Danielle Wright and her aunt, Robyn Collins, try 'throwing' a pot at Morris & James Pottery and Tileworks in Matakana.

"Ooh, it's like magic, it's like it's alive," says Ali Undorf-Lay, as she's leaning into a large barrel of clay. It's spinning beneath her fingers as she applies pressure to create a classic pot. "That's incredible, I don't believe that just happened!"

Ali has driven from Auckland with her daughter Brie, who won a Morris & James Experience after writing a winning entry about her mum in a gardening magazine.

We watch as a huge barrel of clay is dropped from a machine on to a pre-prepared circular clay base, ready for Brie. Throwing a pot isn't what it used to be and our job today is just about the finishing touches, it's not like a scene out of the movie Ghost.

The Morris & James Experience offers the public an opportunity to throw a pot on the potter's wheel, decorate a platter or garden art piece using the company's signature glazes and plenty of opportunities for tea and cake at the onsite cafe.


Earlier, we were treated to freshly baked date scones and pots of tea, while watching a toddler run around the gardens, which are filled with colourful ceramics as well as a children's play fort, goldfish swimming in a decorative bath, a tiled throne, pretty vines climbing up stone walls and a penny farthing bicycle.

We also had a tour of the impressive facilities, originally a piggery, and see clay from local river beds, used in the pots, and a throwing wheel that's more than 100 years old.

Walking around the factory, Robyn notices the pots look like cheeses, sitting in rows, waiting patiently for their next step in the process towards completion, which includes drying and firing at 1025C, applying coloured glazes to the terracotta then firing again at 1060C to fuse the glazes and create the colours.

My favourite part is the glazing. It's a bit like cake decorating, where you also have a revolving surface. The glazes seem like fast-drying water colours, in muted greys and whites, later to develop into their true colours in the kiln.

One of the decorators, Karen Gray says traffic lights are sometimes hard to distinguish on her drive home because she's so used to the back-to-front glaze colours. It's chemistry, as well as art.

For someone who's always dreamed of having a studio in the garden generally doing crafty things a busy life never allows, I find sitting and painting on the ceramic platter enjoyable and very restorative. It's also a great day out for families.

I'd never spent the day with my aunt before, and was worried we might run out of things to say, but when you're hustled from one activity to another, doing something creative, it's a good ice-breaker.

The day was inspiring, as creative activities tend to be, and the vibrancy of the pots lined up together stays in your mind. On the drive home, Robyn said, "Now I need to add lots more colour into my life.

* The next Morris & James Experience is on Saturday, September 22, 10am. the cost is $300 and includes your pot, platter, morning tea and lunch at The Pottery Cafe. Your creations will be delivered within six weeks - perfect timing for any Christmas gifts you may be planning to make.

* The Pottery Cafe is definitely worth a Sunday drive, even if you're not taking the Morris & James Experience. View the pots and let the kids run around in the playground. I spot three pizza ovens and the menu includes homemade cakes and slices, as well as local produce such as fish straight off the boats at Leigh. Open 9am-4pm, seven days a week and from 5.30pm during summer on Friday and Saturday evenings for drinks and dinner. Ph (09) 422 7484.

Danielle Wright was a guest of Morris & James.