Thinking about a little road trip? Our local hospitality businesses are really needing our support (and our dollars). Add in fewer climate-change guilts, no airport queues or cattle-class flights, and there will never be a better reason to holiday close to home. Our power-house tourist spots are world famous, but we’ve turned our sights to some lesser-known destinations – each within striking distance of our major cities – with our writers winkling out the perfect places for a short break. So, look forward to leaving the crowds behind and exploring our own special places. Note that details were correct at the time of research. We recommend calling ahead to check.

See ya, Christchurch, Banks Peninsula beckons

It’s no secret that Banks Peninsula is a great place for a weekend away, but there’s a lot more to explore than just the usual port of call, Akaroa. Exploring the Peninsula’s many and varied bays and settlements makes for the perfect weekend adventure, especially for road-tripping types.

Start your weekend in Okuti Valley, often overlooked for nearby busier and buzzier Little River. There’s the Okuti Valley Scenic Reserve, a good spot for picnicking and a short, gentle walk through lowland forest (the return walk will only set you back about 20 minutes). Spend the night resting at Okuti Garden (216 Okuti Valley Road,  okuti.co.nz) where you can sleep in a yurt or teepee surrounded by donkeys, cook in a shared garden kitchen and forage herbs for your dinner, take an outdoor bath and book a massage.

The next day, gear yourself up for more exploring with a platter and wine tasting at French Peak Wines (79 French Farm Valley Road, frenchpeakwines. com), one of only a handful of wineries located on the peninsula. Stop in at the Barry’s Bay Cheese factory shop (5807 Christchurch Akaroa Road, Duvauchelle, barrysbaycheese.co.nz) just down the road to pick up locally produced cheeses and Old French Road olives – you’re headed for plenty more good picnic spots, so you’ll need the supplies.

From Barry’s Bay, make your way to Okains Bay. Famous for its sandy beach and safe swimming waters (if you dare as the colder months near), it is the epitome of a classic Kiwi seaside settlement, and while it might feel remote, there’s plenty to do. Visit the Okains Bay Store (the longest continuously running store in the country; 1162 Okains Bay Road) for fish and chips, ice cream and an unexpectedly impressive collection of vintage and second-hand goods. Pay a visit to the Okains Bay Māori and Colonial Museum (1146 Okains Bay Road, okainsbaymuseum.co.nz) to learn more about Canterbury’s history and see an impressive display of important taonga and replica heritage buildings. Walk 20 minutes from the Okains Bay Campground to Little Okains Bay – even more remote and perhaps even more beautiful than Okains Bay itself. The Okains Bay Campground (1357 Okains Bay Road, okainsbaycamp.co.nz) is only a stone’s throw from the water, and with camping sites, shared kitchen and bathroom facilities it’s a perfect place to stay if you’re looking for somewhere cheap and family-friendly.

The next day, take the long route to Hickory Bay via Akaroa to get a fix of good food and coffee. Rona’s (74 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa, ronas.co.nz) is the best spot in town for a Coffee Supreme brew and a menu of dishes made using predominantly local, and always ethically sourced, ingredients organised by ‘On Toast’, ‘In Toast’ and ‘In a Bowl’.

Once you’re at Hickory Bay, immediately settle yourself in at Hickory Bay Organic Farm (hickorybay. co.nz). On this working farm, run by Rachel and Kris Savage, you’ll find stylish accommodation just metres away from one of the peninsula’s most secluded and rugged bays. Here you have the choice of staying in a renovated 1960s bungalow (which sleeps up to seven), or a converted former shearers’ quarters, a cosier option that sleeps four. Hickory Bay is widely regarded as one of the best surfing beaches on the Peninsula, but if you’re not that way inclined it’s an equally good spot to just chill – you can totally disconnect here (there’s no cellphone coverage).

