Catherine Smith dines out on superb views and on a clifftop walk in Mangawhai.
There is a very easy way to entice me out of town and into my walking shoes: put the words "catered" into the name of your hiking business and I'll be there. Although hosts Natalie and Jac Spyksma should have warned us that there were hazards in their Catered Coast Walks, and it ain't the walking or the coast.
The Spyksma's food - all sourced from their garden, their chooks, their local farmers - is enough to topple you into some kind of torpid bliss and abandon all thoughts of exercise.
Luckily the husband and I had resolved that this, the first weekend in spring, would be the start of our Operation Fit and Fabulous, so we were loaded up for any weather eventuality with hiking boots, layers of Icebreaker, rain jackets, sun block and were ready to pound the beautiful east coast between Mangawhai Heads and Waipu.
A mere 90 minutes out of Auckland, this stretch covers golden beaches, craggy rock formations, farmland and bush, as well as some great Department of Conservation land and a section of the national Te Araroa walkway.
Nat and Jac are the sort of people who think long-term. When these gardeners and landscapers built their family eco-house in the newly developed Lang's Cove subdivision 13 years ago, they specified one wing of the house be suitable to convert to a bed and breakfast when their then-teen kids left home.
Two double bedrooms and a rumpus/third bedroom all share stunning views of the Lang's coast, using smart passive energy and water and handsome macrocarpa beams sourced from the farm.
They cleared scraggy pines, planted manuka and began nursing native seedlings back into the formerly gorse-covered farm. Their grandchildren will enjoy the eventual bush haven they have created. Meanwhile we could make the most of their vege gardens, chicken coops and fruit orchards, all tucked out of the wind in their beautiful grounds.
More importantly, the couple have worked with neighbours to carve walking tracks from their farms and across to meet established walks to Mangawhai Heads on one direction and old Waipu in the other.
We arrived from work in the dusk, so had no idea of the view awaiting us in our east-facing bedroom - water, cliffs, trees.
Nat helped us plan our two days of walking (there are three-day packages available too) to suit the tides and our enthusiasm: we opted for the harder six-hour walk on day one - across farmland to meet the DOC and Te Araroa walk to Mangawhai Heads, saving the gentler ramble to Lang's Beach for the Sunday.
This smaller walk usually joins the Lion's Club coastal trail to Waipu, but weeks of wet weather meant the trail was closed, so we'll save that for another true summer hike.
After breakfast of fresh brown eggs from the resident chooks, lunch made from a fresh loaf of bread, and loaded up with baking and slices and fruit we headed out with Jac to start our trail.
Slogging through the very boggy farmland, it was hard not to console ourselves with thoughts of more food - all those lovely lambs to roast, the sweetest little calves for milk-fed veal - but once we emerged to the start of the Te Araroa clifftop walk, the views ahead were sufficiently distracting.
The well cared-for paths end in steps to the beach at both ends - a joy to head down en-route to lunch at Mangawhai Heads surf club, a tortuous 30-something flights to labour up on the way home from the aptly named Archway Rock ("Feels like forever, but it's only 15 minutes" Jac had cheerfully promised us).
Luckily there were level rest spots among some of the most handsome groves of nikau palms I've ever seen, and, on the beach, curiously Punakaiki-like rock formations and some great clambering walks. Then that climb back up the hill.
After a hot bath, more snacks and a great dinner, all was forgiven. By morning we were ready to go again, this time Nat taking us out to Bald Bluff where we were after a view of the groves and groves of yellow kowhai, just in flower. Nothing says New Zealand spring better, especially when combined with a drunken tui or 10.
We were grateful to hear that at any time on the walks, a quick phone call back to Nat and Jac will bring them out in their car to give you a ride home - a useful option if the weather turns, or, more likely, you need to get back for a nap after eating too much packed lunch.
At the end of the weekend we took the easy route home via Waipu - driving this time - for a pleasant country hour or two poking in the shops on the prettily historic main street.
It was fun, if daunting, looking for the names of great-great grandparents on the manifest of the sailing ships from Nova Scotia - far too many Munros and McLeods to spot our clan.
We consoled ourselves with some of the best pizza we've had for a while from the famous-in-Waipu Pizza Barn (chocka with locals early on a Sunday, full of quirky memorabilia, smart and friendly service).
Safely well fed, and somewhat fitter, a good start to the summer programme, then.
Catered Coast Walks: 1441 Cove Rd, Langs Beach ph 09 4321 124 021 270 5816. Two-day package (food, accommodation, map and guiding, transfers) $339; three days $479 per person.
Waipu Pizza Barn: 2 Cove Rd, Waipu, ph 09 432 1011.
Catherine Smith was a guest of Catered Coast Walks.