KIWI: Conjuring Up Some Matakana MagicJust a 45 minute drive north of Auckland in the fading light of a winter’s day I noticed the attention-grabbing signs for the Matakana Coast Wine Trail – an area of undulating hills and valleys, abundant vineyards, craft shops and art galleries, untouched beaches and three regional parks – Mahurangi, Scandrett and the jewel in the crown, Tawharanui.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2012
It must have been well over 20 years ago that I visited the Morris and James Pottery & Tile Works in Matakana. In those days the village consisted of a dairy, tavern, church and a logging sawmill and not much more as I remember. How things have changed. From the moment the sunrise glowed like golden syrup from behind Little Barrier Island and I caught a glint of a touch of winter frost on the vines, I knew I was somewhere special. The Matakana region can do that to you.
Just a 45 minute drive north of Auckland in the fading light of a winter’s day I noticed the attention-grabbing signs for the Matakana Coast Wine Trail – an area of undulating hills and valleys, abundant vineyards, craft shops and art galleries, untouched beaches and three regional parks – Mahurangi, Scandrett and the jewel in the crown, Tawharanui.
Besides the village of Matakana there are the nearby seaside enclaves of Pakiri Beach, peaceful Leigh and bustling Omaha . . . a second home to a host of famous names such as Prime Minister John Key, America’s Cup yachtsman Dean Barker, fashion designer Trelise Cooper, food and wine writer and author Lorraine Jacobson and businesswoman Diane Forman.
My first port of call was Riverside Matakana, a stunning property with 17 beautifully appointed batches. Each chic, self-contained bach has a flexible sleeping layout, individual decks and two bathrooms. The property is set on 40 acres of landscaped grounds overlooking vineyards and the Glen Eden River. For the active guest there’s tennis courts, a swimming pool, yoga deck, a pétanque court and a small pier jutting out into the river where there are ample fish to be caught. Whether you are away on a romantic weekend or a family on vacation, even a corporate retreat then you’ll find everything you need all here in one spot.
About 12.30pm on Friday afternoon I headed for lunch at Plume Vineyard Restaurant. The chef here is a Sicilian who was raised in France so as you can imagine the food is to die for. After a wine tasting I opted for a glass of Syrah with lunch. While Plume's menu essentially reflects local cuisine it also celebrates New Zealand's cultural diversity with a range of food choices including some Indian-inspired dishes. I ordered the Lobster Bisque ($18) for starters . . . one of the best I’ve ever tasted, followed by a mouth-watering Steak, Mushroom and Pancetta Pie (petit pois a la Francaise, pomme puree – $28.00).
Early on Saturday I wandered down to what I thought would be a quiet country market – yet Matakana Farmer’s Market is anything but quiet – in fact it’s bursting at the seams with all manner of people. This is the focal point for locals to meet growers in a vibrant country setting. As aromatic smells from the food stalls fill the air, sellers display everything from organic chocolate, boutique oils, local honey, fine wines, locally-brewed beers, home-cooked bakery goods, preserves and fruit and vegetables. There are also stalls selling designer craft wares, colourful clothing and a few stalls offering second-hand goods for sale.
For families with kids a visit to the Matakana Country Park on the outskirts of the village is a must. Besides the show horse arena there's lots to choose from for your children: Pony Rides, the Matakana Express Train, Animal Petting Experience, Adventure Playground and Carriage Rides. For mums and dads there’s an art gallery, café/tearoom, craft shop and for a bite to eat the Stables Restaurant & Bar.
Later that afternoon I drove to Takatu Lodge & Vineyard, recently named as one of the 101 best hotels in the world in the exclusive, Tatler UK Travel Guide 2012. The lodge's contemporary design incorporates walls of glass to capture the views of the vineyard, mountains and sea and it is truly spectacular. The interior has vaulted Sack ceilings, cosy open log fires, a gorgeous lounge and spacious open-plan dining/kitchen room as well as an amply stocked library.
