.

- Herald on Sunday

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