We escaped the pre-Christmas madness to relax and unwind in Clevedon. And as we watched the evening sunshine play on the contours of the layered, rolling hills, it's easy to forget that Auckland City is less than an hour's drive away. A swift jaunt down the Southern Motorway seems a small price to pay for the beauty of this getaway.
For two luxurious nights, the countryside east of Clevedon is our private escape from the city during a stay at Puriri Hills Vineyard and Lodge.
When we're not idling away our days walking the hills and the beaches along the serene coastline just five minutes' down the road, we're indulging in bargain buys at the local Clevedon opshop and brand-new retail therapy at Acorns of Clevedon — surely a contender for best gift shop in the country, despite its obscure location.
I'd always written Clevedon off as a retirees' destination or a place for horsey types. Not that there's anything wrong with either of those groups, but I'm not among them. So, I was surprised to find Clevedon had plenty of appeal for me with its walks, laid-back feel and great beaches within easy reach.
Puriri Hills Vineyard and Lodge is five minutes' drive from Clevedon village. Owners Judy Fowler and Phil Nunweek opened their countryside home as a luxury boutique lodge in 2000. They have since established themselves as producers of one of New Zealand's top merlot-based red wines.
The lodge is a self-contained wing of their house with its own entrance, a comfortable living and dining room with built-in kitchen facilities, two bedrooms and a luxurious bathroom with expansive views into a private walled fern garden. It can accommodate two to four people with a king-size bed in one bedroom and twin beds in the other, convertible to a king.
Meals can be taken in the guest suite or in the dining room of the home, looking out over the hills to the Tamaki Straits and beyond, to the Hauraki Gulf. The Coromandel is also visible on the horizon.
The lodge experience is also an opportunity for Fowler to display her passion for food. Local ingredients are championed, including fresh citrus from her own land; locally hand-made cheeses; Clevedon oysters, local fish and New Zealand lamb and venison.
The lodge is hard to leave, thanks to its beauty, sense of calm and the feeling that, once you have driven up this beautifully groomed driveway, there's no need to rush back to the city.
Getting there: Take the Southern Motorway exit at Manukau, turn left in Redoubt Rd and veer into Mill Rd, then Alfriston Rd, Brookby Rd and into West Rd. Follow signs to Clevedon.
Where to stay: Puriri Hills Vineyard and Lodge, 398 North Rd, Clevedon. Ph: (09) 292 9264. Accommodation for two people, breakfast and a complimentary bottle of wine are included in the price.
Things to do: Enjoy fresh Clevedon oysters at the fresh fish shop on the left at the beginning of Clevedon Village. Their battered fish is surprisingly light and beautifully fresh.
• Wander around the quaint Clevedon village to visit the delicatessen, the Visitors' Centre and the outstandingly well-stocked Acorns of Clevedon gift shop.
• Visit the Clevedon Village Farmers' Market, which runs every Sunday from 8.30am to 12pm at the Clevedon Showgrounds on Monument Rd.