Rustic, up to a point
A scenic gourmet paradise lies an hour from Auckland, writes Caitlin Smith
IT WAS a smooth scene, not out of place in the most cosmopolitan city – a sleek wine bar, a good-natured end-ofweek crowd, a splash of pinot gris and great company in the form of a couple of new friends extending a warm welcome and sharing their passion for the place they call home.
But this wasn’t an urban locale. I was at The Vintry in the very rural Matakana Village, about an hour’s drive north of downtown Auckland.
I’d just stepped outside, the warmth of the fire and the wine yet to recede, when out of the blue: Did they show you the toilets?’’
It was an enthusiastic query from Claudia Schenz, gregarious, hugely entertaining, German-born and bred, but now a proud local. She had earlier delivered a sublime facial at her Alegria Beautyfarm bed-and-breakfast and spa, before taking pity on a solo traveller and offering to play tour guide.
Um, no,’’ I replied, puzzled by the unexpected bend in conversation. Fairly standard in size and shape, and complete with all the usual infrastructure, the difference was that these loos almost vibrated with the intensity of the lime-green paint job. The men’s is covered in an equally vivid orange, apparently.
These fluorescent flushers were so out of whack with the rest of the restaurant and retail complex’s rustic sophistication that I could understand why it might be a talking point for the locals.
But that was the only offbeat note in my visit to the Matakana Coast region. The rest of my experience was about soaking up the natural beauty of deserted beaches, expansive bays and sheep-spotted pastures. The other theme was food. Food, food and more food.
I had been told a visit to Matakana Village Farmers Market, which has put the area firmly on New Zealand’s gourmet map, was a must. Held every Saturday, the markets have permanent residency, with a purposebuilt complex in the centre of town. Stalls sell everything from breads and cheeses to home-made pickles and jams, beer and wine and all manner of sweet treats, all made in the area.
Those looking for immediate gratification could find mussel and whitebait fritters cooked on the spot, fresh potato bake and soup. Knowing Customs would restrict my takeaway options, I was happy to have a go at them all. Too stuffed to move, I retired to the boardwalk that runs along an adjacent stream and enjoyed the sun as a jazz quartet belted out some tunes.
Joy Iverson, Matakana’s Queen of Tarts according to the chalkboard above her popular stall, stood watch over a table bulging with sweets, among them a small mountain of sugar masquerading as coconut ice and cushiony doughnuts dripping with icing. She puts her success down to customers dealing directly with producers.
Away from the markets themselves, you can check out an ice-creamery and chocolate shop in the main street, the boutique bookshop and paper and card shop, and an art gallery, souvenir shop and clothing store.
Across the road is the Brookview Teahouse, which offers a slightly more formal setting. I opted for the high tea’’ and was served a little collection of sweet and savoury morsels on a platter straight from granny’s crockery collection.
My base for this weekend was Waimana Point Lodge, about 15 minutes’ drive from Matakana Village. It was perfect not only for the markets but also the many wineries and golf courses in the district, beach horseriding and art and craft attractions.
Owners and hosts Geoff and Gloria Collier, who farmed the land before building the lodge, have chosen materials that fit the environment. There are views across the gorgeous Kawau Bay every way you turn – from the four spacious suites, from the heated 20m indoor lap pool and the slightly cosier outdoor bathtubs.
This a spot yet to receive much tourism attention. But if it’s an undiscovered gem, it’s one with considerable polish and real potential for a tasty long weekend away from home.