Anchor Bay, Matakana. © Kath Webster

Matakana road trip: an easy escape


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Matakana is an easy escape from Auckland city – a short run up the motorway, through the tunnel, east at Warkworth. 

Here, it’s rolling countryside with vineyards, well-tended gardens, farms with high hedges and glimpses of the sea. In the midst of it all is Matakana village with glamorous dining, boutique cinemas and shops – specifically a craft gallery, a book store and a shoe shop – that are destinations in themselves.   

But on Saturday morning, it’s all about the market. We order coffees and watch the mingling masses. Sweet smoke rises from a corner barbecue; a guitarist and singer serenade with Fleetwood Mac and Eagles covers. Around the edges, stalls sell feijoa wine, locally made cheeses and olive oil, organic vegetables and breads.

Sizzling fritters are flipped and delivered, pizzas are built, juice is squeezed out of fresh fruit on the spot. 

Full of bite-size samples, full-size Vietnamese rolls and flat whites, we wander up to another smaller market where second-hand stuff vies with craft for the passing dollar. 

Just out of Matakana we turn down Tongue Farm Rd to visit Morris & James pottery. Bright, jewel-coloured, glossy pots crowd the gallery and the garden surrounding the café.  Visitors who time it right can tour the workshop, and even those who don’t can get an understanding of how platters, fat round bowls, slender garden columns and fancy-glazed wall plaques are made, thanks to descriptive panels and a video. It’s a fascinating place. 

We’re in picnic mode, so we don’t linger long. Off the main road we head onto Tawharanui Peninsula, leaving the tar seal as sunlight dapples the road through the bush. At the entrance of the regional park, the road dips down to the sea and follows the coast to a gate in a fence built to keep predators out. 

Surprised to find the car park full, we brace ourselves for a crowded beach but up on the headland above Anchor Bay we find peace and calm. Flax and tussock fringe the knoll; the grass is picnic-perfect, soft and spongy. 

Out there lie Great and Little Barrier Islands. Above us, clouds gather and darken and threaten. Down at the beach, kids play in shallows, people walk or stand knee deep in froth. A few surfers stretch along their boards, watching over their shoulders for secret signs in the endless rolling run.

Waves touch the shore one by one by one, tugging patterns around sand-rooted rocks.

The plan was to walk one of several trails in the Tawharanui Open Sanctuary, including some that reveal the successful eco mission to encourage native birds back to the area, but busy clouds move their threat up a notch. We scoop up the scraps and head for the car. 

We veer off at Omaha Valley Road to check out The Vivian. It’s a beautifully crafted, gallery space with thoughtfully curated contemporary shows. We catch the tail end of a figurative exhibition featuring many artists working in many different styles, collectively providing insight and happy diversion.

With art on our mind, we make another detour on the way home: Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, off the road to Snell’s Beach. The Glass House, an airy dining room on the edge of a small lake, is busy with wine tasters and afternoon-tea takers, but we make straight for the track. Past shiny stainless steel gnomes, wind-blown hoops and spoons, intricately wrought over-size leaves and drums pierced with multi-coloured arrows. Designed to showcase and share large, ambitious outdoor art by around 50 artists at a time, the Brick Bay experience is extraordinary and generous.  

Reluctant to submit to the city quite yet, we leave SH1 one more time, heading over Johnstone’s Hill instead of taking the tunnel. It’s a glorious piece of road with the Puhoi River snaking toward Wenderholm and views expanding wider and wider as we go. 

At Waiwera we hook around toward the pools. A steamy soak, the soundtrack of family chatter and squeals, is a grounding counterpoint to our two days of calm, cultural reflection and easy, rural escape.

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