1. Āwhitu Regional Park and Manukau Heads Lighthouse
Signposted from Waiuku, the Āwhitu Peninsula is a rugged beauty.
This rough chunk of land between the Tasman Sea and the Manukau Harbour hosts a lighthouse, a replica of the original that was first lit in 1873.
Climb to the top and admire the commanding views, but be sure to hold on to your hat, or get a taste of an old-fashioned Kiwi holiday at Āwhitu Regional Park where the historic Brook Homestead is a solid reminder of the pioneer spirit. The park is a darling place to camp or hike and boasts a wealth of birdlife between beach and bush.
'I was given a strong dose of Āwhitu as a child and never got over it.' Harold Brook, descendant of Brook Homestead pioneers.
2. Glenbrook Vintage Railway
The Glenbrook Vintage Railway is a renowned heritage steam railway, a labour of locomotive love largely run by volunteers, operating between October to June, over weekends and public holidays.
A hit with old jokers with a penchant for machinery and small children whose passion for railways has been ignited by Thomas, the 15km of track here makes for a toot-sweet way to see the rolling Franklin countryside.
With lots of imaginatively themed weekends, visitors can enjoy a Christmas excursion, celebrations of brass music and the ever-popular Country and Western Day, complete with train robbers and shootouts.
3. Karioitahi Beach
The magnificent black-sand beach of Karioitahi is a windswept landscape that suits all sorts of invigorating activities. From hang gliding to paragliding, blokarting to surfing, you can even take your four-wheel drive for a spin along the beach if you’re game.
There’s not much there in the way of commercialism, no shops or boutiques, and aside from the surf life-saving club and the public toilets, it’s really just a whole lot of nature, much as it would’ve looked thousands of years ago.
A mere eight kilometres from Waiuku, grab your favourite takeaways on the way through and settle on down to watch the sunset... cheap and cheerful but oh, so hard to beat.
4. Miranda: The Shorebird Coast
A precious gem at the base of the Coromandel on the Firth of Thames, this ornithological mecca is home to seaside marshes and mangroves where discreet hides allow visitors to spy on the migratory birds.
Depending on the season you might see plovers, red knots (who soar all the way to Siberia to breed), pied oystercatchers, dotterels or wrybills whose beaks famously bend to the right.
At the census on Sunday 2,700 #Wrybill were counted on the shell bank with another 900 around the greater Firth of Thames. That’s over 65% of the total population of Wrybill here! It’s one of my favourite things to watch in Winter at the shell bank, the Wrybill marmations catching the morning light at different angles. This weekends tides are perfect for watching their ‘flung scarf’ imitations. 📸: @glenhoweyphoto -> -> #PukorokoroMirandaShorebirds #nzbirds #nzmigrants #shorebirds #morningmagic #birdsofinstagram #nzphotography #conservation #your_best_birds #docgovtnz #nzgeo #nzlandscape
A nursery for young godwits who’ve yet to think about starting families, these canny fledglings know there’s little point flying all the way to Alaska till they reach the age of consent. All the birds have astonishing stories and the award-winning Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre explains their epic exploits in detail.
5. Hampton Downs
If you’re not so enthralled by nature, perhaps the petrol-fuelled pursuits at Hampton Downs will rev your motor.
Featuring a range of adrenaline-pumping activities, you can try your hand at go-karting, driving a V8 muscle car or, if you’re not overly confident about your own driving abilities, there’s always the Hamptons High Speed Taxi where passengers can travel at high speed with a professional racing driver as your chauffeur.
With 80 adjacent apartments within a stone's throw, when it all gets too much and the fumes have gone to your head, you can bunk down trackside and dream about winning The Grand Prix.