Need to get a shot of fresh air, exercise and fabulous fresh food? Catherine Milford takes a trip to Auckland’s southeast to discover some local pearls in Clevedon and Hunua.
Auckland is one of those places where huge, sprawling developments juxtapose beautiful beaches and bush, and the wheels of commerce trundle happily alongside suburban and community endeavours. No matter where you are in the City of Sails, you’re never too far from something to suit your mood and fill your spirits, especially in the suburbs.
Half an hour’s drive from Auckland’s CBD lies a rural playground that seems somehow to sit completely apart from the busy city – a place where really good quality food and drink and boutique arts and crafts can be found on every corner, and long, meandering walks and cycle routes abound. Welcome to Clevedon Valley and the adjoining Hunua Ranges.
With its rolling hills, huge regional parks, beautiful secret bays, artisan food and drink, and one of the country’s most iconic waterfalls, the Clevedon and Hunua region is a treasure trove for getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a day, a weekend or more.
Walkers and mountain bikers can spend days enjoying Duder Regional Park, on the Whakakaiwhara Peninsula at the entrance to the Wairoa River. With incredible views over the Hauraki Gulf, stunning beaches and plenty of local flora and fauna to investigate, you can take your pick from several local walks that incorporate some of the park’s rich history, which dates back to the 1300s. Fishing, swimming and kayaking are popular local pastimes, with big fish, a few sharks and even killer whales in the area – make sure you check tide times if you’re headed out to sea.
I’m one of those people who’ll travel a decent distance for really good food, so I take the trip out to Clevedon Showgrounds on a Sunday whenever I can. Local buffalo farmer, cheesemaker, artist and businesswoman Helen Dorrestyn owns and runs both Clevedon Farmer’s Market and Clevedon Buffalo Co. with her husband Richard, and the pair are an important part of the local food and art community.
“Years ago, Richard and I took a campervan around the South Island for a month, and lived on beautiful fresh food bought at local markets,” she says. But when they moved to Clevedon, there was nothing that compared. “The fresh food on offer here was terrible!” says Helen. “I’d been growing a lot of food in my garden, and I took some of it to a local shop to try to sell it, but I was turned down every time.”
The pair had $30,000 set aside for a new kitchen, but they approached some potential stallholders and put the money into a farmer’s market instead. That was in 2005. “We’ve owned the market ever since – and I still have my old kitchen!” Helen laughs. The Clevedon Village Farmers Market is now arguably one of the most well-known and respected farmers markets in Auckland, if not New Zealand. Food lovers travel for hours every Sunday to get their fill of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, plants, dishes and drinks – all of which are locally grown and sourced. It’s also where you’ll find the Dorrestyns’ award-winning buffalo cheeses and yoghurt, made from their 200-herd buffalo farm, the best Lebanese falafels and garlic dips you’ll ever eat from local producer Kohkoz, fresh – and often enormous – tomatoes from Curious Croppers, and much more besides.
Clevedon’s reputation for beautiful food is well deserved; Hallertau opened its second craft beer garden here a couple of years ago, which is well worth a visit – don’t forget to pick up dinner from Clevedon Coast Oysters while you’re there too. However, it’s also a haven for artists with many local artists and galleries, including Katie Blundell and Art Industry, open to the public – you can even try your hand at knife making and other hand crafts at The Artisan School of Lost Arts. There’s also a weekend village market at Clevedon Community Hall that sells a range of local art and craft.
Hop over to Hunua
Head inland along the Wairoa River and you’ll end up at the Hunua Ranges Regional Park, Auckland’s largest area of native forest, and home to 10 dams, from which most of Auckland’s drinking water is sourced. While large sections of the park (including some of the campgrounds) are closed to prevent the spread of kauri dieback, this natural playground has something for all ages and stages. Even the most reluctant of walkers won’t mind the 15-minute track to Hunua Falls, an impressive 30 metre-high waterfall that’s always stunning, no matter what the weather’s doing.
With time on my hands, I opted for the Massey Cossey Loop Track, an 8.3km walk that was guaranteed to get my heart pumping, but not actually leave me stranded at midnight alone in the forest (don’t laugh – my sense of direction isn’t always up to much). Starting at the Hunua Falls car park, every walk starts with disinfecting shoes to prevent kauri dieback. Head over the bridge for signposts to the Loop Track and the shorter Falls path. The loop track begins and ends at the same place; I turned right for an immediate glute workout as I took the stairs (it’s no coincidence that the Papakura Athletics team can often be found training on these stairs!). The other way starts through the stream, which has plenty of rocks to jump from if you don’t want to get your feet wet and you aren’t clumsy enough to fall off – let’s just say I’m glad I saved that until the end!
The loop walk is very pretty and well signposted, and while I found myself muttering ‘not another one!’ at each incline, the view over Cossey Dam about an hour or so in is well worth the hill climbs. Keep going and you’ll find yourself on a road by the dam wall; follow the water’s edge, past the water gauging station and public toilets and follow the sign for the Cossey Gorge Track.
The second half of the walk is quite different from the first, with scenic bridges and even a few waterfalls from the Wairoa Stream. I did the walk on a dry day but it’s easy to see how quickly things could escalate here in a downpour. There were signs of recent tree falls and even a small landslide, but the paths are well kept. Coming out of the forest to the aforementioned stream, I was actually quite happy my feet got an unscheduled dip in the cool water – and I was only five minutes from the car, thank goodness!
For more on Clevedon Farmers Market visit clevedonfarmersmarket.co.nz. Plan to arrive early as many stalls sell out by mid-morning. Parking is available for all vehicle types, including motorhomes.
Local artist information can be found at clevedonarttrail.co.nz
The Auckland Council website has up to date information on the Hunua Ranges tracks and campgrounds; ring to check on other local camping options as not all of them are open at the moment. Visit aucklancouncil.govt.nz/park-recreation for more. The Hunua Falls car park has a self-containment certificate.
The AllTrails app is useful for more walking and mountain biking options.
Dogs and other animals are allowed in certain areas, including the farmers market, on-leash. Check the Auckland Council website for more information.
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