auckland escape

Five of the best mini-breaks in Auckland

Auckland has plenty about it to love, but sometimes we all need and Auckland escape;  to get away from the big smoke.

If you’re already considering a mid-winter break but don’t want to break the bank, then a stay-cation rather than a vacation may be just the thing. And one of the great aspects of Auckland, because of its huge sprawl, is that there are some secret little corners that will make you think you’re not in Auckland anymore.

Stuff have put together a list of favourite spots on the fringes of the city, which will provide you with a getaway, be it just for the day or an overnighter. Either way, they’re guaranteed to show you a new side of Auckland and recharge your batteries. Looking for somewhere to stay on your Auckland mini-break? See if we have availability at the time you’d like to escape.

1. Goat Island, Leigh

Goat IslandSnorkeler surveying fish at Goat Island Marine Reserve in Leigh.

With pristine waters and friendly fish, the marine reserve of Goat Island in Auckland’s rural north is a world away from the hustle and bustle of big city Auckland. Though a dip in the water may not sound like the ideal holiday for a mid-winter break, the locals say its the perfect time to visit, with the weather conditions making for the most crystal clear waters.

You can tog up in a thick wetsuit provided by the local rental snorkelling shop, or if you really don’t want to get wet there are kayaks or a glass-bottomed boat offering 45-minute tours of the marine life. And then drift back to Leigh for a meal and a hot toddy. You can make it a day trip or stay at our B&B to make a weekend of it – and check out some of the other local attractions. Goat Island is about 40 minutes’ drive from our bed and breakfast.

2. Matakana


Mahurangi River winery is one of the finest of Matakana’s selection of vineyards.

So fins and a wet suit are not your cup of tea. Maybe a glass of pinot and a cheese platter is more your style. No problem, the north can cater for your tastes too. A mere hour away from Auckland’s CBD a sprawl of vineyards and cafes awaits you.

With plenty of accommodation, such as our B&B, you can easily extend your stay it into a weekend getaway. Enjoy the Matakana Farmer’s Market which takes place every Saturday and Sunday with a spread of fresh produce and great lunch food. We’d highly recommend the buffalo burgers. There is also a quality ice cream shop and a gallery of local arts and crafts to bring some of Matakana home with you.

3. Kawau Island
Kawau Island

Kawau is surrounded by clear blue water.

Auckland is a city of cars (and congestion and interminable traffic light delays at times). So where better to get away from Auckland without leaving Auckland than go where there are no cars. Get out onto the Hauraki Gulf and try Kawau Island, accessible only by a ferry or a water taxi from Sandspit – 25kms from our B&B. Once you’re there we guarantee the big smoke will be well out of your mind.

Take a walk along one of the Island’s many tracks, visit the Mansion House to dabble in some history and if your budget allows, stay in one of the Island’s cottages overnight.

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Ransom Wines

Matakana is a tiny region, about an hour drive north from the city. Warm maritime climate, mainly clay soils and nice slopes make this area well suited for wine growing. However, you might be surprised that you can find there only about a dozen of producers. And all of them have no more than few hectares of vineyards.

ransom-winesOne of the producers we visited was Ransom Wines. Our visit to Ransom Wines was one of the best we had so far. Wonderful wines, lovely and passionate people, beautiful landscape and magnificent architecture. Fantastic time! I have already written about their Pinot Gris, so you may imagine that I was very excited about that visit.

The history of the winery started in the early 90s of last century when Marion and Robin helped they friend in setting up his winery in Nelson. It was hard not to fall in love with wine making, so soon enough they started to look for a vineyard of their own. Still, owning a winery and making wine was not risk free, so Marion and Robin decided to keep their jobs in Auckland and looked for vineyards around the city. Fortunately, they found land in Mahurangi Valley and planted first vines in 1993. And in 1996 they could celebrate their first harvest. Later, other members of their family joined and now they proudly say that they are a family winery. Family which is obviously called Ransom 🙂

And what is their philosophy of wine growing and wine making?

Our aim is to maximise the advantage of our soils, climate and topography to produce wines of elegance and finesse which will complement food and age gracefully.

