Kawau Island

Coastal Sandspit

The journey from Auckland to the northern town takes less than an hour and is the place to board the ferry to Kawau Island.

Sandspit is a coastal settlement seven kilometres from Warkworth on the Mahurangi Peninsula. Snells Beach is to the south and the popular bohemian village of Matakana is to the north.

The trip aboard Reubens Cruises’ Kawau Kat takes just over half an hour. Kawau Island itself is a tranquil haven. Mansion House is there – the stately residence completed in 1872 and originally owned by New Zealand’s first governor, Sir George Grey – so too are wekas, tui, wood pigeon, wallabies and a pair of pushy peacocks. The colourful show-offs spend most of their time strutting around the palm-dotted grounds, staunchly defending the cafe entrance opposite the mansion.

Enjoy a leisurely 25-minute stroll to the lookout and stop for lunch to take in the spectacular views over Dispute Cove to the copper mine ruins below.

Back on the mainland be sure to visit the four donkeys that live on the hill overlooking Sandspit Holiday Park. Donkey dad Hercules, mum Xena and sons Zeus and Zac are super friendly and race up to the fence to get a pat on the head. Apples may also have something to do with it.

Then drive the 10 minutes down the road to the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, a unique environment where art and nature meet.

Richard and Christine Didsbury have created a type of art gallery set among the farmland and native bush of the Brick Bay Farm. Over 40 sculptures – most of which are for sale – dot the landscape. Metallic geometric shapes reflect the surrounding kanuka trees, giant windmills rise up from a farm hillside and corrugated forms float on a picture-perfect lake like wood shavings on the workshop floor.

The 2km walk is the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon. Afterwards you can relax in the ultra-modern restaurant overlooking the lake while sipping on a glass of Brick Bay wine discussing your walk of art.

Sandspit is a 55-minute drive north of Auckland. Sandspit is on the Mahurangi Peninsula, 30 minutes from Mahurangi West, close to Warkworth and with Snells Beach and Algies Bay to the south. To the east is Scotts Landing and Mahurangi Heads. Matakana village is 10 minutes from Sandspit. The Matakana village farmers’ market is world famous for its locally grown produce and is a food lovers’ paradise. It is open Saturday from 9am until 1pm and Wednesday from 3pm to 7pm. Tawharanui regional park is 15 minutes from Sandspit. New Zealand’s first integrated open sanctuary is a 588-hectare park where native plants and animals including kiwi can live and breed successfully without the threat of predators. Brick Bay Sculpture Trail is open daily from 10am-5pm, adults $10, students $8 and children under five free.

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Wine at Matakana

Enjoy a taste of the good life on a road trip through Matakana Coast & Country. With sparkling beaches, flourishing marine reserves, gourmet treats, character pubs and friendly towns, this area is a favourite getaway less than an hour north of Auckland City.

Begin your adventure at the historic village of Puhoi, which was settled by immigrants from Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). Evidence of its Bohemian culture is still visible, particularly at the iconic Puhoi Pub with its interior filled with memorabilia.

At Puhoi you can also hire a kayak or canoe and paddle down the picturesque Puhoi River to the Wenderholm Regional Park, an expansive scenic park encompassing a long sandy beach, native forest and plenty of gorgeous scenery, before catching a courtesy coach back to Puhoi. Indulge on handcrafted cheeses and yoghurts at Puhoi Valley Café and Cheese Store before you set off for Warkworth.

About 2 kms north of Puhoi, on your way north to Warkworth, turn right into Mahurangi West Road. Carry on down this road for about 5kms and you’ll come to your B&B accommodation for the weekend.  If you give your hosts at Mahurangi West Wing a call, they can be available for you so you can drop your gear off and get organised before continuing north on your adventure.

Warkworth is the main town on the attention-grabbing Matakana Coast, with plenty of cafés, restaurants and boutique shops to explore. Take a stroll along the boardwalk lining the Mahurangi River in the heart of town, admire giant kauri trees at Parry Kauri Park, check out the museum or take a horse-riding trip. If you’re a craft beer fan or just like a good place to relax, visiting Tahi Bar is a must.

A detour well worth the effort is a side trip to Kawau Island. The departure point is from Sandspit, 10 minutes from Warkworth, and water taxis glide from here into the turquoise waters surrounding Kawau Island daily. Explore Mansion House, the stately home with exotic gardens that was developed by Sir George Grey, the first governor of New Zealand. You can also enjoy the impressive native flora and take one of the many walks.

Wine at Matakana

Wine at Matakana

Just outside of Warkworth is Matakana, a village that’s becoming increasingly popular as a weekend getaway destination thanks to its laid-back lifestyle and boutique wineries. Matakana Village has a cinema, boutique shops, excellent restaurants and there are many wineries and vineyards in the surrounding district. Morris and James Pottery and Café is well worth a visit, and the whole family will love the Matakana Country Park with its petting zoo, pony rides, gallery, café and gift shop.

If the likes of mussel fritters, organic blueberry ice cream, locally made olive oil and cheeses, artisan baking, freshly brewed coffee and fresh produce has your mouth watering, a trip to the Matakana Farmers’ Market is a must. Held in Matakana on Saturday morning, these markets are not only a chef’s heaven, they also have a wonderful atmosphere. With live music and entertainment, friendly locals and bargains galore, this is a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

Around 15 minutes from Matakana is Leigh, a relaxed township known for the great live-music gigs at the Leigh Sawmill Café, which is also home to a brewery, restaurant and accommodation options. At Leigh you can also charter a boat to take you to local dive spots or wander around the harbourside walkway.

If you like to be surrounded by an abundance of aquatic life, then Goat Island Marine Reserve just outside of Leigh will have your eyes darting in all directions. New Zealand’s first marine reserve is rich in the likes of lace coral, crustaceans, snapper, stingrays and kahawai. This underwater utopia provides obvious appeal if you’re keen on diving and snorkelling, but if you’d prefer to stay out of the water, the Glass Bottom Boat is a fine alternative.

When you’re finished exploring Leigh, loop back towards Auckland via Pakiri Beach – horse riding is available here – and Wellsford before rejoining SH 1 and heading south towards your glorious bed and breakfast accommodation for the night.

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