Village Vibes – Matakana

VILLAGE VIBES

The little town of Matakana, an hour’s drive from Auckland CBD, has developed a reputation for its fine food, art and sculpture. Catherine Milford visited to find out more.

With its endless stretch of untouched coastline and white, sandy beaches, boutique wineries and galleries and a Farmer’s Market that could easily be counted as one of the best in the country, the Matakana Coast is a stunning destination that punches way above its weight.

A mere 70km from Auckland city, driving into Matakana is one of those places where, as soon as you park up, you feel your shoulders dropping as you take a deep, satisfying breath and start to relax. With thousands of acres of regional protected parks, marine reserves, boutique vineyards, lush valleys and beautiful beachlands, it feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of Auckland – but believe it or not, you’re actually still in Auckland.

Hinterlands of Matakana Coast

Matakana’s population, which was just 472 in 2018, has grown significantly, with pockets of land being developed for new housing and roading, especially in the surrounding areas like Point Wells. However, the ‘village’ feeling of Matakana still runs strong, with locals taking great pride in their area, making it an excellent place to visit. It’s also very popular with the rich and famous, with John Key, Noel Edmonds and others calling it home.

STAY AND PLAY

Renowned New Zealand food writer Lauraine Jacobs, author of It Takes A Village: A Guide to Matakana and its Surrounding Districts (Massey University Press, RRP $45.00) is a local who’s literally written the book on how and why this tiny town has a lot in its favour. “I love Matakana for so many reasons,” she says. “ The heart of the village is much more than just the Farmer’s Market, which deservedly gets most of the attention, but it’s also the cluster of classy buildings surrounding that site, all carefully curated to offer a vibrant shopping, eating and boutique cinema experience for visitors.”

“Beyond the village are gorgeous beaches, regional parks, art trails and restaurants; we’ve even got wineries and two boutique breweries. Matakana really is a non-stop fun place.” For such a small town, there are a multitude of options for RVers to stay, eat, drink and play in this luscious playground.

 

Lauraine Jacobs at Matakana Farmers Market

A particular favourite is Matakana Country Park, a privately- owned 50-acre estate that hosts plenty of events, including pony and train rides, a Sunday market, and has nine powered sites (two unpowered) that overlook the beautiful Matakana vines. These sites are often booked in advance, especially when the equestrian centre is being used, so it’s best to contact them in advance.

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Matakana Country Park with Arena and The Stables

Just five minutes up the road is Whangateau Holiday Park, a clean and well-maintained waterfront campground that has powered and unpowered sites, as well as cabins and some rather fabulously retro onsite caravans available for hire. A little further away is Leigh Central, a quirky, pet-friendly motel with powered sites that’s very popular with motorhomers.

While there is plenty to see and do in Matakana, it’s the town’s famous Farmer’s Market that many people come for. Open on Saturdays from 8am until 1pm, rain or shine, this zero waste market sells some award-winning produce you’d never find anywhere else. The market began when in 2002, locals Richard and Christine Didsbury bought the old timber yard with a view to creating a rural escape; these days the market and surrounding shops are thriving, with many successful stallholders going on to purchase permanent spots close to the market.

Start your meander with a brew from Matakana Coast Coffee, try Steve Charnley’s Matakana Bacon, pick up a roast from the Daily Organics butcher, some bread from Remuera Baker and top it off with something sweet from boutique chocolatiere Honest Chocolat.


Matakana Farmer’s Markets

WINE & DINE

Once you’re done at the market, take a minute to see what else Matakana has to offer. When you reach the roundabout that leads into the village itself, you won’t be able to miss the town’s public toilets, and for good reason; this impressive building was named by Lonely Planet as one of the most amazing toilets in the world. Installed on a hill that overlooks some incredible scenery, the design is based on the shape of a boat hull, but there are some definite Picasso vibes going on too!

Opposite the public toilets is the popular Rusty Pelican, family-friendly bar/restaurant that’s developed a name for its delicious pizzas. Stay for a drink and something off their extensive menu, or order a takeaway for later. The town has plenty of eateries, many of which feature locally grown produce, including the Plume Café, MMK (Matakana Market Kitchen) and the Tramcar Café.

Matakana is somewhere that sustainability and supporting local is encouraged, so you’ll often come across bowls and bags of fresh fruit and vegetables that can be picked up from honesty boxes or shops to enjoy later. If you’re after a crafty beverage, you’re in the right place. Beer enthusiasts will be in heaven at 8 Wired brewery; if you’re not sure which of the 21 beers to order at the taproom, tasting flights are a great way to find your flavour.

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A bit further up Leigh Road is Sawmill Brewery, a popular brewery with fantastic food on offer at their Smoko Room. Owners Mike Sutherland and Kirsty McKay are passionate about protecting the environment, and were New Zealand’s first B Corp certified brewery. True to Matakana form, their menu is seasonally inspired, with most cheeses, oils, kaimoana beef, bread, olives, fruit and vegetables sourced from local growers.

Sawmill has had its fair share of drama over the years, including a fire in December 2019, which was caused by an exothermic reaction – investigations revealed that the blaze started in a pile of newly-laundered tea towels, aprons and chair covers that reacted with a light source, which made the laundry smoulder then catch alight. Sawmill has been completely rebuilt, but if you look closely, there’s a small patch on the concrete floor where the burn mark is still visible.

 

The Newly Refurbished Sawmill Brewery in Matakana

FOR ART’S SAKE

Matakana is also renowned for its art and sculpture history. A great example is the local movie theatre; this boutique cinema’s three-theatre setout is stunning. Each theatre is themed, and paper roses, tuis, piwakas and sparkling chandeliers are a great backdrop for your chosen movie. Grab a glass of wine from The Vintry, where you can also try some local wines, and relax in the very comfortable cinema seats.

Explore a fine selection of wine from The Vintry

For a masterclass in sculpture, you have multiple options. The Sculptureum is an unmissable experience; with six indoor galleries and beautiful gardens, it’s often host to regular events. A little further out is Brick Bay, which, with its big open spaces, is a good option for those looking for a longer walk. There’s still a sculpture trail, but it’s very different to Sculptureum. The walk is on a working farm, and boasts massive sculptures as well as a big kauri grove and a vineyard that’s well worth a look.

The Sculptureum Elephant
Brick Bay Sculpture Trail

MORE INFORMATION

Matakana Country Park is adjacent to horse paddocks (quiet neighbours!) and looks out over a picturesque vineyard. There are toilets and showers available for campers plus direct access to all activities, shops and restaurants at the park. There are a total of nine powered sites and two non- powered. Visit matakanacountrypark.co.nz.

Leigh Central Motorhome/Caravan Park has 14 short stay sites for motorhomes and caravans. Services include Wifi, power, water and bathroom facilities, plus a grey water dump, but not black water. The park is located in the heart of Leigh, right next to shops, bars, cafés and restaurants, and provides easy access to some of the great walks around Leigh. Visit leighcentral.co.nz

Matakana’s Sculptureum

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