We started our tasting with recently bottled Albarino from 2015 vintage. Wonderful wine, resembling lighter versions of its relatives from Rias Baixas in Spain. Orange, apricots and limes in the nose. Very fresh and even ethereal with high acidity and delicate minerality. Points: 87+

Second wine of the tasting was Clos de Valerie Pinot Gris 2012 (the one we had with mussels some time ago). I must admit that I got excited one more time! I’m even willing to say that this has been the best New Zealand Pinot Gris I have tasted so far! And surely this was the one which could compete with Pinot Gris from Alsace. Peaches, apricots, pineapple, citrus, a bit oh honey, good acidity, elegance and light minerality. Splendid wine! Points: 90

Vin Gris was a rose from 2015. Good, refreshing rose with aromas of strawberries and raspberries and good acidity. Points: 85+

Mahurangi 2012 was a blend of Syrah, Malbeca, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon. Such a blend made in a good winery could not go bad, could it? Fruit bomb with toasts, light vanilla, medium+ acidity, elegance and long finish. Points: 90+

Another wine made us almost travel to Chile. Every winelover knows the Chilean story about Carmenere who was thought to be Merlot for many years. Only in the 90-ties it was discovered that the flagship grape of Chile was not Merlot but Carmenere. Well, believe it not, but similar story happened in New Zealand. For many years it was believed that Carmenere was Cabernet Franc. However, recently some DNA tests have proved the real identity of the grape. Still, if I had blind tasted this 100% Carmenere I would have said that it was a more muscular version of Cabernet Franc from Loire Valley. Dark fruit, earthiness, spices, flowers and olives. High and astringent tannins, high acidity and long finish. I loved this wine! Points: 90

Dark Summit 2011 was indeed very dark wine. Imagine the 20-ties of 20th century, USA, night time club, cigarettes smoke, gangsters and illegal gambling — this is what this wine is about! Points: 91

Syrah 2013 is a fabulous wine. While Carmenere and Dark Summit were kind of brutal, Syrah is very subtle, soft and even sexy. Points: 89+

Grandmère Pinot Gris Doux Naturel 2014 is a sweet version of Pinot Gris. Even though I love sweet wines (this is what happens when you visit Mosel and Rheingau every summer), I was not convinced by this wine. I’m not saying it was bad, rather that it didn’t have enough acidity backbone. Points: 84

The last wine we tried was a very curious wine — Cabernet Fort 2003. This was a surprise even for the winemaker himself. Cabernet graped shriveled on the vine and they almost got discarded. Fortunately, Robin decided to do an experiment and use them to make a port-like wine. The wine spent 6 years in oak barrels and 3 years in the bottle. And yes, it was worth it! The wine was full of sweet dark fruit, dark chocolate, toasts, licorice, spices and dried plum. Add to this medium acidity and long finish and you get exceptional wine. Points: 90


Jakub Jurkiewicz – Wine Weekly from Kiwiland

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brick bay

Warkworth Walks – Walks Worth Walking

More than just walks!

Started in November 2009 and incorporated as a not for profit in 2012, Warkworth Walks offer guided walks over land usually not open to the public.

This weekend there were another 13 spectacular guided trails through beautiful Warkworth, Mahurangi, Matakana, Kaipara, Leigh and Puhoi areas.

The walks traversed many of our most stunning coastal tracks, some over normally inaccessible areas on private land, leading to many very special places.

The walks are graded for all fitness levels and led by experienced local guides and paced to suit everyone.

There was plenty of time to catch your breath, enjoy the breathtaking views and pause at interesting points to take photos and swap tales.

The included lunches vary according to the walk – some picnic style, others sit-down or barbeque meals.

On the Sandspit to Brick Bay Sculpture Park which we did on the most postcard-perfect day, we started at Sandspit Holiday Park then walked around the beautiful coast line to the Sculpture Park via Whisper Cove. After a guided tour through the private part of the sculputer park, we enjoyed a sumptuous platter lunch, a glass of some of the area’s best wine at the “glass house” winery followed by time to wander through the expansive and unique Sculpture Park.

We walked across private property and farmland, enjoying expansive, fantastic views of Kawau Bay and the Hauraki Gulf.

So for 2016 gather a group of friends, work colleagues or family and join us for a fun walking weekend. Your experience in and around Warkworth will be rewarding and you will make new friends, learn something new about our unique environs and enjoy the local hospitality.

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lonely planet

David Farrier Corrects Lonely Planet’s Shamefully Inaccurate Analysis of Waiheke Island

By David Farrier

Many moons ago I penned an article entitled It’s Time We Admitted That Waiheke is Terrible. I told some terrible truths in that piece, and the people of Waiheke were unhappy. The comments section was clogged with vile filth: death threats and winery recommendations.

But today, Waiheke residents are rejoicing. Lonely Planet has named their island the fifth best region to travel to in 2016. It calls it a “utopia of coves, beaches, vineyards, bohemian sensibilities, and above all, fun”.

I call it a water-ringed prison colony for Auckland’s most annoying people. Here I correct the travel bible’s inaccurate take on our biggest city’s shameful excuse for a holiday island.

