Enjoying the slower pace of life in North Auckland

Whenever I return to Auckland I always try to make it up to North Auckland, Particularly Rodney District, for at least a night. Located one hour from the city centre, Matakana and the surrounding towns of Rodney District feel a world apart from the hectic-ness of Auckland. It’s hard to believe that this slice of paradise is in fact still part of greater Auckland.

Matakana is a sleepy country village with a short main street that comes alive during the weekend when hordes of Aucklanders descend upon it to attend the Matakana markets and to eat and shop at the handful of excellent options available in town.

It never used to be so popular and back when my Auntie and Grandmother first moved here there was little more than a petrol station and a pub. Some locals probably hate what it has become now but I still love it despite the changes. I love how one day it can be bustling with out-of- towners and the next it is quiet and forgotten again. It keeps things interesting.

Matakana Riverside - where the Matakana Markets are held in North Auckland

I have had ties to Matakana through my Dad’s family for the past 13 years as both of his sisters and my Grandmother (until her death a year ago) lived there and my Dad lived there for three years himself when I was a teenager.

These days my step-sister, the daughter of my Mum’s husband, also lives in Rodney District at nearby Snells Beach and works at the Matakana Health Store. Yet another reason to visit.

So despite only being back in New Zealand for a short week where I packed in a visit to my Mum in Tauranga, my Dad in Auckland and a close friend in Hamilton, I still managed to make time for Matakana and the Matakana markets. How could I not?

This time around I focused on visiting family, eating VERY well and squeezing in a couple of hikes in Rodney District.

Exploring Auckland’s Rodney District

Wenderholm Regional Park

Bypassing the highway, I prefer to take the scenic route to get up to Matakana via Orewa and Waiwera. Orewa was once a quiet beach town full of retirees but is fast becoming a popular commuter suburb of Auckland. The tiny blip that is Waiwera hasn’t changed much at all in my lifetime other than the slow expansion of the thermal pools. It is still refreshingly small and quiet.

After a quick stop for lunch in a sunshiny café across from the beach in Orewa, we decided to get out into the great New Zealand outdoors during a break in the drizzly weather. Wenderholm Regional Park, a short distance up the road from Waiwera was our destination.

Trees at Wenderholm Regional Park in North Auckland

The park is a peaceful spot to camp, hike or swim at the beach and we chose to do the longest hike in the park, the 4.8km Perimeter Track. Leaving Dad in the car with his book, Trav and I set out along a line of giant trees then rising up into the thick bush.

The trail was muddy and we carefully made our way towards the top of the forested headland then down to a clearing with views over the water to Waiwera. A chorus of tui song accompanied us and we saw a plump native wood pigeon settled above us in the trees.

Seating at Wenderholm Regional Park in North Auckland Perimeter trail at Wenderholm Regional Park in North Auckland

At the top of the headland we were afforded stunning views over the beach and the murky Puhoi River and mudflats. Small islands sat offshore in the turquoise waters of the harbour.

Views from cliffs at Wenderholm Regional Park in North AucklandClifftop views at Wenderholm Regional Park in North Auckland

Back into thickets of bush we passed gurgling streams and waterfalls as we made our way down the boardwalks to ground level, and down to the wild beach. On this still week day afternoon it was deserted.

Wenderholm Beach in Wenderholm Regional Park in North Auckland

Matakana Village and Matakana Markets

Arriving in Matakana is like coming home which is not surprising considering how long I have been coming here. Our first stop after visiting my Aunties at home was to the historic Matakana Village Pub; the local pub, restaurant and general meeting place for the village.

The building has been around for 110 years which is a VERY long time in New Zealand years. It used to be a lot more rustic, with animal heads decorating the walls and old-fashioned pattered wallpaper but it underwent a massive scale renovation in 2012, which opened up the space a lot more. It is now marketed as a gastro pub and the food is very, very good.

I had one of the most incredible meals I have ever had on this visit. Seriously, it was THAT good. Roast chicken with buttered braised parsnips, mushroom wellington and parsnip crisps, followed by a Rhubarb Tart. Following that incredible meal with lots of delicious New Zealand and USA craft beer made it a pretty awesome evening.

