Childhood memories of long, winding roads leading to secluded beaches with rustic baches along the shoreline are a far cry from the sophistication of the Matakana region where I now spend my weekends. There’s no other country village in New Zealand that can boast a cinema with three theatres, a purpose-built farmers’ market and a classy, architecturally designed shopping village with smart galleries, excellent boutiques and an award-winning chocolate maker.

Spot neat rows of vines marching over the hills as you drive around, find great eating-out options from casual cafes to some serious restaurants, walk the sandy beaches and, if you’re lucky, you will find the three regular food trucks. The region’s artisan food producers and growers pop up at the Saturday Matakana Village Farmers’ Market, numerous honesty-box farm stands are dotted about the fertile Omaha Flats and, for the first time, Matakana is staging a food festival, Feast Matakana in September and October. Here’s a taste of some of the new and stellar sites in this exciting fastgrowing region, only 50 minutes from the heart of Auckland city.

EAT & DRINK

THE GLASS HOUSE, BRICK BAY

The beauty of the restaurant building and surrounding grounds at Brick Bay Wines almost takes your breath away. Open daily for delicious lunches fashioned from fresh produce from the farm, orchard and gardens, complemented by locally sourced fare. All carefully crafted dishes and platters are designed to match Brick Bay’s classic aged wines. This is one of the not-tomiss treats of the region, especially in conjunction with a walk through the outdoor sculpture trail, winding through bush, vines and fields. brickbay.co.nz

SMOKO ROOM, SAWMILL BREWERY

In a rustic purpose-built barn, about 1km past the village, the long bar is surrounded by vast barrels where the Sawmill Brewery’s range of perky beers quietly go about their ferment. But push through the curtain to the right and you’ll find a cosy dining room with rough-sawn timber tables and benches to perch at and enjoy chef Will Michell’s fresh, hearty fare and 14 beers on tap. Local produce is paramount in plates to share – smoked eel pâté, pork carnitas and some excellent vegetable dishes. Spiced hummus with curried goat has fast become a classic. Lots of outdoor room for kids to roam in summer. sawmillbrewery.co.nz

THE FARMERS DAUGHTER

The newest kid on the region’s block, Kate Rose’s simple cafe has been filled from the day it opened. With a philosophy of gorgeous healthy food, (squash spatzle with pumpkin, spice, sage and seeds, salads, eggy things and more), great coffee or beer on tap and a view over the Omaha inlet, this is the top place to eat brunch or lunch, both indoors or out. Chef Josh Kucharick bakes a huge selection daily of interesting breads, buns and sourdoughs to accompany the food or to take home. thefarmersdaughteromaha.co.nz

ROTHKO

When Sandra and Anthony Grant started their collection of glass and quirky sculptures more than 10 years ago they had the glimmer of an idea to create an arts centre, Sculptureum, in the midst of their vineyard on the Omaha Flats. It is now a drawcard to the area and their restaurant, Rothko, perfectly balances fine food, wine and art. In the kitchen, chef Jarrod Mcgregor cooks splendid lunches with local and foraged ingredients, and his shared platters of long slow-cooked meats are beautifully presented. For lighter eating there are fresh salads, simple dishes and fruit-based desserts. sculptureum.nz/rothko-restaurant

CHARLIES GELATO

Recently under new ownership, this rustic store and gallery has more than 40 flavours of gelato and sorbetto made on the premises. Take away or eat in the gardens. charliesgelato.co.nz

THE VINTRY, MMK AND TRAMCAR

Want to taste the wines of the district? The Vintry, adjacent to the cinema foyer, has a full selection of almost every wine grown locally. Tapas plates and platters accompany the wine and there’s a lovely outdoor balcony to watch the sunset from. Sister businesses MMK restaurant and Tramcar café in the same building also offer contemporary delicious food. vintry.co.nz

 

FOOD TRUCKS

RAVISH Permanently based at the corner of Sharp and Matakana Rds, it offers coffee, superb cakes and takeout catering. ravish-hq.com

VIET Q Has a stall in the Saturday farmers’ market, but is better known for the food truck on Matakana Rd offering tasty Vietnamese specialties on Fridays. vietqfoods.co.nz

AMARANTO PASTA Make their glutenfree pasta and sell at the market but also have a food truck that pops up on weekends with ready-to-eat dishes. facebook.com/amarantopastacucina

ACTIVITIES

BEACH WALKS Stroll the gorgeous sands at Omaha, Tawharanui or Ti Point.

FORAGERS LUNCHES Join locals, food author Amber Rose and food stylist Kate Arbuthnot to forage, cook over an open fire and dine outdoors in the picturesque Whangaripo Valley. totemretreat.co.nz

THE VIVIAN An art gallery with constantly changing exhibitions, talks and events. thevivian.co.nz

MATAKANA CINEMA Independent cinema in the heart of the village. matakanacinemas.co.nz

MATAKANA RIVER TOUR One-hour river trips on the historic Matakana River, from the village to Sandspit and return. matakanarivertours.co.nz

ACCOMMODATION

PLUME VILLAS Brand new villas by the owners of the excellent adjacent Plume Restaurant, and the busy Plume Cafe near the Village. plumevillas.co.nz, plumerestaurant.co.nz

BLACK AND WHITE BARN

Smart accommodation in the heart of Matakana. Also opening in spring is their renovated Rose Cottage for groups of six. blackandwhitebarn.co.nz

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