Chris Schulz checks into the Paparoa Hotel, Kaipara.

Getting there:

A week ago, we'd never heard of Paparoa, but after being persuaded to check it out, we headed up for a quick weekend trip. It's a short drive — at 90 minutes, closer than most holiday destinations chosen by Aucklanders. We left home at 9am and were there by 10.30am.

Check-in experience: Paparoa Hotel has limited accommodation options: three small rooms inside the hotel, and a two-bedroom garden flat through the garden bar and around the back. That's where we headed after grabbing the keys. There's a picnic table in the yard, fresh herb gardens and a swing attached to the tree. Room: Both bedrooms were clean and tidy, with great views.

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Price: It's $275 a night for both bedrooms, or $150 if you're just using one.

What's so good about this place? Not only are you within walking distance of Paparoa's main stretch of shops, you're also close to a bunch of attractions, including the Kauri Museum and Pahi beach. But we enjoyed being able to put the kids to bed then head around to the Thirsty Tui for dinner, drinks and a few games of pool with the locals.

And the bad? We couldn't get the TV to work and the pub wasn't playing the rugby. And there were no coffee cups for our morning cuppa. They're very minor complaints.

What's in the neighbourhood? On weekends, you won't want to miss Folk Espresso & Boulangerie, where they sell strong coffee and some of the best pastries and sourdoughs you can find anywhere in the country. On Saturdays there's a decent farmers market.

Toiletries: The basics: soap, shampoo and conditioner. Food and drink: Limited offerings in the flat, but talk to the bar manager and they'll put together a picnic hamper full of sandwiches, drinks, quiche and cakes to take to the beach. For dinner, The Thirsty Tui's menu is extensive.

The bed: Comfy and soft.

Bathroom: Basic and clean, but bizarrely, it filled up with sandflies at night.

Free Wi-Fi? Yes, but hopefully you'll put the phone away. Noise: At night, you might hear some of the bar's more rowdy punters. Your best bet is to join in.

Value for money: After one night, we felt like we'd been away for three. That's gotta be value for money.

Exercise facilities: Just a pool table in the bar.

Contact: paparoahotel.nz
Perfect for: A long summer weekend, to take in the scenery, chill at the restaurant and escape the city.

The bottomline: Shh! This weekend escape is Auckland's best-kept secret. Don't tell anyone about it.