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GO NZ: 8 short winter breaks around New Zealand

NZ Herald
By: Anna King Shahab
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Had enough of winter already? Head to one of New Zealand's 31 regions for a quick getaway, writes Anna King Shahab

1. Northland

Take the kids away for a Northland break — complete with vital history lessons, towering forests, and beaches that range in scope from tropical idyll to epic.

Heading north, take the Secret Coast Route just north of Kamo — rich in history, it also offers the chance to stop at the Helena Bay Cafe to take in brunch, a sculpture garden, and forever-views.

Explore Russell and enjoy dinner and a night at The Duke of Marlborough. The next day take the car ferry across and head to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds — a guided tour there really brings the history to life. Even novices will enjoy a few hours at Waitangi Mountain Bike Park, and hiring e-bikes mean you can cover a lot more ground: there's 70km to burn through there.

Opt to explore the remote idyll that is Karikari Peninsula, with its utterly perfect white-sand beaches at Matai Bay and Rangiputa, or tick an important box by continuing as far north as it gets, to the meeting of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean at Cape Rēinga.

Head back down along the west coast, with its roll-call of pretty towns: Kohukohu, Rāwene, Opononi, and Omapere. Stay a night in Hokianga, an area rich in history including the landing of Kupe, the great Polynesian explorer — look for the cultural centre opening later this year in Opononi to tell his story.

Homeward bound, stop in to pay respects to Tāne Mahuta before heading down the Kauri Coast, where you can make a final stop at the Kauri Museum in Matakohe.

2. Auckland

On a short break in Auckland, make sure you check out the restaurants and bars on Karangahape Rd. Photo / ATEED
On a short break in Auckland, make sure you check out the restaurants and bars on Karangahape Rd. Photo / ATEED

Staying in downtown Auckland means the easiest access to all the delights of the isthmus.

Board a ferry for a day frolicking between vineyards, restaurants and beaches on Waiheke, or a different Hauraki Gulf island — there are walks with top-notch views on Rangitoto, Motutapu and Tiritiri Matangi.

Fill the lungs with fresh air and the eyes and soul with wild black-sand beach views on the coastal clifftop Te Henga Walkway, from Muriwai to Bethells Beach and back. Then call into Hallertau for a fab pub lunch and a tasting paddle of their impressive craft beers.

Mooch around a few weekend markets, meeting local growers and makers and eating delicious morsels. Clevedon, Matakana, Catalina Bay all offer a good excuse for a short drive out of the city and pretty surrounds to explore, or there are plenty of markets dotted around the city and fringe — La Cigale is a Parnell institution, and 1970s-born Ōtara Market is a true slice of Auckland.

An early-evening cocktail followed by a progressive dinner along the bustling strip of Karangahape Rd is a fun way to try flavours from a number of the city's most innovative eateries. Even spots that are full will call you once a table comes free.

Pre-book to get tickets to some of the many fantastic shows and events on the Auckland calendar over the next few months, including Benee, Mary Poppins, and Winetopia.

3. The Coromandel

Go bush in Coromandel, exploring some of the hidden spots that aren't easily accessed.

Kuaotunu is a good place to stay; from there you can access the many east coast beaches, the top of the peninsula, and the charms on Coromandel Town side. Here you've got Luke's Kitchen on your doorstep — this delightful all-day eatery churns out woodfired pizzas, a famous seafood chowder, and great coffee. The dairy next door serves perhaps the most oversized scoops of icecream in the land.

Take the infamously winding Black Jack Road over to Otama and Opito Beaches, or park up at lovely Whangapoua Beach to walk over the cliffs (or around the rocks at low tide, no road access) to the even lovelier New Chums.

With overseas visitors absent, claiming a spot to dig a steaming natural spa at Hot Water Beach should be easier, and the normally heaving track to Cathedral Cove will be far quieter. Take a day out at The Lost Spring near Whitianga; pick a pool with a temperature just right for you and order a poolside cocktail and grazing platter.

4. Waikato

There's plenty to impress the whole family in Waikato. With Hamilton as your temporary home, in no time you'll be counting glow worms from the comfort of a boat, or ziplining through a cave filled with them if you're keen to push the adrenaline further.

Raglan provides a day of beachcombing, kayaking or paddleboarding up harbour, and mooching around the town's eclectic shops and eateries.

Take high tea at the country's only tea plantation, Zealong, which produces premium oolong and a beautifully presented tiered platter of savoury and sweet morsels to match.

