Matakana: Ride easy through wine country

Elisabeth Easter cruises along the cycle trails between Matakana and Omaha.

The 7km of cycle trail goes from Matakana to Omaha Beach, with a side trail to Point Wells.
The 7km of cycle trail goes from Matakana to Omaha Beach, with a side trail to Point Wells.

Perched high upon a hill, 127m above sea level with views extending beyond the Barriers all the way to Coromandel, Matakana Country Lodge is the perfect place to get away from the bustle of city life.

We were here to test-ride the new cycleway network and check out the site of next weekend's Omaha Classic race, but because we were so close to the sea we had to fit in our favourite water sports, too.

With our bags down and the room admired, first on our agenda was the new vogue in ocean fun - stand-up paddle-boarding with Matt from Matakana Beach Outfitters. Matt and family have recently returned to start a paddle and surf business after five years in Costa Rica. In six months, business is already booming.

As we threaded our way to picturesque Mathesons Bay, the wind was having a bit of blow, but happily the offshore reef and rocks provided protection from the bulk of the bluster.

SUP-ing isn't quite as easy as it looks and our first foray was tackled gingerly. At first, the wind brought us to our knees but, once balanced, we found our feet and soon were paddling the bay with proficiency, admiring the see-through sea. Then, when it all started to get a bit easy, Matt threw some challenges into the mix and it was into the drink with me. Happily the water was warm and the landing soft.

Suckers for a good time, we were keen for a surf at Omaha, too. Even though our bodies had already taken a hammering, we had enough oomph left to catch a few waves. With instructions plus timely boosts from Matt, pretty soon we were carving up those two-foot glassies. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but we both caught a couple of waves and, most importantly, had fun. Omaha is the sweetest beach with plenty of room for everyone to enjoy the waves without feeling like a danger to society.

Back at our digs, warming up in the spa, it soon registered on our salty brains that we were starving. In the village, Matakana Market Kitchen lived up to the hype: it was impossible to figure out what to order so we opted to share a few entrees. We can heartily recommend the mushrooms, scallops and ceviche. The Jaffagato dessert (home-made chocolate icecream, Cointreau, espresso and biscotti) was worth the trip alone and the service was superb.

We woke up the next morning to the gentle sounds of magpies, cicadas, a sheep or two and some roosters. Peaceful and elegant, with welcoming hosts and impressive gardens, everything at the lodge adds up to create a delightful break away. Susan's home-made muesli was so good I'd have bought a sack if she sold it. Happily, that day we didn't need to stay afloat, so I could fuel up for my bike ride.

The 7km of cycle trail extends from Matakana to Omaha Beach, with a side trail to Point Wells. Matakana Bicycle Hire kitted us up with very comfortable cruiser bikes and off we set toward Morris and James Pottery.

Stopping for coffee felt like the right thing to do, ditto admiring their stunning pots and wares. Apart from negotiating the 100 or so metres of main road terror, the rest of the path towards Point Wells is an easy grade one that wends its way through wine country, with enough steep hills to keep riders honest.

Here and there, I imagined it was how cycling through rural France might be. The trails aren't completely signposted yet, but soon the amazing pottery people will be erecting ceramic columns to show cyclists the way. These trails will make excellent day rides because there are so many places to stop along the way, at cafes, for icecreams or swims.

Before heading home, there was just one more thing to do: oyster-shucking. Mahurangi has recently been invaded by mansions, infinity pools and private tennis courts, but the coolest thing round these parts is Mahurangi Oysters. Andrew and Lisa (plus puppy Bill) have been farming oysters for 20 years and their molluscs grace the tables of some of the country's finest restaurants.

Oysters also make awesome presents; nothing says "I love you" like a shucking tool and a dozen oysters in the shell. This dynamic duo have big plans for expansion, too, and their barge, The Shuckle Ferry, will soon be taking visitors on tours to the oyster beds, for shucking, sipping and merriment.

Devouring a few dozen oysters at mollusc HQ, straight from the sea, salty like the ocean, lemon-drizzled and peppercorned, this traditional delicacy is taken to a whole new level. Top marks all round.

NEED TO KNOW

Matakana Country Lodge

Matakana Beach Outfitters: The team is hosting a day-long women's retreat (April 27) with a lesson, tour, some gentle SUP yoga, lunch and a hike.

Matakana Bicycle Hire

Mahurangi Oysters

Matakana Market Kitchen

Omaha Classic Run/Walk: Fraser Reserve (by Omaha Beach Surf Life Saving Club), 57 Broadlands Drive. Saturday April 12, 8-11am. This Matakana School fundraiser is popular with serious runners and youngsters over a charming scenic route from boardwalks to dunes. Choose from 10km run, 8km run/walk, 5km run or the 2km kids' dash.

Walk, Cycle, Plant: Sunday April 13, 10am-4pm. Free Walk or cycle the Matakana to Omaha Walk/Cycleway (start at either end) and stop to plant a tree on the way. Bring your own native tree or select one from those provided on the trail by the Matakana Community Group.

Elisabeth was the guest of Matakana Coast Wine Country.

- NZ Herald

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