Takatu Lodge and Vineyard is a unique experience . . . affording an opportunity to stay on a working vineyard whist enjoying the highest standards of creature comforts and elegance. In fact when I arrived in the late afternoon there were seven people including John Forsman the owner pruning the vines. I was offered a pair of secateurs but I politely declined and instead accepted a glass of their wonderful Burgundian style Takatu Pinot Gris (seasoned in 500 litre French oak puncheons) from his wife Heather.
Over canapés John and Heather offered me a glass or two of their wine for tasting. Their Takatu ‘Poppies’ Rose is Provence in style, a very light pale peach in colour, what John calls ‘super dry.’ John added, “Takatu produces wine from vines with ultra-low cropping levels. Very low yields are required to concentrate flavour and give structure and texture to the wine naturally.” Their outstanding reds are a 2008 Takatu Merlot Cabernet Franc and a 2007 Takatu ‘Kawau Bay’ Merlot, Cabernet Franc. The latter red was the wine of choice selected by internationally renowned Parisian chocolatier Jean-Paul Gaultier as the wine to best match his third course dessert when hosting is ‘evening of chocolate decadence’ recently in London.
Lunch the next day was at the Brick Bay Vineyard & Sculpture Trail, another one of those places that attracts people of all ages with a delightful setting and a unique walking trail displaying over 40 sculptures. The decision is whether to hike the approximately one hour long trail first and then have their lunch platter ($16.50 or $24) in their glass-walled, cantilevered restaurant, or to have a lunch and then to leisurely walk it off in the afternoon sun. I chose to walk it off and it was probably on the day, a good call.
Matakana Market Kitchen was my Saturday night restaurant of choice for dinner. It’s located in the centre of the village down by the river and a more popular restaurant would be hard to find. Virtually every table was booked out including a large table seating ten females! For starters I chose their blackboard special vegetable soup – outstanding in both texture and flavour. On being asked the waiter declared, “It’s the staff’s favourite dish to take home after a day’s work.” I followed that up with a mouth-watering Cajun-seared snapper served on a roasted vegetable, rocket and quinoa salad and a mojito yoghurt dressing ($32) – all very yummy indeed.
After a lazy lie-in Sunday I took a 20 minute drive from Matakana to the sleepy seaside locale of Leigh for a bite of lunch. The Leigh Sawmill Café, Restaurant & Bar is famous in the district for the featured bands that play gigs there, their gourmet wood-fired pizzas and a range of locally brewed beers. What I couldn’t resist was their Mixed Grill Brunch ($24) and a pint of good ale – especially their 6.5% strong lager called, 12 Gauge!
On my last morning Heather at Takatu Lodge whipped up a delicious breakfast of ricotta hot cakes with blueberries, manuka honey and bananas – perfect for my planned morning activity – a beach hike at Tawharanui Regional Park. Set on a remote peninsula, the park boasts some of Auckland’s most beautiful, unspoilt white sandy beaches and shingled bays, rolling sheep-filled pastures, coastal forests and regenerating wetlands. The 588-hectare park is New Zealand’s first integrated open sanctuary (on the mainland - with a 2.5km predator proof fence) where farming, public recreation and conservation of native species are combined.
There are six hiking trails in the park varying in duration from 20-30 minutes to over three hours. You’ll also find a fairly challenging mountain bike trail worth exploring. For visitors who like picnics, surfing and swimming or a spot of fishing – it’s all here in one of Auckland’s best known but hardly visited regional parks.
Visiting all the riches that the Matakana region has to offer can take at least two to three days so plan well ahead it as it’s an increasingly popular weekend getaway and you won’t be disappointed . . . in the magic that Matakana will conjure up.
Takatu Lodge and Vineyard
Matakana Wine Trail
Plume Vineyard Restaurant
Sawmill Café, Restaurant & Bar, Leigh
Brick Bay Wines & Sculpture Trail
Matakana Market Kitchen
Matakana Bike Hire
Matakana Country Park
Morris and James Pottery & Tile Works
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