Waiheke Island is just out of Auckland city and a popular weekend destination for Aucklanders. But there are other options too. How about exploring the edges of the super city? If you drive only an hour north from the city centre, you reach Matakana area, were you can take a ferry ride, explore its many beaches and enjoy the markets, wineries and art galleries.
Having a car makes life easier – take State Highway north to Warkworth and turn right. Head towards Matakana for beaches and markets. Or toward Sandspit if you are going straight to the ferry. Stop off at Warkworth information centre for information about the wineries and art galleries in the area.
Drive to Sandspit, just outside of Warkworth, and head to the wharf which is right at the end, called Spits Landing. The ferry leaves at 10.30am and you can return at 2pm or 4.30pm. It costs $55 adult return. It’s best to ring beforehand to make sure you get a spot. There were only a couple of seats available when I rang that morning, as a school group were heading over to camp on the island.
Kawau Island is 90% privately owned with 70% owned by one family. The locals have a game involving putting up flags of different countries they have visited.
I was dropped off at Mansion House and explored the island until 2pm. Another option is to go on the Royal Mail Run which takes you all around the island and you can get a great discount by pre-booking on Book Me.
The 3rd Governor of NZ purchased the island in 1862 and built the mansion and gardens. There are Weka, Wallabies and Peacocks wandering around. You can explore inside the Mansion House for $4 to learn more about the history.
Activities on the island
Auckland is lucky with all the beaches in the area. There are so many fantastic ones in the Matakana area. Below are my top favourites.
An easy beach to drive to, just outside of Matakana. It’s a little more developed than the others in this list. Omaha has surf life-savers and it’s usually an easier swimming beach with smaller waves. You can learn how to surf or hire a paddle board. There is a dairy by the main entrance for the obligatory ice-cream or visit the cafe for more food options.
My personal favourite. It’s on the way to Omaha, but becomes a gravel road and is a little further to reach. There are 3 beaches you can walk along with different personalities and some great rock formations. There is also a reserve with walks that take you through farm land and native bush. Great views along the coast and even a trail to pebble beaches.
A fishing reserve, this is the spot to go snorkelling with plenty of sea-life. You can also kayak, dive or take a glass bottom boat. You can hire snorkling and diving gear at Goat Island Dive & Snorkel. This is the area I learnt how to dive! It’s just outside of Leigh, which has some good food and accommodation options with the Saw Mill Cafe being a popular spot for food, drink and live music.
A bit more of a drive, this beach is becoming more popular with Aucklanders. The only shop is at the campground and part of the beach is private land. It’s the perfect beach to walk along in the surf, or set-up for the day with a sun/wind shelter and picnic. It’s a wilder beach and best to swim between the flags.
Craft, home-ware and food markets, there is plenty to see over the weekend. On Saturdays there are two markets next to each other!
The Matakana Farmers Market is my favourite. It’s really well presented with wooden stalls next to the river, a band and plenty of food and drink options. It’s on every Saturday from 8am to 1pm.
On Sundays the same venue becomes the Matakana Vintage Market focusing more on clothes and home-wares.
There is also an arts & crafts market right next door, behind the church which is not as well known.
Matakana just keeps growing and changing. They have a great cinema with large seats and trendy interior. There are some good restaurants and cafes in the area too. Matakana is an ideal base if you want to enjoy a drink or two.
For something slightly different, you can go on a Matakana River Tour from Matakana Wharf Road. Definitely pre-book and it’s $25 per adult for one hour.
I’m still exploring the wineries in the area. I’ve asked my wine mad friends and their recommendations are below. If you want to make a day of it, you can take a wine tour from Auckland or Matakana with Matakana Tours.
The one winery I have managed to explore was Heron’s Flight. The owners started it themselves over 20 years ago. They would come up on weekends and stay in a caravan! The place is very relaxed with beautiful and peaceful view over the vineyard. They also have THE most beautiful dog I’ve ever seen. There is an off-grid cabin in the vineyard and can be booked on Airbnb.
Heron’s Flight Vineyard
David Hoskins and Mary Evans started their vineyard over 20 years ago and are still going. They are moving more towards organic methods now. There is a restaurant in front separately owned called Plume.
49 Sharp Road
Open Daily 9am–5pm
Omaha Bay Vineyard
A family owned boutique vineyard and winery owned by Hegman and Bev Foster.
169 Takatu Road, Matakana
Open Friday, Saturday & Sunday 11AM – 5PM
There is a great community of artists and musicians. Some crafts are display at the markets, but there are other venues dotted around. Two of the main galleries are below:
Have you been to the Matakana area? Is there anything that you think I should add? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!