Take a drive southeast of Auckland to Clevedon and Whitford and you're likely to leave with a full stomach and a carload of goodies, writes Prue Dashfield.
The Whitford and Clevedon area is horse country. Go there on a Sunday and you can eat like one.
If the girlfriend, the terrier and I had gone to Royal Ascot, we couldn't have found a deeper, more delectable nosebag than the busy Clevedon Village Farmers' Market. Stallholders here truly understand the importance of the complimentary sample — but as I can't abide greediness I leave at least one morsel per platter, sometimes even two, for other customers to share.
Consequently, I have to buy a Cornish pasty and an Eccles cake to plug the small but worrying gap that, left unattended, could collapse my entire digestive apparatus. Both are sublime as is, apparently, the terrier's wonton from Miss Maggie's Barkery and Dog Deli.
If the sole purpose of your trip is to scoff food in an informed manner you could join any one of Trisha Murdie's four to six hour Black Rabbit gourmet tours of food artisans and wineries. But our mission is to feed our faces while exploring this terra incognita and so, to the shops!
Father and daughter Doug and Rebecca Snelling intend to open their groovy Kiwi designer furniture and homewares store the Workroom where it belongs - in Ponsonby. The girlfriend buys a caravan brooch; I don't buy at least three lamps and the "Can you smell burning?" tea towel because I am hoarding my money for lunch.
The two shops next door are made for vintage clothing and shabby chic hounds; across the road, Acorns is a kind of rural Redcurrent; and the Clevedon Woolshed sells New Zealand-made knits, gifts and crafts that aren't just for sending overseas at Christmas.
By now my legs are a bit hollow so I fill them with the Clevedon Cafe's local oyster chowder before we take in the McNicol Museum, a kauri settler's homestead built in 1878, then move on to Whitford with a pitstop at Turanga Creek winery.
We will not insult iconic Ayrlies Country Garden by seeing it at a sprint and also skip the Whitford Bird Garden. Instead we negotiate the roundabout where the three Whitford roads converge and head for home to have a lie-down.
Dinner, thank you Clevedon Farmers' Market, is already cooked.
Getting there: Whitford and Clevedon are 30-40 minutes' drive southeast of Auckland.
Best lunch: In Whitford, try the General Store Bar and Restaurant beside the roundabout; out of Clevedon, visit the quirky Wairoa Pub at 26 Kawakawa Bay Rd.
Best guided tours: Trisha Murdie's range of Black Rabbit gourmet food tours include visits to the Clevedon Farmers Market and local food producers and vineyards.
Best animals: Clevedon Animal Farm has donkeys, horses, goats, sheep and dogs in a garden amphitheatre.
Best markets: Clevedon Village Farmers' Market, Sundays 8.30am-12pm, Clevedon Showgrounds. The Clevedon Village Craft Market is on Sundays at the Village Hall, and the Whitford Market is on the third Saturday of the month in Wharf Rd, with food, wine and art.