1. Scandrett magic
I think Scandrett is the most beautiful and special of all Auckland’s regional parks – but I admit I’m biased. Our family had a bach there back in the days before it became a park, and it holds so many special childhood memories for me.
But putting that aside, it’s still a little gem of a park, with its historic farm buildings, a safe and shallow swimming beach, kikuyu-covered hills to explore and the long finger of Mullet Point sticking out into Kawau Bay, where there’s always something new to be found in the rockpools.
Swimming in the gin-clear water at high tide on a still summer’s day is magical, but don’t just take my word for it – book a night in a bach there to experience it for yourself.
2. Berry nice
Berries taste best eaten sun-warm off the bush, and even better when combined with ice cream. Omaha Organic Blueberries (Oob) opens a little shop at its orchard in the summertime to sell fresh berries and berry ice creams, which you can then consume lounging on the grass just metres from the bushes where the berries are growing. It doesn’t get fresher than that.
3. Hidden donkeys
Not every park comes with its own donkeys. In fact, none do – apart from the Highfield Garden Reserve, tucked away between the bachy suburbs of Snells Beach and Algies Bay.
A beautiful mosaic sign and rose-covered archway lead the way through a little orchard to the enclosure where a little herd of soft-eyed (though large-toothed) donkeys live.
Donkeys have been living here for nearly 50 years, when the land was privately owned, then became part of the park when it was handed into public ownership. As well as being able to pat and feed the donkeys (just watch out for the aforementioned teeth), there are fantastic views of Kawau Bay from the park’s clifftop walkway.
4. Kauri days
Before there was red wine and organic produce, Mahurangi meant kauri. Little pockets of these magnificent trees remain around the Mahurangi area, with a spectacular stand at the Parry Kauri Park, just off the main road south of Warkworth, which includes the two largest trees remaining on the east coast.
Next to the patch of forest is the Warkworth District Museum, which tells the story of the district’s early days in delightfully folky fashion, where milling tools and kauri gum rub shoulders with war medals, old china, bottles and buttons, musical instruments and stuffed birds.
5. Chocolate Brown
If you’re a chocolate lover, you’ve probably seen the logo and tried their wares elsewhere, but Warkworth is the home of Chocolate Brown. Make sure you try the house hot chocolate in the café, before struggling to make your mind up in the chocolaterie next door.
Individual handmade chocolates or truffles? A slab of fudge? Classic old-school lollies? Or a bit of everything?