A visit to a blueberry farm is entertaining for the whole family, discovers Alexia Santamaria.
While our vegetable garden is helping my kids understand where veges come from, fruit is still a bit of a mystery to them. I wouldn't be surprised if they thought apples grow in bags in the supermarket and strawberries come from a berry factory. We had heard great things about Monavale Blueberries, New Zealand's largest certified organic blueberry orchard, so decided to go on an educational trip for the boys and a culinary adventure for us.
We thought blueberries would be nice as part of a picnic and had heard the children's play area in Parana Park in Hamilton had been revamped earlier this year, so the mission was on - a trip to Monavale to pick blueberries and a locally sourced Waikato riverside picnic in Hamilton afterwards.
Monavale is about two hours' drive south of Auckland, so we dropped in on Hamilton on our way there to pick up picnic supplies from the farmers' market. What a score! Killer brioche and an amazing San Francisco sourdough from local Volare Breads (and, much to our surprise, a very good gluten-free loaf from Bella Pane breads in Cambridge too); beautiful apple and feijoa juice from Roy's Home Harvest in Tamahere; a fabulous danish cream from Cloudy Mountain Cheeses in Pirongia (and the most divine blue from Pukeatua Peak goat's milk cheeses); South Island salmon smoked in Huntly; and some of the best boysenberries I've ever tasted from Bruntwood Gardens in Cambridge.
Fully stocked, we loaded the chilly bin and headed for Monavale. It was around 11am by this point and the boys were getting hungry, so on arrival we checked out the lovely cafe for some blueberry muffins and pure blueberry juice for me. Talk about an amazing antioxidant hit.
Set amongst 20ha of more than 42,000 blueberry bushes, Cafe Irrestistiblue is a destination in itself. It has a lovely play area for kids and a huge deck with enormous wooden tables and benches. They also sell all manner of blueberry products: jams, sauces, icecreams, juices, liqueurs and chutneys.
Refuelled, it was time to get picking.
The season doesn't start until mid-December, so we were being given a sneak preview by the owners. Kath and Marco taught the boys how to pick the perfect blueberry and they set about looking for the bluest of blue fruit.
We all really enjoyed it and the blueberries tasted divine. Unfortunately we had to confiscate them on the way back to Hamilton when we realised our little men had both consumed about half the contents of their bags en route.
Forty minutes' drive through pretty Waikato countryside and we were back in Hamilton to find a picnic spot in lovely Parana Park. The Potter Children's Garden is a paradise for kids with fountains, bridges, tunnels, wading pools, a giant kowhai flower-shaped slide, swings, a kowhai leaf-shaped viewing platform over the river and gorgeous tui and egg sculptures to play in.
There's also a netted house filled with birds to look at and hours of fun to be had - you can imagine how hard it was trying to tear the kids away.
The perfect lunch spot for our gourmet Waikato picnic and even the very average weather couldn't dampen our day.
Best of all the kids really got excited about where fruit comes from and were thrilled that next time they saw a punnet of blueberries in the fruit shop, they would know where it originated and how the people picked exactly the right ones.
We'll know what summer job to send them to when they are teenagers and driving us crazy.
* Hamilton Farmers' Market, 204 River Rd. Every Sunday morning from 8am-12pm.
* Monavale Blueberries, corner Turkington and Wallace Rds, Monavale, Cambridge. Ph (07) 827 9456.
* Cafe is open seven days from 9am-4.30pm and Fridays to 10.30pm.
* Pick-your-own available from mid-December to early March (call first to check) and is weather-dependent.
* Parana Park, the Potter Children's Garden, Parana Park, River Rd, Hamilton (further down past the farmers' market at the end of River Rd. You can park on River Rd and enter through Memorial Park).By Alexia Santamaria