Looking back through my photos I want to title this post, ‘The Adventures of the Little Green Tent.’ It’s in so many of our photos and its presence signifies a happy (and sunny) beach day. I love seeing it captured on so many beaches in so many parts of this pretty country. Now if only the rain would stop so we can put it up again!
We spent three weeks exploring the northern reaches of the North Island. Our home base was in the pretty wine region of Matakana and we ventured out from here, going as far north as the Hokianga Harbour (and still we didn’t see everything we wanted to see). What we like about this area is that the small village of Matakana is charming, with good groceries, cafes and weekend markets. The surrounding area is stunning with its rolling hills and coastal views. And of course, the access to pretty beaches. Below is a list of our favourite places and activities.
- Tawharanui Regional Park – a nature reserve with stunning beaches, pretty walks, and lots of different birds and wildlife. Easton swam and surfed with dolphins here one day and it was incredible! It’s not the best surf spot, especially on busy days when there are lots of swimmers and boogie boarders in the waves, but still Michael and Easton managed to spend hours in the water.
- Pakiri – a 14km stretch of white sand beach (as mentioned in a previous post). A gorgeous setting and with the right conditions the surf here can be good.
- Piha – located on the west coast and just 20 minutes from Auckland, this beautiful black sand beach was worth the long drive from Matakana. The waves were big the day we visited and the current strong, so only Michael tried his luck. We loved the surfer vibe of this area and the beach is really so pretty!
- Muriwai – located up the coast from Piha and also about 20 minutes from Auckland. We opted for the empty stretch of beach south of the gannet colony. The tide was so low the beach was huge and we could explore the incredible caves and volcanic rock walls.
- Omaha – the nearest beach to us, Omaha is less beautiful than the others but makes up for it with ammenities like a cute café, convenience market, surf/stand up paddle board hire and a little playground (that Marlow loved!).
- Matakana markets – there is a farmers market every Saturday in Matakana village and a crafts & vintage market on Sundays.
- Matakana Cinema – we had quite a few rainy days during our stay so opted to visit the cinema twice. It’s a modern, comfortable facility with good films and good seats.
- Glass-bottom boat tours and the Goat Island Marine Reserve – Goat Island is a beautiful marine—equally striking above and below the water. On our first boat tour six years ago we saw a variety of fish and dolphins. This year the sea was rough and visibility poor, but the kids thoroughly enjoyed the half dozen or so varieties of fish we encountered. You can hire kayaks or snorkelling kit here too.
- Hunua Ranges and Falls – this area was highly recommended to us so we loaded up the van and headed south. We did a bit of research on good walks in the area and picked an easy, 1-hour one. That was until we drove to the wrong part of the park and ended up taking a 3.5–hour hike. It was beautiful – with giant Kauri trees, dense tree ferns, palms and stunning views, but we were all exhausted at the end. Michael and the kids went for a swim in the waterfall (and we all slept well that night). : )
- Kauri Forest walks – This was a trek but we wanted to see the massive Kauri trees in the Waipoa Forest and more of the northern end of the North Island. Well worth it (see previous post).
- Sheep World – this sounds way too touristy, but the kids loved it and we learned a lot about the sheep business. Easton, Quin and Ivy volunteered to help shear a sheep on stage and they all bottle fed the lambs.
- We spent a girls’ day in Auckland and visited the beautiful Auckland Art Gallery – a wonderful museum collection with a fun, interactive children’s exhibition.
TO EAT — We made most of our meals in our little bach, hardly eating out during our stay in Matakana – but here are a few exceptions:
- Fired Pizza Pod – a relaxed roadside restaurant on the way home from Omaha Beach – with picnic tables, a playground, and good Napolitana-style pizzas.
- The Sawmill Café – a brewery, concert venue and pizza place, we enjoyed a meal here and a couple pints of their pale ale.
- Dante’s Pizza – far and away the best pizza we’ve encountered in NZ so far. Wood fired and authentically Italian combinations. We stopped in on our way home from Hunua Falls and again before taking my sister to the airport.
- Mexico – We were all craving Mexican after a long beach day at Piha. We decided to cruise Ponsonby Street looking for options. We happened upon Mexico, a ‘small plate’ style restaurant and bar. The food was good, the margaritas tasty and the crowd fun.
- Riverside Matakana – we had stayed in one of their ‘baches’ six years ago when we first visited NZ, so when it came time to book somewhere to stay over Christmas, we liked the idea of being somewhere familiar. The accommodation is simple but perfect and the setting along the river kept the kids entertained.
- The Sawmill Café has a few self-contained cabin units and sleep-outs to rent. We stayed here for our final few days up north before heading to Christchurch to pick up our camper van. It’s conveniently located right next to Goat Island and Pakiri Beach.