Lonely Planet: Nestled in the Hauraki Gulf and shouldering the impressive dormant island volcano Rangitoto, a mere 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland sits an island utopia of secret coves, beautiful beaches, rolling vineyards, luxury lodges and bohemian sensibilities. Waiheke Island, known as the ‘Island of Wine’ and home to over 30 wineries and some of the best boutique cellar door experiences New Zealand has to offer. Many wineries boast views of the spectacular Auckland skyline, and you can quaff a Syrah (Shiraz) or rosé, bask in brilliant sunshine, taste local produce and discover the meaning of ‘Waiheke time’. Dionysus would approve.

David Farrier: A mere 35-minute ferry ride? Does that include the time spent lining up like cattle to file onto a musty boat? It’s hard to know what to do while onboard. Your choices include eating a damp sandwich, downing a scalding hot coffee, or getting sea-sick. But soon you’re on the island, wine gripped tightly in hand. Why doesn’t it mention that before quaffing the wine, you have to take a photo of it and post it to Instagram with the hashtag #Waiheke?

LP: Waiheke’s bohemian and hippie past is not far from the surface and the island continues to have a thriving artistic community where over a hundred working artists ply their trades in disciplines such as sculpture, glass blowing, painting and woodwork. Waiheke is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground, where mountain biking, sea kayaking and sailing can all be indulged. The island is an electric, heady mix set against a Buddha Bar soundtrack: fast yet slow all at the same time – there’s nowhere else on earth quite like it. The secret is out and in 2016 Waiheke Island is welcoming the world to sample from its abundant offerings and inviting all visitors to fall under its spell.

DF: By “artistic community”, I think you mean the fiercely defensive, gossip-ridden cluster of marooned residents. In Iceland (also on many of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Lists) the government released an app so that when you meet someone you have a sexual interest in, you tap phones and it tells you if you’re related. This App would sell like hotcakes in Waiheke’s artistic community.

As for those “outdoor enthusiasts”, then you’re probably talking about the weekend visitors to the Island. There’s another name for those visitors: Auckland’s worst people.

Also, it’s scientifically impossible to be fast yet slow all at the same time. Has Lonely Planet slipped through a tear in the wall of the universe to emerge in another dimension?

LP: Life-changing experiences

Book a bach. That’s what the locals do. A ‘bach’ is a holiday house that can be used for short-term rental and it’s the perfect base from which to explore the island’s variety of offerings. And there are plenty of baches – over 450 across the island, bookable online.

On waking to the singing chirrup of the cicadas in summer, take a stroll or scooter to Palm Beach for an early morning swim in the cove’s shallow, sheltered waters. Then it’s off to Wild on Waiheke to sample a beer float before challenging your party to take on archery in the vines. Ride the flying fox zipline across native forest at Eco Zip Adventures before knocking on a few cellar doors such as Mudbrick or Cable Bay to sample the nectar of the island. Finish your evening mingling with locals at the Oyster Inn, where a curated offering of craft beers and local vintages are offered alongside a menu brimming with local produce and fresh oysters. Sleep. Wake. Repeat.

DF: So, are the locals just booking baches every day of the year? Do they not live in their own homes? Or are they just running rampant in the woods, occasionally breaking into a bach to live the high life? But thank God, what’s that noise? The beautiful soothing sound of 100,000 screaming cicadas, New Zealand’s most annoying insect.  Then it’s back to securing your man bun for wine selfies at Mudbrick and Cable Bay and more glasses of craft beer.

LP: Regional flavours

Waiheke Island’s boutique wineries and their accompanying cellar doors and restaurants are the most accessible in New Zealand; a 35-minute journey from Auckland and you’ll find yourself sampling your first Syrah. ‘The Island of Wine’ is best known for its award-winning Syrah, but varietals such as Montepulciano, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo and Viognier can be found among the island’s 30-plus vineyards. With cellar doors offering everything from simple tastings to five-star restaurant experiences, Waiheke has options for all palates and budgets. Many tour companies offer day trips from Auckland that take in a minimum of three cellar doors or, during summer, the popular Vineyard Hopper allows you to hop on and off at the cellar doors of your choosing.

DF: It starts well enough, the sun on your neck and the allure of a decadent vineyard on the horizon. You walk inside, wiping some sweat from your brow, before ordering your award winning Syrah. You drink it slow, trying to forget about the last week. Hell, the last year. You order a bottle – it’s delicious, and you finish that faster than the 35-minute ferry ride. You raise your hand, exclaiming – “Waiter!” and order a Pino, swiftly followed by a Tempranillo. You look up and you’re not even in the winery, you’re walking on the road, singing The Feelers. You think back to their great concert on the island in the mid-90s with your ex. Or are you still with her? You can’t remember. Who gives a fuck. You double over, stomach suddenly cramping. You projectile vomit onto the lush Waiheke roadside grass. A car drives by. “Wankers!” you yell. The car doesn’t slow. It’s 3am. You can’t remember where you put your return ferry ticket. Christ, you forgot to try the Viognier. You throw up a second time.

