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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once in the park we took a 5km hike along the beach then looped back to the car through sand dunes and grassy fields.
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.
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.
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.
Have you been to Auckland’s Rodney District?