Auckland best day-trip for food, nature and culture

NZ Herald
By Sally Blyth
Not for sale
Not for sale

Sally Blyth checks out what's on offer just an hour north of Auckland.

For Market Lovers

Matakana Village (Australasia's first "Slow Town", 2006) promotes local goods and produce with a focus on freshness, quality, innovation and sustainability.

The weekly Farmers' Market (Saturdays 8am-1pm) always hums. Against a riverside backdrop and toe-tapping live music, stallholders offer edible enticements with a smile. A dog-sitting service at the entrance is both entertaining and useful. The craft-oriented market in the adjacent old Creamery is also worth a decent browse.

Be sure to wander westward along Matakana Rd to find local designers, vintage treasures and more. The village can get busy, especially during summer, but recent improvements to parking, in response to its popularity, are welcome.

For Wine Lovers

In one of the most diverse wine regions in the country, you can rock up to a boutique vineyard to sample different wine styles, enjoy stunning views and chat with the winemaker. Most wineries are family-owned and operated, with specific opening days/hours, some by appointment only.

For Food Lovers

Summer brings a bounty of strawberries, blueberries and sweetcorn. Roadside stalls sell produce, often organic, year-round under an honesty system; look out for the hand-written signs.

There are also many excellent eateries in the area.

Smith's: Rustic blacksmith meets 60s bach decor, eclectic menu items in a rural equestrian setting.
8 Wired Barrelworks & Tap Room: Award-winning craft brewery in an industrial space with a slick interior and rotating food trucks at weekends.
The Matakana: Historic village pub serving good food with friendly service.
MMK (Matakana Market Kitchen): Ideal for a quality meal by the river, inside or out.
Alma: Plant-based wholefood plus a range of regular workshops.
The Leigh Sawmill Cafe (not to be confused with the Sawmill Brewery): Long-established eatery and music venue with a laidback vibe and kid-friendly outdoor area.
Omaha Beach Cafe & Eatery: Tasty treats and great coffee, beachside.
The Farmer's Daughter: Fresh innovative food with a sustainable focus, by the peaceful Omaha estuary.
Whanga Eats: A treat of a place, nestled in the Whangaripo Valley.
Viet Q Foodtruck: Pull over opposite the school for seriously good Vietnamese food prepared by Phuong and her cheerful team. Open 5-8pm Thurs-Sat.
Matakana Oysters: The Green Shed on Leigh Rd was set up in 2006 to sell Pacific oysters fresh off the Mahurangi Harbour. There's a scallywag charm to the operation. Humour, a good yarn and delicious oysters guaranteed. Eat there or takeaway. Open Thurs-Sun 10am-5pm in season (and often other days too).

The famous Matakana Oyster Shack. Photo / Supplied
The famous Matakana Oyster Shack. Photo / Supplied

For Art Lovers

Sculptureum: More than a decade in the making, this is a sculpture park, gallery and museum in one destination, featuring three sculpture-filled gardens, six art galleries, a vineyard, events space and the excellent Rothko restaurant and bar. The collection of works is astounding, gathered over many years by owners Anthony and Sandra Grant and beautifully showcased on Omaha Flats Rd.

Brick Bay: An innovative offering in a stunning location. Enjoy lunch at The Glass House restaurant and enjoy the Sculpture Trail set among the vines, lakes and trees, it's the largest collection of outdoor sculpture for sale in NZ. Open daily.

Brick Bay Sculpture Trail. Photo / Supplied
Brick Bay Sculpture Trail. Photo / Supplied

Morris & James Pottery: A local institution. Practical, decorative pottery items for sale, in a haven of vibrant colour. Catch an informative factory tour, daily at 11.30am. The attractive courtyard café has been recently revitalised.

Art Matakana: A contemporary gallery within the grounds of Matakana Country Park selling works by well-known and emerging artists, in a wide variety of media.

