It only seems like a long and winding road that leads to the door of Kourawhero Lodge.

Less than 7km from Warkworth, it feels far from rush and bustle, especially as we arrive after dark and a morepork is hooting near our garden suite.

Inside, the lights are low, the gas fire flickering and the bed huge. Soothing music comes from a docked iPod and it's tempting to blob for the night, but down the path at the lodge there is food and wine and a friendly welcome.

Unlike most luxury lodges, Kourawhero is a family business and one of the four is always on duty. Tonight Michael and Jenni join us for dinner, and over wild goat fillet, roasted salmon and an exquisite hot chocolate fondant, they outline our weekend in Matakana Coast Wine Country.

Our first stop in the morning is the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, where we wander around the lake past neat rows of grapevines and through bush while studying the installations along the path.

We feel $28,000 for a sagging girder on a hillside is money we probably wouldn't spend, but a stainless steel nautilus shell etched with sea-themed words is a beautiful thing and if we only had a stray $63,000, we would take it home with us.

Back at the Glass House, which defies the convention that all wineries should look like Tuscan villas, Richard and Christine expand on their twin passions: wine and sculpture. Architecture comes a close third, and Richard urges us to inspect Matakana's cinemas.

On the way, Charlie's Gelato Garden draws us in. Denser than icecream but lower in fat, gelato is best eaten fresh, and Charlie's 23 flavours are made every morning from scratch using local produce. It is so delicious we doubt there would be any left at the end of the day anyway, and the stream of eager customers supports that. Next door is more of Charlie's artistry: a gallery of prints, some his, others by local artists.

The visual treats continue in the centre of Matakana. In the new complex that leads down to the river, the weekly Farmers' Market is in full swing on the far side of the courtyard. We are diverted by the slow food produced by enthusiasts and wish we had known to bring our knives for sharpening.

Upstairs, Matakana's cinemas are eye-popping. The Tivoli has a huge amber chandelier suspended above the seats, which include reclining armchairs and double snuggle seats. Next door, the Paradiso's ceiling is covered with 30,000 paper flowers with flocks of tui and fantails around the edge; in the smaller Roxy, draped fabric gives an intimate feel.

In the foyer is The Vintry, where cinema-goers can select from a wide choice of NZ wines and are encouraged to take a glass into the movie. We are smitten with deepest envy.

A red-spotted cup of tea restores us at Brookview Tea House, where homemade goodies are displayed on the tiered stand. It's a lovely old house with moulded ceilings and shelves of loose teas. Outside the cottage garden is tidy and colourful; although not as bright as the rainbow of shiny pots at Morris & James along the road.

At the end of this road is an old-fashioned wooden cowshed behind a turning circle made for the milk tanker, but in the cool dim cellar are oak barrels from France, and some of the bottles filled here are emptied at Gordon Ramsay's three-star Michelin restaurant in London.

Hyperion Wines is the oldest vineyard in Matakana and one of the smallest: the neat rows of vines on the green hill cover .8ha. John Crone takes pride in being able to hold up a bottle and say, with total truth, "I made this". We find his award-winning Gaia Merlot much too fine to spit into the churn at the dairy door.

The sun is low over the hills when I wander along to The Spa Retreat back at Kourawhero. Angela waits with lavender oils, hot rocks and soothing music and I look forward to my massage, but fall asleep and miss half of it. Our computerised bath with its ozone jets and disco lights revives me in time for a delicious dinner.

It's all been highly indulgent and relaxing. We need something to bring us back to earth, and next morning we stop in Puhoi for a blat in Paul's "Bushrider": an eight-wheeled amphibian that whines and grinds over gradients that would stump a quad bike.

Afterwards, Paul calms me with a walk through the bush to a giant twin kauri as fat wood pigeons flap noisily overhead. From the top of the farm a tiny Skytower beckons us home. Only an hour away, it feels like another country.

Pamela Wade was hosted by Kourawhero Lodge and Matakana Coast Wine Country.

Getting there: Kourawhero Lodge is an hour north of Auckland and has facilities for corporate events, as well as leisure guests: www.kourawhero.co.nz. It also offers indulgence packages during the winter.

Further information: Details of most of the places mentioned, and many more, can be found on www.matakanacoast.com.
Charlie's Gelato Garden is open daily from September to May: www.charliesgelato.com.
Bushrider is in Puhoi: www.bushrider.co.nz.