Departing Auckland on a sizzling day, I head south to Bracu, where Beretta, the illustrious 500-year-old Italian gun manufacturer has set up a range. Combining the green peace of the country with the heart-pounding thrill of hitting targets, and adding exquisite food, this day trip is hard to beat.
Pulling off the motorway at Bombay, picturesque rural lanes deliver us to Simunovich Olive Estate. Spread over 96ha, this property has more than 25,000 olive trees. Nick, who manages the shooting side of the business, chauffeurs us along rutted roads to the firing line. Arriving at a small pond, we're greeted by some relaxed ducks who quack about, confident that the bullets whizzing past their beaks are not intended for them.
With five activities on offer, you can try your hand at clay bird shooting, air rifles, air pistols, archery and throwing knives.
Sharpening my eye, I take a stainless steel blade and feel its weight. After Nick gives us some pointers, we're away, and at first, simply getting the knife to impale the target feels like success. (Although it's disconcerting to hear about the hen party who taped a picture of the groom on to the knife block: possibly not the best way to start married life.)
Knives down, next up is archery where I play out my "Robyn" Hood fantasies. Donning protective gear, and taking up weapons, our choice of targets include a traditional bullseye or foam deer. The twang of the string followed by the thudding sigh of an arrow finding its mark is so satisfying. It turns out my companion is a dab hand, which he reminds me about over lunch, and all the next day.
Third station: air rifles, where the targets are the outlines of men (bad guys I'm sure), a series of square tin plates that make a most satisfying ting, or a line of clay birds strung along the top wire, which explode with a spectacular burst of shrapnel when struck.
Inching our way closer to the clay bird range, we have one last chance to try our hand at air pistols. We fill our cartridges with pellets before slotting the magazines into the handle, the preparation ritual almost as pleasing as pulling the trigger.
Finally, we arrive at the clay bird range, facing the nonchalant ducks and geese across the lake. Here things take a serious turn - protective vests, earmuffs and safety goggles are called for - and as for those double-barrel Beretta shotguns, they are works of art. Like the Ferrari of weapons, a top-of-the-line piece will set you back about $100,000 because Beretta aficionados mean business.
Before our trigger fingers are let loose, Nick explains where each of the five clay birds will come from, where to focus, where to line up the eye and, most importantly, when to fire.
We are soon calling "pull", whereupon the birds - orange discs - Frisbee into the air and explode against the sky.
With heavy hearts we lay down our guns but there is light at the end of the tunnel: we are about to have lunch at Bracu.
Sitting on the veranda of the lovingly restored kauri villa, the four-course set menu with matched wine starts appearing at our table, each dish prettier than the last.
Tiny beads of caviar, quail eggs, locally sourced edible flowers - from the heritage beetroot salad to the wakame fish with smoked potato, the venison loin to the passion fruit souffle, it all hits the spot quite nicely - another bullseye.
Hit the target
Just 40 minutes' drive from Auckland, Beretta at Bracu is the only shooting adventure of its kind in the region. And the food, service and extensive wine library at Bracu are superb.
Beretta at Bracu
Simunovich Olive Estate
49 Main Rd
09 236 1033