Mid-term and looking for a rest from routine, Danielle Wright gathered up her family and their gumboots, and headed for the hills.

Things just taste better in the country. We're sitting around a cottage kitchen table eating farm-fresh bacon and eggs, while smothering home-made butter on our toast and sipping the purest tap water that was filtered through the earth beneath us.

After a short drive from Auckland and a restful sleep under a country night sky, we're up early for a walk in the fields followed by a farm tour with host Sue Dudding at Waitapu Farms, near Wellsford.

The land is shaped like a cowboy boot and has been added to over the years by owner Greg Partington, who lives in the big house on the hill overlooking our holiday home, Radcliffe Cottage.

A few years ago, Greg welcomed visitors to his property by turning a worker's house into an upmarket B&B. He offers farm tours and picnics, as well as the chance to milk a cow.

A couple of beef farmers from Wisconsin stayed last week and were amazed at the cows freely walking around the fields.

"What do they do when it snows?" they asked, explaining how theirs stayed inside big barns night and day, all through the year.

Later, some Japanese visitors stopped the farm tour to lie down in the grass and take pictures of the wild turkeys in the fields.

An English couple wept when they got to the picnic spot at the top of the hill overlooking the Hen and Chickens Islands - so homesick were they for the green fields of home after an extended world trip.

Sometimes it takes a visitor to point out what's special about our rural way of life, so we follow their footsteps on the farm tour. Hundreds of tiny white butterflies guide us through the wild flowers to our picnic spot.

We're offered home-baked chocolate cupcakes, cookie-cutter shaped sandwiches and snacks to keep the kids happy, filled rolls, a selection of delicious double cream Puhoi cheeses, and coffee for the adults.

There are beaches nearby - Pakiri is just down the road, while Te Arai, a little further north, offers stretches of white sand lined by dunes and pine plantations, and Mangawhai is about 20 minutes away. All are beautiful to walk along.

It's a lovely evening so we decide on a dinner of fish 'n' chips on the riverbank at Warkworth. From our picnic table we can see the historic Jane Gifford, New Zealand's last remaining rigged sailing scow, moored at the wharf.

The next morning, we're up early to catch the last of the morning milking. James Blunt is singing to the cows from a stereo - the music is good for milk supply, I'm told. There are more than 800 cows on the 400ha farm.

The peaceful, breathtaking scenery at the farmstay soothed our city souls, as we experienced a way of life that was a mystery to us, but which produces food we rely on every day.

A lot of hard work goes into the breakfasts we take for granted - we just wished they tasted as good at home.

Traveller's tips
Getting there: Waitapu Farms is on School Rd, just north of Wellsford, about an hour's drive north of Auckland. Radcliffe Cottage sleeps six and costs $180 double/night, with an extra cost for farm activities like a farm tour and picnic ($65 per adult, $35 per child) or dairy experience ($20 per adult, $15 per child). To book contact Sue Dudding, ph (09) 425 0244. If you're travelling with kids, a good time to stay is calving season, which lasts for eight weeks between July and September.

Supplies: Stock up at the Matakana Farmers' Market, every Saturday from 9am-1pm.