Rus­tic, up to a point

A scenic gourmet par­adise lies an hour from Auck­land, writes Caitlin Smith

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - GOURMET -

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.

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