An easy drive from New Zealand’s largest city, Matakana captures the essence of kiwi rural bliss as the arts and foodie gateway to the North, discovers Nick Walton.
The perfect base from which to explore Matakana, less than an hour’s drive north of Auckland, is the luxurious and blissfully private Black & White Barn, a boutique hideaway created by foodies Simon and Amy Hope that’s steps from the center of this dynamic and eclectic village. The Barn has two suites; the Black Suite is inspired by Matakana at night and features a private outdoor patio, fine New Zealand art and a queen-sized bed, while the White Suite, which is clean, crisp, and modern, comes with a king-sized bed that can be configured as two singles, Smeg appliances, and locally-produced Matakana Botanicals toiletries. The suites can be combined for friends and family traveling together to make the Black and White Cottage. Be sure to leave time for lingering continental breakfasts served al fresco.
What put little Matakana on the map was its Farmer’s Markets and you should time your visit so you can mingle with locals and Aucklanders alike among the quirky and eclectic stalls, cafes, and galleries centered around the Matakana Village complex. There’s live music, games for the kids, great coffee, and a plethora of snacks to enjoy, from Manaki whitebait fritters and preserves and dips from Puhoi Pantry to freshly baked bread and homemade preserves from the Pukeko Bakery. Also look out for locally-made feijoa sparkling wine from Lothlorien, made with New Zealand’s unofficial national fruit; honey bourbon from Batch 10; and gourmet delights from I Love Pies. Beyond the food stalls, there’s plenty on offer in the Village, from beautiful home décor at Damask Studio and Matakana Home, to local art, decadent chocolate, and superb coffee – something kiwis take quite seriously. The markets are every Saturday from 8 am-1 pm.
Walk off your grazing at one of the country’s most popular new art destinations. Sculptureum is a fascinating multi-million-dollar complex of six galleries and three sculpture gardens. The creation of owners Anthony and Sandra Grant, who spent a decade collecting a fascinating array of works, the estate has both indoor and outdoor galleries, with 150 exhibits and 400 pieces by artists from New Zealand and abroad including John Ferguson, Cezanne, Monet, Chagall, and Rodin. After you’ve worked up an appetite in the gardens and galleries head for Rothko, the estate’s restaurant, named for US artist Mark Rothko, where executive chef Jarrod McGregor serves up delectable, modern cuisine using locally-sourced ingredients and matched with boutique Matakana wines.
Another great arts hub nearby is Art Matakana. Situated in the Matakana Country Park, just over the hill from the vibrant Matakana village on the way to Leigh or Omaha, Art Matakana is the areas’ longest established gallery. The gallery is in a large rustic building, giving it plenty of character, light, and display space to best compliment the art on display. Art Matakana represents a range of talented New Zealand artists -both well-known and emerging. We exhibit an ever-changing selection of paintings, wall and garden sculpture, ceramics, selected prints, and jewelry.
A short drive away, Sawmill is an independent brewery turning heads with its craft beers and organic wines. You can explore the brewery on a guided tour that finishes with a flight of five of the brewery’s top drops, or pop in at the Smoko Room, the venue’s cellar door, for sips of the 14 regular brews, and two seasonal drafts, all of which are made with no sugar, preservatives or colors added and are unpasteurized. Find your favorite tipple to take home with you. Plan your visit right and you’ll enjoy live music and a great evening ambiance.
Matakana has also made a name for itself for its boutique wines, and one winery has helped thrust the scene into the national spotlight. Ascension Wine Estate was one of the region’s first wineries and makes stellar chardonnays, pinotages, and sparkling roses, as well as grappa and plum brandies. Once you’ve worked up a thirst in the tasting room make your way to the award-winning Osteria restaurant, home to contemporary Italian fare – you can even opt for a private dining experience in the winery or wine cellar – with highlights of the menu including cured salmon with avocado mousse and dill gel; smoked duck with rocked salad, orange, and mandarin oil; and balls of mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, feta, and fontina, breadcrumbed and fried.
Explore the stunning coastline of Pakiri beach on a one-hour horseback adventure with Pakiri Beach Horse Rides. You’ll encounter some of the local wildlife, from endangered Dotterills and oystercatchers while enjoying views of Little Barrier and the Hen & Chicken Islands. Longer rides through sand dunes, pohutukawa glades, and native forests are also available.
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