Some days you just want to get out of town. We get that so we've sniffed out the best food haunts an hour (ish) out of Auckland. So load up the car with some good beats and Saudi's finest and get exploring. And eating.
Matakana is Mecca, if you’re into food and wine. Just a hop, skip and 45 minute jaunt north of Auckland, it’s home to over 30 small-scale vineyards, olive groves, artisans and great restaurants, centred around a quaint little village. The popular Saturday farmer’s market runs from 8am-1pm every week. With a pretty riverside location right in the middle of town, it’s an excellent venue for taking the local food-loving pulse. There’s a stellar mix of produce, boutique cheeses and wine, organic chocolates, local olive oil and the like. Mooch around, coffee in hand, then repair to the nearby Matakana Market Kitchen and recharge on brunch-time classics, such as Welsh rarebit, made using cheddar from nearby Puhoi, and beer brewed at Leigh. Tip – leave Auckland early to get there as this is a very popular destination and can get quite busy in the summer months.
For decades it’s been an Auckland rite of passage to motor here, decamp to the lawn and drink a weekend afternoon away. There’s a simple bistro menu, featuring items like mussel fritters, mince on toast and fish burgers; not haute cuisine, exactly, but you don’t come for that. The place is an egalitarian slice of pure, Kiwi nostalgia; you’ll see bikies, grannies, urban types, families with dogs - absolutely everyone comes here. The old pub was built over 140 years ago and it reeks of history and atmosphere; there’s nowhere in NZ quite like it.
Leigh village is pretty, and enjoys proximity to a number of great places, such as Goat Island marine reserve, Ti Point, Omaha and the stunning coastal sweep that is Pakiri Beach. A former kauri sawmill, this landmark cafe is a significant music venue and a popular spot for Aucklanders coming up for air on the weekends. They brew craft beer on site; try the citrusy pale ale or the gutsy lager. For eats, there are great pizzas, seafood platters and specials on the blackboard, all flying beneath the ‘gastropub’ banner.
Big-favoured, beer friendly food is what to expect here; steamed green lipped mussels, beer-brined pork belly, wood-fired sausage coil with beer mustard and sauerkraut…that style of rustic, tasty, moreish thing. But back to that beer. They brew their own, and beautifully. Even Tarantino commissioned Hallertau to create a beer for his The Hateful Eight movie launch. Order a flight of 4 beers, if choosing confuses you. And why wouldn’t it? How to choose between their elegant pale ale, bracing pilsner, hoppy IPA, black beer etc, etc? If you’re not a hop head, no worries. They’ve got local wines on tap and make a mean tangelo gin and tonic, too.
Mmmmm….oysters. Succulent and plump, these New Zealand Pacifics are grown in the pristine waters of the Hauraki Gulf and yes, you can find them on city restaurant menus. But, on a sunny day, what could be better than puttering out to the coast, dropping by the actual factory and eating the freshest oysters imaginable under an umbrella by the sea? ‘Not much’ is the right answer. Arrive early enough and you can even have them for breakfast!
Drive south, just 40 minutes from the CBD, and you’re in New Zealand’s rural heartland - it’s that easy. And this Sunday market has all the elements you want in a country market; an idyllic pastoral setting, a friendly vibe, gumboots in winter, people with dogs, live music, hay bales to sit on and bacon and egg baps for breakfast. There are over 50 stalls, selling everything from cheeses, pickles and preserves, small goods, baking, wine and just - picked seasonal produce.
Yeah, nah - nothing says ‘New Zealand’ more than a serve of fish and chips, folded into (and eaten out of) a newspaper packet. Kawakawa Bay is an hour’s drive from the Big Smoke but its deserted tranquility makes it feel like another planet. This local store does a mean fish and chips; their snapper is fresh and the batter light, crisp and golden in all the right places. Chips have the correct balance of- let’s not sugar coat it- starch, crunch, fat and salt. Yum. Take yours down to the idyllic little beach and watch the seagulls swoop, the waves lap and the sea shimmer.
Eating ice cream scooped in a hand-held wafer cone, is a year-round ritual in New Zealand. And before the motorway extension was put in, if you were headed south, everyone HAD to stop at Pokeno for a mandatory ice cream. Nowadays you do need to head off SH1 to visit, but do stop at this unpretentious takeaway bar, as it’s legendarily home to the biggest ice creams in the country and definitely worth the small detour. They tower anywhere from a generous, single scoop all the way to a ginormous tower of 15 scoops. You even get a bowl to eat out of when the whole thing, inevitably, melts and wobbles out of control.
The Simonovic family have a long history of olive growing, stretching back to their ancestral home on the Croatian island of Brac - hence the estate’s name. Nestled in the Bombay Hills about 40km south of Auckland central, this is a popular wedding venue and it’s not hard to see why. The place is gorgeous, with gobsmacking views over rolling hills and olive groves. A brilliantly executed menu is fashioned around pristine local produce, much of it grown on the estate. Expect dishes such as lamb with white beans, cavalo nero, black garlic, dates and farro, and a crab, barley and cauliflower risotto with burnt butter. Need we say more?
Ah, Waiheke… how many ways do we love you? Let us count them. Firstly, there are your wineries. And your beauty, with stunning beaches, coastal walks and jaw-dropping vistas. Then there are your restaurants and cafes. Visitors could easily spend a week here - heck, they could sell their house and move right in, you’re that seductive. Reached by a 40 minute ferry ride from Auckland central, some highlights include Stonyridge Vineyard, the winery that made the world sit up and pay attention. Order a deli platter, repair to a cabana (complete with vineyard view) and drink a bottle of their vaunted vino.
Poderi Crisci is situated at the “sleepy hollow” end of things and beloved for its four-hour long Sunday lunches and the Italian-style wine it produces. Restaurant menus here are rooted deep in Italian tradition and showcase the wonderful local produce, some plucked fresh from their own kitchen gardens.