My second favourite thing in Matakana after the Village Pub are surely the Matakana Markets, particularly the Matakana Farmer’s Market held every Saturday. Artisan producers from around the region sell their products alongside food stands selling paua and mussel fritters, specialty pies, incredible coffee and even buffalo burgers.

We arrived at the Matakana market around midday and were given free fritters and two-for-one smoked fish pies as the food vendors were about to shut up shop. Sitting on the small river wharf we watched the ducks and listened to live folk music.

Paua fritter at the Matakana Market in Matakana Village, North Auckland Down by the river in Matakana Village in North Auckland

If we had been staying in New Zealand longer I would have stocked up on some of the amazing food available including cheeses, olive oil, fresh bread and pastries, locally brewed beer and feijoa wine.

Vendor at the Matakana Market in North AucklandPies at the Matakana Market in Matakana Village, North Auckland

There is a Sunday Sessions Vintage Market just up the road and we stopped in to see my cousin and auntie who have a second hand clothing stand there every week. There were also churros – mmmm.

Churros from the Matakana Market in North Auckland

Along with the Matakana markets, Matakana Village has quite a few shops worth checking out including an awesome book store, numerous gift shops, a surf shop and a great little health shop that is run by my step-sister Kirstie. Also be sure to check out the excellent Matakana Kitchen for lunch or dinner and the Black Dog Café does a delicious brunch.

Tāwharanui Regional Park

Located on a remote peninsula only twenty minutes’ drive from Matakana Village is Tāwharanui Regional Park, an open sanctuary and pest free habitat that provides a safe home for threatened native wildlife.

The drive out there is scenic with coastal views and rolling pastures. The countryside in Rodney District is incredibly verdant and the colours always amaze me with their almost cartoon-like vividness.

Tawharanui Regional Park in North Auckland

Once in the park we took a 5km hike along the beach then looped back to the car through sand dunes and grassy fields.

Landlocked island in Tawharanui Regional Park in North AucklandTawharanui beach in Tawharanui Regional Park in North Auckland

The long, flat beach is one of Auckland’s loveliest. Oystercatchers milled around the shoreline, running from tiny waves on their little red legs. Clear green water shimmered under the hazy winter sun.

Brilliant colours in Tawharanui Regional Park, North Auckland

Fantails flitted around us as we walked through the low grasses of the sand dunes, catching tiny flying insects stirred up by our movement. Large blue Pukeko dug around in the swampy grassland near the carpark for food.

Fantail at Tawharanui Regional Park in North AucklandPukeko at Tawharanui Regional Park in North Auckland

Each time I find myself in Rodney District, particularly Matakana, I am further reminded that Auckland is actually quite a remarkable city. And that the best bits are located on the fringe, especially in beautiful and peaceful Rodney District.

Beautiful Tawharanui Regional Park in North Auckland

Have you been to Auckland’s Rodney District?

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Best things to do in North Auckland

8 comments on “Enjoying the Slower Pace of Life in North Auckland”

  1. This is so informative. We live part of the week in Snells beach and feel so at home when we drive through warkworth. Thanks for the information about the parks, have only been to the kauri grove at the warkworth museum that’s a great walk.

  2. Glad I’ve found your blog! Our holiday plans for the next couple of years are to hire a camper for a month in New Zealand next year and the following year do the same in Alaska so I will be following your blog with interest!

    I’ve already started planning the NZ trip and since we will be picking up the camper in Auckland on a Saturday I think we’ll make the Matakana Farmers Market our first stop. I’ve read your post about Northland and most of the places you mention are already on the itinerary but I’m sure I’ll pick up some good tips once I’ve read your other posts.

    Looking forward to your reports on Alaska.

    • Hi Les, I am glad you found it too! I really hope you make the Farmers Market in Matakana, it is such a lovely, friendly place. If you visit the Health Store down near the market you will probably be served by my step-sister Kirstie. Northland is wonderful and I am sure you will enjoy it. Let me know if you have any questions about NZ travel, I am more than happy to help 🙂

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