While both accommodation options have kitchen facilities (Moccamasters included), be sure to try Rachel’s food while you stay. She’s well known for her cooking (her doughnuts are legendary), produced under the guise of Sweet & Savage. Rachel and her kids (who may be running around the farm) are partial to a bonfire (fire-cooked meals are Rachel’s specialty), so you’d best pack some marshmallows. GRACE HALL

Bye, Wellington, hi Waikanae

Living in Wellington, it’s important to get out of the city from time to time, because here in the nation’s capital we have our own special microclimate. Unfortunately for us, it’s a microclimate of crap. I can’t count the times I’ve driven out of the city to be greeted by blue skies and gentle sea breezes, when I’ve left behind skirt-upending winds and balmy temperatures in the teens. Yes, they say you can’t beat Wellington on a good day, but my goodness does it beat you down on a bad one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s also what I love about the place. It can be argued (and I often have) that bad climates force you towards indoor activities which make our bars, restaurants and cafés so good. So it is this high standard of great food that also fuels our decisions when we’re seeking out warmer climates.

The Kapiti Coast delivers on that, in fact the screeds of commuters that load up the trains to Wellington each day have probably known that for a while. Waikanae may have been known as God’s waiting room a decade ago, but with young families moving here from the city, the median age is dropping daily. The knock-on effect is that Waikanae has seen a boom in all those creature comforts us city dwellers crave – flat whites, sourdough and craft beer. In Waikanae you’ll not only find excellent versions of all of these, but they’re served with a bit of beach-town charm and a tan, something we can only dream of here in Wellington.

My go-to places are from a stable of establishments by Todd and Sara at The Food Folk (foodfolk.co.nz). They first opened Long Beach (40 Tutere Street, Waikanae Beach) creating the sort of place they wanted to go to themselves. Turns out they weren’t alone. Long Beach is busy from the morning cheese scones for commuters, to lunchtime – featuring produce from the organic garden that has been picked only moments before – and into the night with families tucking into wood-fired pizzas.

It was those famous cheese scones that lead Todd and Sara to open a full-time bakery, Olde Beach (3 Ono Street). This pint-sized shop hits that sweet spot between French patisserie and Kiwi baking. It’s famous for its pies, but don’t leave without trying the fruit tarts. Enjoy them out the back in the courtyard (with another vegetable garden), a perfect place to meet the locals both human and canine.

Coffee and pies sorted, the next logical step is beer! Todd and Sara’s latest offering, Salt & Wood (11 Ngaio Road), serves up American BBQ with a clear view into the North End brewery. Head brewer Kieran Haslett-Moore is a master in traditional brewing methods but brings a true taste of the Kapiti Coast to all his beers. Tuck into some perfectly cooked ribs while sipping beer made with natural yeast gathered from Kapiti Island or – one of my all-time favourite beers – Become The Ocean, a tart and salty gose-style beer, which epitomises sunny Waikanae at first sip.

Someone else with a stable of great restaurants up and down the coast is Fi Greig, who opened Sunday Cantina (3 Mahara Place, sundaycantina.com) to put that feel-good factor back into local food. Offering up mostly vegan and raw food, Sunday Cantina is more than a café – it’s a community. Fi also runs cooking classes teaching the importance of whole foods and cooking healthy meals that look after your body, your mind and the world. Classes are hands-on affairs, fun-filled nights of learning and conversation with everyone helping out to pull together the meal then sitting around to enjoy it together. Truly feel-good food.

Owners Tara and Nick have restored Riverbank, an Atomic Ranch-style house, to such perfection that you’d hardly believe you were in New Zealand let alone Waikanae. Sip your morning coffee looking out on lush bush from the floor-to-ceiling windows, maybe have a lunchtime martini by the pool and tennis in the afternoon or head into the parquet-floored studio to twist the night away. It’s a slice of mid-century Palm Springs on the Kapiti Coast. (Look up Riverbank Modernist Retreat on Airbnb.)

On a good day it takes about 45 minutes to drive to Waikanae, but if you’re trying to get there on a Friday and back in to Wellington on a Sunday it can be closer to 90 minutes, which is why I highly recommend the train ride. An easy 1-hour trip platform to platform with views of Kapiti Island, it’s worth 10 times the $13 ticket. BETH BRASH

Out of here, Auckland, we’re heading to Paparoa

Pack the picnic blanket and skive off early on a Friday afternoon to beat a hasty retreat north (or catch the Dargaville shuttle from downtown Auckland). But don’t follow the crowds. Veer off to the west coast just beyond Kaiwaka and the rural roll of State Highway 12 will deposit you in the charming wee settlement of Paparoa. There’s a different ebb and flow to life here so be prepared to say hello to people you pass in the main street and dial back the energy levels to rural time.