For Beach Lovers

Omaha Beach: With a growing permanent population, Omaha offers much more than a magnificent beach and top-notch golf course. The ever-changing foreshore, framed for eternity by hills, sea and sand dunes, is perfect for a contemplative walk. Or power your way around the network of pathways.

Goat Island: A Marine Reserve near Leigh great for snorkelling, diving, swimming with fish and kayaking (see-through "clearyaks" for hire). Visit the Marine Discovery Centre. Take a trip on a glass-bottom boat (seasonal).

Surfing: Plenty of surf breaks in the area – Omaha is great for beginners while Daniel's Reef at Leigh keeps proficient surfers amused. Pākiri Beach and Tawharanui can turn on the waves.

For Nature Lovers

Tawharanui Regional Park: With ideal swimming and surfing, grassed areas with shady trees, and walking trails, this north-facing park on the peninsula is perfect for picnics. It's also a popular campsite. Go kiwi-spotting in the evening with Kiwiness Tours.

The Omaha Shorebirds Sanctuary: A haven for birdlife, including endangered dotterels, and bar-tailed godwits that arrive from Alaska to nest from September to March.

Godwits at Omaha. Photo / Supplied
Godwits at Omaha. Photo / Supplied

Matakana Cycle Trail: A mix of off-road shared paths, cycle lanes and quiet roads (some gravel) the trail goes through farmland and bush; an ideal way to see the countryside. Hire bikes from Matakana Bicycle Hire.

Ti Point Coastal Walkway: Boardwalks and coastal paths take you from the wharf to the open grassy area of Ti Point Scenic Reserve.Two hours return, some minor scrambling involved. Even venturing half-way is spectacular and worthwhile.

Mt Tamahunga Walkway: Accessed via private farmland, head up the ridge, through the forest to the summit (1.5 hours one-way). Return the same way, or head down to several other destinations (pickup required). Fitness necessary.

Pākiri Beach Horse Rides: Canter along the unspoiled beach, trot through the undulating dunes, trek through native bush, pine forests and lush farmland – seeing this landscape from horseback adds a new dimension.

For Families

Matakana County Park: A wide range of family-friendly activities: mini-train rides; animals; horse & carriage and pony rides; an adventure playground. There's a craft shop, art gallery, cafe and restaurants as well as a small picturesque church, a fitness centre, bike hire and military-style action activities.

Rothko in Matakana. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas
Rothko in Matakana. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Matakana Cinemas: Three beautifully-themed, intimate theatres screen new releases and arthouse films in comfort. Paradiso's ceiling is decorated with 32,000 roses, its walls adorned with tūī and pīwakawaka.

Warkworth District Museum: Learn about the rich colonial history through beautifully presented displays, including recreated rooms of the 1920s. The museum is set in Parry Kauri Park, a fabulous public amenity where you can stroll along the boardwalk through native bush.

On the Water: Take a leisurely cruise on the Matakana River, or get on board the Shuckleferry to learn about the local oysters. Hop aboard the Royal Mail Run Cruise to Kawau Island or explore the local coast and islands with Gulf Eco Adventures.

Where to stay

From high-end luxury to relaxed camping – and everything in between – the accommodation options cater for all needs and budgets.
•Rent a quality holiday home from Omaha Holiday Houses.
•Relax in superior comfort at Takatu Lodge & Vineyard.
•For versatility and tranquillity, a luxury bach at Riverside Matakana.
•Stay close to the action at Matakana Motel.
•Book a private villa at Plume Villas for an upmarket and peaceful stay.
•Enjoy a private cottage: BeauRegard; White Cottage; Hurstmere.
•Go glamping in a Tepee at Big Omaha.
•Try a local farm stay experience.
Pākiri Beach Holiday Park is ideal for families, with its playground by the estuary and many amenities.

With something for everyone, and its own micro-climate, it's no wonder the locals love their slice of paradise – so close to the city, yet so secluded.

Sally Blyth runs BEYOND Personal Travel Companion Services, offering travel support and ultra-small group tours to seniors, singles and anyone desiring assistance to travel. See

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