Vineyards to the left, restaurants to the right, the route north is ripe for a foodie road trip. Unsure where to dig in first? Our top five food and wine recommendations should help.
1. Glass House Kitchen at Brick Bay Vineyard, Matakana
What is it about vineyard driveways that always suggest you’re in for a treat? Must be the long, sweeping tracks that drink in the views while snaking their way down the hillside. Brick Bay Vineyard is no different. With both a sculpture trail freckled with the works of Aotearoa artists and the beautiful Glass House Kitchen, it lends itself to a fine day out. The restaurant, as suggested by its name, is a light and airy pavilion that absorbs the outdoors, including a large shimmering lake which encourages the birdlife to perch beside your table. Open for lunch, and with a brunch menu in the pipeline, plates are both seasonal and packed with homegrown ingredients. Wine tasting is sensational yet pleasantly informal and should you find yourself succumbing to the allure of nature, you can always pick up a picnic from the foyer and disappear into the trail instead.
2. Russell’s smorgasbord of restaurants
Surrounded by water and 144 islands, Russell offers around-the-clock aquatic entertainment, but should you wish to spend this time satisfying your stomach, that’s plausible too. Funky establishments such as Oso Café offer curbside appeal and fabulously retro décor. Across the road is Hone’s Garden. Instagrammers will love its feature wall of plants, and the woodfired pizzas are dangerously good. Straddling the waterfront, The Duke of Marlborough Hotel is Russell’s oldest watering hole. Having served patrons since 1827 (minus the two times it burnt down) step onto the parquet flooring and step back in time. Open for both lunch and dinner, score a table on the terrace and dare to imagine what shenanigans once went on here. A little further down the esplanade you’ll also find the Pompallier Mission and vintage French Coffee House, bursting onto its own Victorian-style veranda, doilies et al.
3. Village Picnic
Matakana is the place to be if you want to eat, drink and be merry, and boy do the residents like to encourage all three. Local foodie, Philippa Potaka has tapped into decades of restauranteur experience to create Village Picnic, her custom-made food basket business.
Philippa will ensure your next alfresco feast is packed with beautiful, local produce.
Tailored to every taste, expect your hamper to be exquisitely presented and crammed with products from artisans such as Honest Chocolat, the Matakana-based chocolatier with edible hot chocolate mugs and ingredients (such as rhubarb) sourced from the owner’s own garden, as well as Ringawera Bakery, famed for their rustic bread and sugary licks of pastry. Need a top spot to enjoy such a spread? Head five minutes out of town to Point Wells Village. Favoured for its long sweep of sand, swimmable estuary and sleepy, suburban vibe, it’s a bit of a local secret.
4. Puhoi Valley Café and Cheese Store
Go ahead and pinch yourself. With so much gourmet goodness on offer, you might just think you’re dreaming. Puhoi Valley is every turophile's fantasy. Brimming with stacked camembert in the chillers, creamy wedges toppling over the counter, cheese tasting by the bucket-load and award-winning blues churning behind large picture windows – and that’s all before the fresh milk, yoghurt and ice cream. Located in Pūhoi Valley, just 40 minutes north of Central Auckland, the venue sits in grounds as heavenly as the produce and even non-cheesaholics will enjoy the native forest and water fountains. Dine like a king on the terrace and then pop indoors to admire the new wheels of cheese residing in the cellar. Polish off your visit with a bottle of Puhoi flavoured milk, the sweetest of treats no matter what your age.
5. Sage Restaurant at Paroa Bay Winery
The road up to Paroa Bay Winery from Russell is a wiggly and bush-clad ascent accompanied by swooping birds and bounding rabbits. Sound idyllic? This is just a taste of what's to come. Perched on a handsome hillside, with far-reaching ocean views and streams of manicured vines, Sage restaurant at Paroa Bay Vineyard will make you swoon. Something you’ll love about the menu is its knack for sourcing local produce, with regional fishmongers, orchards and farms delivering the best of it. Turn to the front page for a full list of suppliers, their proximity to the vineyard and a comprehensive list of ingredients picked straight from the winery's garden. It's a lovely touch and one that will make the quince accompanying your pork even sweeter.