I'd heard that there is a good playground here, and there is, but for once we are able to ignore it and enjoy our coffee in peace at the Blossoms Cafe.
When you've got two young children, having someone offer to look after them for 24 hours while you have a break is a rare opportunity. What to do with it? You can't go too far - travel time cuts into sleeping time, plus what if you need to get home in a hurry? - but you need to feel like you have actually been away, not just hiding down the road.
Given such a window of opportunity recently, we decide to spend our escape time in the Kaipara. Close enough to get to without much of a drive -- just 45 minutes -- we are tempted by the opportunity to relax in a hot pool without being jumped on by little people, and to explore somewhere different.
Along the way we stop at the Boric Food Market, on the corner of the Coatesville-Riverhead Highway, to stock up on adult treats: a bottle of red wine, good-quality Dutch cheese and extra-dark chocolate. I'd heard that there is a good playground here, and there is, but for once we are able to ignore it and enjoy our coffee in peace at the Blossoms Cafe, next door.
Our accommodation for the night is Parakai Springs Lodge, over the river from Helensville and opposite the Parakai Springs and Palm Springs hot pools. An upmarket alternative to a motel, it is in new condition and has all the things we wanted for our night away: a super-king-size bed, a private hot mineral pool on the deck, wine glasses, and no children in sight.
Tempted though we are to just take a nap, we feel we should have a look around, but don't get any further than cruising over the road to Palm Springs.
These pools have a relaxed atmosphere -- a chance to soak rather than hydrosliding -- and on returning to the room we end up taking that nap anyway.
Heading out in search of dinner, we find downtown Helensville quiet, so drive for 10 minutes up the road to the welcoming Kaukapapa Village Hotel for a beer and a decent pub meal. And that's about as exciting as our night away gets. Then it is back to the lodge for a dip in our own private spa -- just the right temperature, with fresh, hot mineral water on tap -- and our treats of the cheese, wine and chocolate.
After a much-needed sleep-in, the Ginger Crunch Cafe at the Helensville Railway Station seems to be the place to go for brunch; the place is humming in the spring sunshine, with beautiful-looking home baking and large breakfasts. There's also a small art gallery and an antique shop for poking around in, and a railway museum along the tracks, which we decide to save for a visit with the kids.
Refuelled, we head back up the road past Kaukapakapa to the Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens, a hidden gem with a garden centre and cafe with a nice play area. The weather is looking a bit grey, but we head off optimistically on the trail through the beautiful gardens, including native plantings, fruit trees and flowering plants. Because we are pram-free for once, we are also able to explore a newly opened loop through the lower, native bush part of the property, from which pests are being eradicated. There are lovely views out to the harbour through the trees, and some interesting sculptures to admire.
The clock is ticking on our time off, so we head back to town. Tempted by the many vineyards of Kumeu, but aware of the difficulties of drinking and parenting, we instead opt for a delicious freshly made strawberry icecream and handmade gelato at the funky Juicy Strawberries outlet on State Highway 16, on the city side of Kumeu.
It was just the break we needed: not too far to go, and some new discoveries.
Next time we'll bring the kids.
Need to know
• Parakai Springs Lodge, 153 Parkhurst Rd, Parakai.
• Cafes and shops at the Helensville Railway Station.
• Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens, 1481 Kaipara Coast Highway (SH16), 4km north of Kaukapakapa Village.
• Juicy New Zealand Strawberries, 505 State Highway 16, Kumeu.