Matakana Coast For Great Nosh and Fine Wine
For free-flowing wine and food, drive for an hour north-east of Auckland to the district of Matakana. This lovely coastal area lies in between Warkworth and Leigh, and is close to many of Auckland’s popular swimming and surfing spots – Omaha, Tawharanui and Goat Island.
Though small, Matakana punches well above its weight when it comes to producing stand out wine and food. It is home to over 30 vineyards, 12 wineries and several excellent eateries. Matakana Village is the focus of the district with its classy cinema, farmers’ markets, cafes, boutique shops and even a beauty lounge. It’s not surprising this is the weekend hot spot for Aucklanders wanting a day out or weekend mini-break. Matakana really offers the best of both worlds, a peaceful rural location with all the spoils of the city.
Valleys of Wine
Matakana is actually one of the country’s pioneers of wine even though it’s considered a newcomer to the wine industry. Wines have been made here in some form since the late 19th century when dairy and fruit farming took over from Kauri tree felling and wood production. Early Croatian and Russian immigrants dappled in peach wines in the 1880s and in the 1940s a wine made from oranges and lemons called Lemora was made. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that winemaking took off in full force in Matakana with red wines such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinotage, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese making an appearance. Today the district is seeing a surge in white wine plantings with Chardonnay, Viognier and Pinot Gris being experimented with.
Matakana provides perfect grape growing conditions with a warm, sub-tropical climate and cooling winds blowing in from the Pacific Ocean. Matakana vineyards are grown on sloping valleys to aid drainage of the clay soil; as well as assisting with irrigation the clay also boosts richness in the wine’s flavour.
Most businesses are small and family owned and much of the wine produced is sold through the wineries’ shops and accompanying restaurants. However, some vintners also export throughout New Zealand and overseas. Ascension Wine Estate, Herons Flight, Hyperion and Ransom are just a few of the wineries who offer ad hoc tastings but for more of a ‘destination experience’ there are wine tours available.
For a one-stop shop of Matakana wines and wine tours head to The Vintry which adjoins the cinema in Matakana Village. Doubling as a wine centre and bar, at The Vintry it’s possible to purchase wine by the glass or bottle, order food, book a wine tour or taste from an extensive range of local wines. Look out for Omaha Bay’s 2009 Pinot Gris, Ti Point’s Merlot/Cabernet 2010 and “Matriarch” Syrah 2010. The Ransom “Cosmos” Chardonnay 2008 has also received rave reviews for its full bodied peach, apricot and nectarine flavours finished with creamy hazelnut.
Matakana’s Great Nosh
Fruit isn’t just a highlight of the wine, it’s also a highlight of the district. A staggering array of fruit and vegetables can be procured from any of the roadside stalls in the vicinity. Depending on the season you can pick up anything from avocados and persimmons, to peaches and limes. This really is the place to come if you’re a foodie or enjoy meals prepared with fresh, local produce.
There are five weekend markets in the area but the most popular is the Saturday Matakana Farmer’s Market in the village centre which has grown in popularity over the last few years to become a destination in itself. Here you can sip freshly brewed coffee as you wander around the stalls of locally grown produce and artisan products. Live music is usually a feature of the market as well.
Don’t be surprised if you spy high heels rather than gumboots either, on Saturday mornings Matakana Village is a countrified version of Ponsonby. There’s even a Nosh store if you want to stock up at their butchery, deli, or consult with the store manager who also happens to be a European trained chef.
If your mouth waters every time you think of scones, jam and cream head to Brookview Tea House by the roundabout in Matakana Village. This charming bungalow is a treasure trove of home baking and specialty teas all served with fine porcelain china. You can sit either indoors or on the deck which faces out onto a lovely manicured garden.
For a delicious winery lunch head out to Ransom vineyard to sample their exceptional lunch platters, or for an affordable deli style picnic Ascension Wine Estate’s “The Larder”. This sells cured meats, New Zealand and European cheeses, olives, quiches, terrines, pastries, fresh bread and more. Covered tables are provided or you can lunch on the vineyard lawn on your own picnic rug.
Going out for dinner is always a treat in Matakana with restaurants like Matakana Market Kitchen, situated underneath the cinema, and Matakana Village Pub just across the road. Here the menus are exciting, tasty and sophisticated while still retaining an element of the provincial. Matakana Village Pub and its fare are especially beloved by locals thanks to the popularity of chef Michael Van de Elzen’s Food Truck television series.
Other Activities in Matakana
Matakana is brimming with activities and attractions to make visiting the area a fun day out or perfect for a longer stay.
Goat Island Marine Reserve in Leigh is a short drive north of Matakana and is famous for its marine life. Here you can snorkel, dive, or take a ride in a glass bottom boat to see the fishes. A boat trip to Kawau Island from nearby Sandspit is also a great way to spend the day. Kawau is a time capsule of New Zealand history with well-preserved Mansion House, the residence of former governor Sir George Grey in the 1800s, extensive gardens to picnic in, native birds, bush walks and the remains of a copper mining industry.
Back in Matakana, if you’re planning on visiting a winery or two you might like to stop off at one of its local artisan shops. River Nile Linens just north of Warkworth on Matakana Road make luxury sheets and duvets with 100% pure Egyptian and Turkish cotton, as well selling blankets, table linen and gifts.
The area is also home to Morrison & James Pottery situated near Matakana village. This is one of the country’s largest and most famous potters, who have been making their wares with locally sourced clay since 1978. There are free pottery tours available in the morning for those keen to learn more about the process. Or just browse their vibrant and eclectic range of pots, plaques and garden sculptures and afterwards have lunch in the picturesque garden courtyard café.
For something different, Brick Bay Winery offers an outdoor sculpture walk along with wine tastings and platter style lunches in its unique Glass House Building. This is where ‘art and wine entwine’ with the best in New Zealand wine and sculptures both able to be purchased on the property.
Although many Matakana Coast wineries, like Brick Bay, have only just recently come on the wine scene, their dedication to producing innovative and quality wines have attracted wine lovers both locally and overseas. Couple this with delicious food, great shopping and a laid back lifestyle, and you’ve got a winning combination for a holiday destination.