You're in dairy country, so it'd be rude not to go on a cheese crawl: Mercer Cheese Shop offers up a selection, while Over The Moon in Putaruru boasts a tasting room and windows on to the cheesemaking process.

Little and big bellies alike will love the cafe fare at Punnet in Hamilton — skip the continental breakfast one morning to fit this gem in; the playground means you'll finish your brunch in peace.

5. Ruapehu

Cycling the Ohakune Old Coach Road in Ruapehu region. Photo / Visit Ruapehu
Cycling the Ohakune Old Coach Road in Ruapehu region. Photo / Visit Ruapehu

It's a favourite with families, and a great part of the country in which to reconnect with family members from different parts of the country — there's nothing like a snowball fight to bring shy young cousins together. If the weather's not playing ball, you're still good: there's mini golf at Schnapps, indoor rock climbing in both Ohakune and National Park, a dinosaur museum in Raetihi. Unwind with a restorative soak at nearby Tokaanu Thermal Springs.

Bond while beating a path. Take up a challenge with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the Round The Mountain Track, put in a 15km one-way effort with the Ohakune Old Coach Rd (can be done on bike, too), or stretch the legs no matter the age range with short but picturesque walks like Jubilee Walkway, or the Whakapapa Nature Walk, which comes with information panels on the surrounding vegetation.

6. Taranaki

A couple's getaway absorbed in both nature and culture is easily planned in Taranaki. Immerse yourself in the magical surrounds of Maunga Taranaki with easy access to the Goblin Forest, Dawson Falls and other tracks and trails with a stay at Ngāti Ruanui Stratford Mountain House.

Take the "forgotten highway" to the bijou town of Whangamomona and enjoy lunch at the Whangamomona Hotel. Cap off the day with dinner by the fireplace at your accommodation.

Go beach with a stay at Ahu Ahu Beach Villas, surrounded by farmland and gardens overlooking the ocean. Make the most of Taranaki's famously reliable surf break, give windsurfing or kitesurfing a go, and check out the local shipwreck, the Gairlock.

Allow plenty of time for the many delights of New Plymouth. Get the phone camera timer ready for selfies outside the modern icon that is the Govett-Brewster Gallery and Len Lye Centre — every visit reveals some new wonder along the rippled exterior and in the exhibitions inside.

Stroll around notable gardens: Pukekura Park, the handsome homestead garden at Tupare, or the natively-resplendent Te Kainga Marire. You're spoilt for choice for great dining in New Plymouth, but with its always-buzzing atmosphere and fiery charcoal oven, make Social Kitchen a must.

7. Whanganui

This historic river city is a book for art-lovers and anyone yearning for a creative injection. Hundreds of artists across many disciplines call Whanganui home. Book into workshops or longer retreats, visit studios and galleries and watch glassblowers at work. The Whanganui Regional Museum has some particularly important collections: Taonga Māori Collection, Moa bones and Gottfried Lindauer's portraits of prominent Māori leaders from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

More than just navigating a stretch of water, Ki Tai's multi-day river tours navigate culture and history, with time spent paddling the serene Te Awa Whanganui balanced with marae time — all you need to bring is a sleeping bag and personal gear.

Draw inspiration from the infinite galaxy at The Ward Observatory in Cook's Gardens, open for public viewings on Fridays after dark and boasting a historic, unmodified 24cm refractor telescope.

8. Manawatū

Take a short winter break in the Manawatū, starting off in Palmerston North before you explore the regions other attractions. Photo / ManawatuNZ
Take a short winter break in the Manawatū, starting off in Palmerston North before you explore the regions other attractions. Photo / ManawatuNZ

On yer bike! There are loads of cycling and mountain bike trails throughout Manawatū. Through forest and native bush, across farmland, up mountains, loop rides, out to Foxton Beach and alongside rivers: if you're keen on two-wheel activities, Manuwatū is for you. The same goes for walks: there is a plethora, of all levels.

Give your own quadriceps a break while admiring the ones that have represented the nation at The New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North.

Dip your toes into the rural economy that's the backbone of this country with a guided tour of the Feilding Salesyards. Livestock auctions each Friday are held in the same salesyards as they've been 1880.

You may have anointed your skin with The Herb Farm's range of natural beauty products, now's your chance to see where and how they're made with a visit to this Ashurst business. Roam the almost 1ha of gardens, surprise the kids with the fairy garden and "Herbitton", have lunch at the onsite cafe and book in for a beauty treatment.

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