By Mel Fernandez

Video credit: GreVie Diaries (Greg Godin)

MATAKANA – Here’s a side trip that should be at the top of every Aucklander’s bucket list of travel destinations, simply because of its close proximity to Auckland. This popular day trip is a mere hour’s drive north from the Auckland city centre on a multilane highway that weaves through rolling countryside, coastal views and quaint townships and offers one a slower pace of life in peaceful surroundings the further out you venture.

Along the way discover a string of delightful jumping off points where you can chill out and explore at your leisure: Puhoi. Warkworth. Matakana. Leigh. Omaha Beach. Snells Beach …  And for those who like a tipple as a means of escapism, the delightful Coast Wine Country will put you in the right spirit.

This region is too broad a landscape to do justice to in just one article, so the focus here is the delightful Matakana township and surrounds and its main attraction – the rustic Matakana Village Farmers Market held every Saturday morning from 9am to 1pm.

It is prudent to leave Auckland before 9am to ensure that you arrive in time to discover the cornucopia of delights that overflow from the display stalls at the market.

The market is a splendid showcase for local growers and producers and artisan foods. Here they can flaunt their super fresh fruit and veges, organic produce, preserves, pickles, olive oils, breads, gourmet spreads, chocolate, feijoa wine, kombucha, locally made cheeses, artisan hot pastries, salted caramel truffles, pizza, delicious homemade nut butters and jams, honey, specialty meats, sausages, cooked oysters and pau fritters. Highly recommended are the waffles topped with bacon and banana, the Russian fudge and the moreish cheeses (personal favourites).

The markets are cute permanent stalls with wooden tables located on the river’s edge where you can eat and listen to live music.

Once you’ve had your fill of the market it pays to wander around the surrounding Matakana Village. Discover art galleries, antiques, second-hand shops, vineyards, wineries, cafés and restaurants that are sprinkled throughout the area.

A premium tour over here is the Matakana River Cruise that unfolds the history and shows the tidal environment of mangroves, native bush and farmland. The trip takes about an hour.

The area boasts rolling countryside, picturesque coastlines, beaches, hidden coves and some walking tracks. So much to do if you have the time and the inclination.

As a day tripper you can fit in a couple more side trips if you feel up to it. We breezed through the following:

OMAHA BEACH: Omaha is only 7 km away. The waters are great for surfers and swimmers as the waves are moderate. Nothing beats eating fish and chips by the water and then going for a long walk along the sandy beachfront.

GOAT ISLAND MARINE RESERVE: Further up the coast near Leigh is Goat Island – New Zealand’s first marine reserve. If time permits, try snorkelling or go on the glass bottom boat.

WINERIES: Sample award-winning wines at some of Matakana’s boutique vineyards. Indulge in a leisurely lunch overlooking the vines or join a small group tour to several properties.

Plan to visit three to five wineries while you’re in Matakana – there are lots more in the area.

The Matakana Coast may be a relatively new wine-growing region, but over recent years the region has produced several award-winning wines and the number of vineyards in the area has grown dramatically.

On this day trip we got to sample a little of everything the Matakana region offers. But it was hectic. Next time round we would prefer to stay a couple of days at Omaha beach and enjoy more of what the region has to offer at a more leisurely pace.

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