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Matakana Coast

Pakiri Beach. Photo: Tiki Johnston

Stretching from Puhoi to Pakiri, the Matakana Coast is dotted with deserted bays, small islands and recreational reserves, and offers fantastic wines, markets, arts and visitor attractions, all within an hour’s drive north of Auckland.

Matakana Farmers' Market, photo: Tourism Auckland
Matakana Farmers’ Market, photo: Tourism Auckland

Matakana Village

Head into Matakana Village for delicious produce to take to the bach, and browse around markets, galleries and shops. You can catch a film at the village cinema, or try top local wines at the Vintry, from a spot on the balcony. The Matakana Village Pub is a bit of a local icon - built in 1903 and renovated in 2012, it’s now a stylish and family-friendly place to enjoy good local food, craft beers and wines.

Every Saturday from 8.00am to 1.00pm the Matakana Village Farmers’ Market offers an excellent array of local produce, including fresh fruit and vegetables, pickles and chutneys, buffalo cheeses, free range eggs, smoked salmon, freshly baked breads, pastries, and organic wine. As an emerging ‘slow food’ destination, wineries and other foodie delights are popping up all over the rolling hills.

Matakana Vintage Market and Sunday Sessions
Photo: Fiona McGeough, Matakana Vintage Market and Sunday Sessions

On Sundays head to the Matakana Vintage Market and Sunday Sessions. You’ll find a treasure trove of up-cycled, handmade and vintage clothing, home-wares and gifts, along with great coffee and food, and live music. In summer, the Vintage Market is held every Sunday, from November to March, 10am-2pm. Winter sees the Vintage Market roll into town on the second Sunday of the month and long weekends, 10am-2pm.

Head over the hill to Matakana Country Park, for brunch at the cafe, a walk round the petting zoo and art gallery, and a good chance for children to run around in the adventure playground, or have a ride on a pony or miniature train.

Gourmet Delights

Harvesting Mahurangi oysters
Photo: Mahurangi Oysters

Mahurangi oysters are a toothsome local treat. These plump Pacific oysters are family farmed by Andrew and Lisa Hay, in the inter-tidal zones of the Mahurangi River. You can buy these beauties fresh, at the farm gate: 180 Ridge Road, Scotts Landing, Mahurangi East, or online. Because the Hays will sell only the most succulent oysters, you can’t buy them between January and March as this is the growth and recovery period. Oyster enthusiasts can take a guided tour, to harvest, shuck and eat oysters, on the Mahurangi River.

Another lip-smacking place to visit near Matakana is Charlies Gelato Garden, for home-made gelato and sorbetto, produced in the traditional Italian manner. They use locally sourced, seasonal fruit, and have over thirty different flavours to choose from.

The Leigh Sawmill Cafe is a fine spot for a wood-fired pizza and a craft beer in the sunny garden.

Matakana Coast - a string of lovely beaches

Darren Foreman, Goat Island, Flickr CC
Goat Island Marine Reserve, Photo credit: Darren Foreman, on Flickr Creative Commons

Drive out to the end of Tāwharanui Peninsula, and you’ll find the lovely, sandy beaches, fields, native coastal forest and wetlands of Tāwharanui Regional Park. You can relax under pohutukawa trees, or go surfing and swimming. There’s a protected marine area along the northern coastline of the park, so divers have a good chance of seeing interesting marine life, but mustn’t touch it.

Tāwharanui Open Sanctuary combines conservation, farming and recreational use. It’s a great place for bird-spotters - 89 species have been sighted in or near the park, including native species such as kiwi, brown teal, kaka, bellbirds, and takahe. There’s a predator fence to maintain a pest free habitat for native wildlife, and dogs are prohibited.

A bit closer to Matakana, lies Little Omaha Bay, a 4km sweep of white sand. Omaha is a popular holiday spot, with a lot of rather ritzy holiday homes, and a golf course, tennis courts and shops. You can stroll along the boardwalk, there’s a playground for children, and a popular cafe in the shops. If you’ve got a mountain bike, you can take the 14km Matakana Cycle Ride from Matakana out to Point Wells and Omaha.

Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Marine Reserve (Goat Island) lies 3.5kms from Leigh Township. NZ’s oldest Marine Reserve, and home to the University of Auckland’s marine laboratory, it’s a wonderful place to take a picnic, go on a coastal walk, swim, snorkel amidst the protected fish and sealife or explore the rockpools.

Pakiri Beach is a beautiful and often deserted surf beach, about 25 minutes’ drive north of Matakana. This 14km stretch of pristine white sand, backed by dunes, is a glorious spot for surfing, swimming, walking or spotting birds such as NZ dotterels and fairy terns. You can gallop along the sands, explore farm and bush trails with Pakiri Beach Horse Rides; they offer rides from one hour to seven days long.

Fine wines and beautiful scenery

Mahurangi River Winery
Photo credit: Mahurangi River Winery

Matakana is famous for its boutique vineyards. While it’s a small wine region, it produces some premium wines. Traditionally, Matakana has been renowned for its reds, but these days, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Rose are popular too. Take a tour of some of the cellar doors, and you can sample the local drop, while looking out on lovely surrounds, and hearing the stories of the vineyard and people behind the wines. Some popular vineyards with cellar doors include Ascension Wine Estate, Heron’s Flight, Omaha Bay Vineyard, Hyperion Wines, Mahurangi River Winery and Ti Point Vineyard.

Art, galleries and crafts around Matakana

Art and wine come together at Brick Bay, a fantastic place to visit, with its sculpture trail meandering through bush and landscaped gardens. Take an hour to explore the 2km trail, with impressive and intriguing artworks by NZ artists, then sample some Brick Bay wines and local delicacies in the Glass House Kitchen, a graceful pavilion set overlooking the ornamental lake. Children will find interesting sculptures and lots to explore along the trail, and at the end there are swings and sandpit. The Glass House Kitchen has a menu for littlies.

Art lovers might also want to drive from Matakana to The Vivian, a gallery of contemporary art, sculpture and paintings set in the countryside at 39 Omaha Valley Road. It’s a stylish mix of modern design, quirky pieces and a tranquil setting.

At the Matakana Country Park, the Art Matakana gallery has paintings, ceramics and sculpture by local artists, in a complex that includes cafe and children’s playground too. Morris and James is a popular place to visit, with its showroom of colourful pottery, a cafe in a courtyard and garden setting, and free tours of the pottery at 11.30a.m. In Matakana itself, Piece Gallery sells wonderful glass, contemporary jewellery, ceramics, and other objects. The gallery sits on the market square, right beside the river.

Brick Bay Vineyard and Sculpture Trail
Brick Bay Vineyard and sculpture trail, photo: Peter and Tiki

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Piwa perched