In Paparoa, the sun is shining, the chocolate croissants are crispy and everyone has time to chat. Chris Schulz discovers Auckland's best kept secret is just 90 minutes away.
Saturday, 10.30am: Today is truly a miracle. Not only was the car packed and full of kids by 9am but we didn't require a single emergency stop. In just 90 minutes, we've driven north and arrived at our destination, Paparoa, surely Auckland's best kept secret. It's a small spot that's easy to find: head north on State Highway 1, turn left at Brynderwyn and you're there. We pull up next to the farmers' market and within 10 minutes we're greeted as if we're long-lost friends. Within 20, my daughter's fallen in love with a lamb at the market stalls, forced us to buy olives and halloumi and she's found New Zealand's greatest chocolate croissants at a small cafe called Folk Espresso and Boulangerie across the road. She has a nose for these things. She could make a career out of it.
Midday: We check into the Paparoa Hotel. It's a great set-up with three guest rooms attached to a pub and restaurant inside, all of which have been recently renovated. But they're too small for a family of four, so we're staying in the two-bedroom cottage out the back. Another great set-up: we have a private courtyard with a swing, picnic table and plenty of grass for the kids to run around on. But we can't stay too long: the pub's friendly owners have packed us a picnic and there are sights to see.
1pm: We unpack our picnic on Pahi Beach. It's a beautiful spot that's so quiet it's hard to believe. As we nibble on sandwiches and quiches, with the sun streaming down, we see just a handful of faces - including a dad kayaking past us with his son. As we breath in the fresh, salty air, and relax in the piece and quiet, we can't help but think we've found something pretty special. We've lived in Auckland for more than 10 years - how come we've never heard of Paparoa until now?
2pm: Just up the road from Pahi is a popular tourist spot: The Kauri Museum. They have so much kauri and kauri gum it's ridiculous, entire rooms dedicated to slabs of the stuff. It is fascinating wandering through the halls, listening to the history of kauri felling and gum collection, checking out what must surely be the country's biggest collection of chainsaws, and finding displays of small insects stuck inside gum. Isn't that how Jurassic Park started?
3.30pm: My daughter's managed to secure an invite to The Chapel, an olive grove and farm where the sleepy little lamb from the farmers' market lives. For the first time in her life she gets to feed one. As it guzzles greedily from the milk bottle she's holding out for it, the grin across her face says it all. She couldn't be happier. Farm life suits her. Me? There's a little too much sheep poo stuck to my white sneakers to fully embrace it.
6pm: We're back at Paparoa Hotel to try their extensive dinner menu. The kids order their faves: chicken and fish with chips, but we're taken by a menu that showcases local suppliers, including fresh oysters and flounder from the Kaipara Harbour, and a nice range of handmade pies, burgers and pizzas. But their speciality is beef cheeks with a dark, rich sauce with hints of chocolate. We choose that one, and it's the sheer definition of hearty. When we get back to our room to put the kids to bed, the fire's already been lit. We couldn't be cosier.
10pm: We end our night by sneaking around to the bar for a quick game of pool and a drink with a gang of locals. Everyone is friendly here, so we see out our night playing pool while chatting with everyone who comes in the door. Lovely.
Sunday, 10am: We're back at Folk for more croissants, extremely good coffee and some of their amazing sourdough. The bakery is open only on weekends but is so good it's worth the visit just to sample their goods. We also pick up a few presents at the gift shop, which is in the same store and stocked full of interesting, unique goodies. Pretty much everyone who comes through the door stops for a chat. No one, it seems, is in a rush.
Midday: We reluctantly have to check out of Paparoa Hotel, but before we do, we return to the restaurant during a rowdy midday service and order a round of pizzas. There are board games for the kids to enjoy while they wait, and plenty of locals tucking into plates full of burgers and chips. The vibe is fun and lively, everything you want from a friendly little local.
2pm: We can't do it. We can't leave just yet. So we stop to let the kids enjoy a local school playground. The caretaker is there, fixing up a few things. We start talking, our kids get along great and suddenly an hour has passed by. As we say goodbye, he invites us back to stay in his guest house. We'll definitely be going. After just one night, we've decided Paparoa is a little slice of heaven, and it already feels like a second home.
• For booking at Paparoa Hotel, visit paparoahotel.nz; for the Kauri Museum, visit kau.nz.