The journey north from West Auckland is rich in creativity. From art galleries to sculpture gardens and even some unique geology – we've picked five places to stop at along the way.
1. Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery, Titirangi
Tucked alongside the stately Lopdell House in Titirangi, Te Uru is Tardis-level deceptive. Seen from the street, it seems small, its wall oddly angled, but blank. Inside, though, lie six floors of galleries dropping down the hillside, artfully filled with natural light that allows the exhibits to glow. These are of all types: paintings, photography, sculpture, glass, pottery, fabric and mixed media. What they have in common is the imagination, inspiration and sheer practical skills of their creators, who are both local and international. The exhibitions change with the seasons, but remaining consistent is both the quality of the artworks and the delightful design of the building itself, which manages also to make the most of its position overlooking the Waitākere Ranges all the way to the sea. It says a lot that, despite being only six years old, the gallery has already been put on the register of Historic Places.
2. McCahon House, Titirangi
Almost hidden in the bush below a winding road leading down to French Bay is the small, basic, bach-like house where one of our most notable artists lived and worked in the 1950s. Living surrounded by magnificent kauri trees, Colin McCahon painted some of his best-known works here, but you will also find earlier pieces, showing the progression of his art. An on-site docent will interpret and explain as required; and inside cupboards are videos and recordings to give a fuller picture of the man. The house itself, though, will prompt some sympathy for his family, especially his daughters, whose room with its wooden bunks was sited below the house, one wall open to the bush – and the mozzies. But photos show that they led a social life here, and close inspection in the kitchen will prove that the artist had practical skills too: he made the plate rack out of knitting needles.
3. Kaipara Sculpture Gardens, Kaukapakapa
Time evaporates in the Kaipara Sculpture Gardens, which charmingly combine art and nature. Entering through an impressively flourishing garden centre focused on plants that grow best in the local environment, you pass through a door into what looks at first like an inviting path through a bird-busy garden, but very soon proves to be much more than that.
Artfully set along this two kilometre trail past lawns, formal beds, ponds and through bush are more than 40 sculptures by New Zealand creatives.
The display is completely changed after a year’s exhibition, and a new one opens each November, but currently the works include such delights as a pōhutukawa flower cut out of rusted steel, a hashtag pergola of hanging wishes to which you can add your own and a giant elephant rump made from macrocarpa. There’s something for everyone here, including a playground for children and an adventurous conservation track to follow.
4. Sculptureum, Matakana
Prepare to have your mind blown at Sculptureum. From the winery’s pleasant restaurant and bar, you pass through a sliding door into another world, where works by astonishingly inspired and skilful people dominate the six small galleries that lie ahead. Fabulously intricate and colourful sculptures in glass and other materials are simply dazzling, focused mainly on people and animals. Works by artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Rodin are here, too. Accessible captions will add to your appreciation of each work, every one of them demanding close inspection. One gallery is deservedly dedicated to a single beautiful glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly. But that’s not all: outside, in an elegant garden of palms, Mondo grass and pebbles, a winding path leads past a series of fantastic creatures, many of them masterpieces of Borowski glass. The fun continues out the front, in a garden filled with more sculptures, huge rocks and inspirational quotes.
5. Wairere Boulders
It takes a bit of effort to get to Wairere Boulders – it’s a winding drive over unsealed roads – but you won’t regret it. Scattered along a valley near the tip of the Hokianga Harbour, and leading up to a hilltop with spectacular views back down to the bush and sand dunes at the harbour mouth, is a collection of unusual and irresistibly photogenic boulders. Ejected by an eruption 2.8 million years ago, the basalt has been broken up, weathered and dissolved by acidic kauri, resulting in fascinatingly fluted rocks that, festooned with moss and epiphytes, look just gorgeous. Add in a shady native forest, a tumbling creek with a waterfall and swimming hole, exciting caves and boulders to clamber through, under and over, plus lots of helpful signs and information and you’ve got a good half-day’s enjoyment – even more, if you fancy staying at the campsite and kayaking along the harbour.