With international travel on hold for the foreseeable future, “staycations” are the new trend for taking a break without having to travel far. Fortunately, Mahurangi and Kaipara have some of the best attractions that New Zealand has to offer. Here’s a list of places to stay and activities to try …
Puhoi Valley Cheese
Visit Puhoi for an award-winning cheese tasting board. Once again Puhoi Valley Cheese has scooped a number of accolades from the 2021 NZ Cheese Awards. Its Pakiri Beach Blue won “champion of cheeses”. Meanwhile, its Matakana Wax Blue took gold, its Te Muri Triple Cream Brie took silver and its Kaipara Washed Rind took bronze. Puhoi Valley also produces award-winning ice cream sold only at its café. The affogato made with Matakana Coffee Roasters coffee is a favourite.
Pakiri Beach Holiday Park
Camping has been re-imagined at Pakiri with a well-appointed “glamping” tent, complete with a four-poster bed, lounge set and open-air bathroom. The partially outdoor kitchen comes with a Weber BBQ and views of the beach and river. There’s a separate bunk room with beds for three children, and outside there are nine kilometres of white sand beach to stroll, including the Pakiri Regional Park. Pakiri Beach Holiday Park currently has a three nights for the price of two deal for its glamping tent, but if glamorous tents aren’t your thing, the park also has cabins.
Perhaps the most beautiful bolthole in the district, Matakana Estate has a four-bedroom lodge that can sleep up to eight guests. It features an outdoor barbecue, an indoor heated swimming pool, media room and large lounger areas. Tall windows reveal 180-degree views of the surrounding vineyard. The price of accommodation includes a welcome platter, breakfast provisions and a bottle of Matakana Estate wine. There is a 20 per cent discount for bookings of at least two nights until August 31.
Brick Bay Sculpture Trail
Brick Bay Winery is both a visual and culinary feast. There are more than 60 large-scale sculptures in the Brick Bay sculpture walk. Tickets are $12, and free for children during school holidays. Proceeds go towards supporting artists with new commissions, meaning the sculptures frequently change. There are umbrellas on hand in case of rain. Brick Bay has a two-course lunch and wine tasting paddle special for $39 until July 9. Signature dishes are the farm-raised lamb, butternut pumpkin soup and crispy sesame squid. Follow it up with a pear and rhubarb panna cotta or persimmon ginger sticky pudding.
Albertland Heritage Museum
If you’re stopping off in Wellsford, be sure to take the opportunity to visit the Albertland museum. The Way We Wore exhibition, featuring curated clothing from 1900 to 1970, is open until August 31. While there, watch a film detailing the history of the founding of Port Albert by non-conformist settlers hoping to rival the success of Auckland. The museum also has extensive collections of photographs depicting everyday life in early settler times. For multi-generational locals, the museum can look up a last name and uncover a family’s history.
If you haven’t had the chance to visit Café Eutopia in Kaiwaka since it reopened, then it is time you made a visit. The iconic café was painstakingly restored and completed by artist couple Marijke Valkenburg and Robert ter Veer. It is filled with mosaics, sculpture and carvings. No two dining spots in the café are the same, with various dream-like scenes hidden in alcoves throughout. The menu includes organic, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options. The vegan breakfast consists of Turkish beans, wilted greens, roasted tofu and vegetables on sourdough toast.
Mercantile Mangawhai is home to two bumper markets every Saturday, from 8.30am to 1pm, all year round. The Mangawhai Community Market raises money for Mangawhai Beach School where it is now held. Items on offer include fresh produce, artisan foods, clothing, books, plants, organic beauty products, hand-crafted toys and much more. Meanwhile, the Mangawhai Tavern also hosts a market with 74 stalls. Goodies include fresh bread and baked goods, street food, antiques, organic cleaning products, jewellery, handmade clothing, a world-renowned sunscreen, Mexican hot sauce and more.
Cove Café and coastal walk
The Cove Café, nestled in picturesque Waipu Cove, is a great place to stop for lunch. The chicken breast served with Kawakawa roasted pumpkin, portobello mushrooms and hazelnut pangrattato and jus is a new addition to the menu. The Seafood Chowder in a creamy tomato bisque soup is a local favourite and has been on the menu for seven years. The Cove Café updates its cocktail menu weekly, with creations such as the Winter Berry Cosmo comprising citron Stolichnaya, Cointreau, “boozy berry purée”, cranberry and lime. Afterwards, walk it off with a stroll along the Waipu coastal walk, which features dramatic cliff-clinging pohutukawas and multi-million dollar houses.
Maungaturoto Second Hand
This treasure trove is a step above a regular secondhand store, with stock sourced from deceased estates, house-lots and downsizers. There is a huge range from top-end furniture to cheap items to stock a flat with, and even boxes of free stuff. Some of the more interesting recent sales include a three-wheel land yacht and a $4500 Waterford crystal chandelier. The store believes in selling anything that comes its way from $1 mugs to 1950s newspapers. There’s an in-store café and even a kids’ play area. It might be New Zealand’s best secondhand store.
Maungaturoto Historic Inn
For a slice of old New Zealand life, make a visit to the 150-year-old Maungaturoto Historic Inn. Those that stop in for a beer and a game of pool are guaranteed to meet some friendly characters – including the owner, Robin Dickinson. They’re more than happy to share a few stories, “but not all of them are true”. A new dinner menu is available after 5.30pm, which includes pork ribs and steamed mussels. Beers on tap include Lion Red, Lion Brown and Speights, in addition there are a variety of ciders and spirits behind the bar. The hotel may or may not be haunted, according to recent reports in Mahurangi Matters.
You’d be mad as a gum digger’s dog not to make a visit the Kauri Museum in Matakohe. The permanent collection includes exquisite objects made from thousand-year-old gum, and exhibits chronicling a nation built on a foundation of kauri timber. The Portraits of our People temporary exhibit is open until September. It includes historical portraits, as well as a collection of pictures of contemporary characters from the district produced by local artists. Book a gum-polishing workshop to get a hands-on experience of turning a rough nugget of gum into a glowing gem, which you can then take away with you. The schoolhouse has also reopened following renovation. Children can experience 19th century education, including writing on slates.
Matakohe Holiday Park
Just a 400-metre walk from the Kauri Museum, the Matakohe Holiday Park has a relaxed atmosphere and quaint cottage accommodation. Settle in for a drink on the deck, play a game of pétanque and make dinner on the BBQ. The kitchens are stocked with fruit and vegetables grown in the park’s garden. Go for a walk along the brand-new walking and cycling trail beside the Arapaoa River at the end of Matakohe East Road. State Highway 12 has been upgraded with a new route and the old road has been pedestrianised and converted into the walkway. The Paparoa markets and the Thirsty Tui pub are a short drive away.