LP:  Random fact

Waiheke Island was the first community in New Zealand to vote for a nuclear-free zone. It is popularly believed that this stand helped contribute to the whole country becoming nuclear-free under the prime ministership of David Lange in 1987.

DF: This is the only good thing Waiheke has done. Great job.

So we say “why would you?” You’re much better to come to Mahurangi West and stay at our B&B: bed and breakfast accommodation near Auckland but a world away from the city! See if we have a vacancy at a time that suits you.

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mahurangi river winery

Wineries in Matakana

Albariño, Rousanne and Viognier — future wine stars of New Zealand?

This trip through Auckland wineries takes us to Mahurangi River Winery, located in the Matakana region.

Mahurangi River Winery is a small winery, founded in the end of 90s of last century. It was the time when they planted their Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay. Later, in 2011, Albariño and Roussane joined. The winery is located in beautiful neighbourhood, with scenic views of rolling hills and vineyards.mahurangi river winery

What about the wines from wineries in Matakana? Let’s start with Albariño 2014.

Albariño was a classic expression of the grape, resembling the one from Rias Baixas. Full of peach and citrus fruit. Light, refreshing, even mineral. It was another example, next to the one from Ransom Wines, showing that Albariño can give great results in New Zealand. Points: 87+

mahurangi riverThe blend of Rousanne and Viognier was even better than Albariño. Aromas of apricots, oranges, with hint of honey and flowers. Medium+ body and acidity made this wine well balanced and refreshing. Points: 88

Maximus Malbec /Merlot 2012 is a very good wine if someone is looking for rather light and joyful red wine. It has aromas of strawberries, raspberries and red currents. Medium body, medium- tannins and medium acidity — not very exciting, but well done and giving pleasure. Points: 86

Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is much more serious wine, full of black fruit, toasts, black earth and smoky aromas. Full bodied, high and elegant tannins and medium+ acidity. This wine gives a lot of pleasure right now, but it will age well and be even better in next 5–10 years. Points: 89

mahurangi-river-wineThe last wine we tasted was the best one — Syrah Reserve 2013. It was a nice balance between lighter style of Northern Rhone Syrah and muscular Australian Shiraz. Black fruit, herbs, pepper, leather and a bit of coffee. With significant and elegant tannins, medium+ acidity and long finish. Splendid wine! Points: 90

We left Mahurangi River Winery with a bottle of Sparkling Rose 2014 (Merlot + Malbec). Great bubbles with medium+ acidity, red fruit and a small bit of biscuits. You just cannot say you don’t like it! Points: 85

Mahurangi River Winery was another winery which surprised us with high quality and wonderful wines. It also let us believe that there is a lot of good going on outside of the famous New Zealand regions. Moreover, another chance to try Albariño, Roussane and Viognier proved that these grape varieties can give fabulous wines in New Zealand.

Hopefully, more growers will invest in them and they will be more commonly available for wine-lovers joy and pleasure.

Wine Weekly from Kiwiland

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Omaha Beach Surf Experience with Salt Water Eco

accommodation in matakanaYour day begins in the heart of Matakana Wine Country, only about 40 minutes from Mahurangi West Wing Bed & Breakfast. Here you meet your expert Surf Instructor over fresh coffee and delicious locally produced treats at the Village’s renowned Matakana Market Kitchen (MMK).

A short 10 minute drive then takes you towards the coast and over the stunning Whangateau Harbour and into Omaha. Omaha’s beautiful white sand beach and surfing omahapristine waters beckon!

Kitted up with surf board in hand it’s off to the beach we go! Here your instructor will teach you all those important surf basics and water safety skills. Before long you will be riding your first wave and are well on your way to catching that surf bug!

After a rewarding session in the surf, what better way to end the day than with a glass of wine and a platter at the ransoms wineryregion’s premier winery: Ransom Wines? The perfect end to a fantastic day before returning to Mahurangi West Wing – your local bed and breakfast on the Mahurangi penninsula!

What’s included:
• Surf Instructor
• Surf Workshop: surf gear, beach based and in-water tuition
• Bakery-bar session @ MMK
• Beachside refreshments
• Wine and Platter at Ransom Wines
• Access to photos

What to bring:
• Towel and togs
• Extra water
• Sun protection
• Warm clothing
• Heaps of enthusiasm!

*$139.00 per person
Transport to and from Mahurangi West Wing can be arranged for an additional cost.

Saltwater Eco Ltd.  lead the way in responsible marine recreation! With over 20 years’ experience in the fields of marine conservation, group management and ecotourism, our passionate and internationally accredited staff will take you on an unforgettable surfing adventure!

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