Make sure you start slowly. If you stay at The Old Post Office Guesthouse (3247 Paparoa-Oakleigh Road, oldpostofficeguesthouse.co.nz), built in 1903, proprietor Deb Clapperton’s free-range chooks will provide a gentle country-style awakening and you can linger over breakfast of homemade vegan muesli and stewed and fresh fruit from long-standing plum, apple and peach trees on the property. Deb makes her own bread from coconut flour and dark-malted rye and a slice or two with her unmissable lime marmalade or a friend’s Captain Cook carrot marmalade will set you up for a day of exploration.

Contemplate your next move over another coffee at Zest Art & Espresso (1994 Paparoa Valley Road) and then amble over to the Saturday morning Paparoa farmers’ market (facebook.com/ Paparoafarmersmarket) for a chance to meet the salt-of-the-earth growers, listen to live music and cherry-pick deliciousness for picnicking on the beach. This is a first-name-basis place so get your Pahi pickle from Maggie’s stall then head over to see Lucille who  sells flounder, pulled fresh from the Kaipara by her hubby, as well as smoked kahawai or trevally. A relative newcomer is Vicki Kelly who has brought Paris to Paparoa with her passion for French patisserie. Sweet Delights (facebook. com/sweetdelightskaipara) was born after Vicki ditched her consulting career and headed over to study at Le Cordon Bleu and find her happy place. From a commercial kitchen set up in her house on a hill in Maungaturoto, she crafts cakes and sweet somethings based on traditional recipes guaranteed to instil a joie de vivre in everyone. Offerings change weekly but pear-and-almond Tarte Bourdaloue always sells out, and Moulin Rouge cake layered with strawberry mousse and coconut and peppercorn meringue is a showstopper for a special occasion. But if you just want a morsel to grab and go, try her experimental éclairs (perhaps filled with crème légère and apricot coulis) or for a savoury shot, a French onion tart with gruyère and herbs.

Once you’ve ticked off the must-do kauri museum (kaurimuseum.com) at nearby Matakohe and marvelled at the biological beasts of Aotearoa’s ancient podocarp forests, the world’s largest kauri slab or even the a collection of chainsaws that local families have been donating since the 1950s, a drive around the estuarial beaches of one of the largest harbours in the world will make for memorable meanderings through an area at the heart of history.

Half an hour away, you can fish off the wharf at Tinopai and, if you’re there at the right time of day, see the mullet jumping. Closer to Paparoa, there’s Pahi with its Moreton Bay fig grandstanding on the lawn before the bay or, on the other side of the fingered inlet, make a stop at Whakapirau. Look out for the restored old boatshed that received the milk delivery that once came in by boat and a water tank near the wharf where artist Karen Dennis (formerly known for Trixie Delicious reworked vintage ceramics) has painted lines from a Sam Hunt poem on its textured surface.

At day’s end plan for dinner at the Paparoa Hotel (2039 Paparoa Valley Road, paparoahotel.nz), an establishment that has been in the same family for six decades. Pam Goode’s mum and dad bought the 1950s building when she was seven years old and Pam learned to cook in the hotel kitchen, watching Hudson and Halls for inspiration.

Today chef Stephen Harrison uses local produce including herbs straight from the garden to serve gastro grub in a dining room decorated with 1960s flower prints on Formica-topped tables that once occupied the canteen of a Henderson furniture factory. The mood is nostalgic and the food comforting but contemporary. Kaipara oysters are served with a Korean dipping sauce of black vinegar and soy; the beef cheeks are a version of a dish Pam first enjoyed at Movida, Melbourne (braised with red wine and cocoa) and a gingernut crumble dessert will transport your tastebuds back to the future. CLAIRE MCCALL

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