Coromandel, Raglan, Great Barrier and more: Six easy weekend getaways

by Paperboy / 05 October, 2017

Spring Escapes

Warmer weekends demand we make the most of them. So here’s our helpful guide to six idyllic destinations within easy striking distance of the city, compiled by people who know these getaway places the best.

In a city of 1.4 million people, there’s no shortage of things to do – but with longer days and warmer weather, we’re also starting to dream of idyllic adventures further afield. Dreamy locations like Whāngārei Heads, Great Barrier Island, Matakana, Waiheke Island, Raglan and Coromandel are all just short trips from the city; all of them make for easy weekend trips where just two days can feel like a far longer break. From lazing under pōhutukawa trees on the beach to wild walking tracks and dance parties, here are our guides to six destinations, where people in the know tell us what’s good to eat, drink and do.

Great Barrier Island

Lance and Nicola Herbst on the big island’s big attractions – walks, surf beaches and spots to stay

A magnificent view over Whangapoua Beach and estuary.

Architects Lance and Nicola Herbst got to know Great Barrier Island before they got to know New Zealand – a stay there in the late 1990s was crucial in convincing them to move from South Africa to Auckland. They now visit the island regularly to stay at their simple bach on Medlands Beach.

Where to eat

Eating out on Great Barrier often involves catching fish and cooking it at our place or a friend’s. But if you’re looking to buy a meal, My Fat Puku (previously known as Claris Texas, 129 Hector Sanderson Rd) in Claris is under new ownership and the food is good. Or get a burger at Swallow (Main Rd, Claris). Breakfast at Pah Beach Cafe in Tryphena (82 Blackwell Drv) is recommended, especially when the northerlies are blowing.

Where to drink

Any bach with a view of the ocean is a good bet. The island’s a fairly social place. The Currach (78 Blackwell Drv, Tryphena) is worth a look, or the golf club on certain nights – and the Claris and Tryphena Clubs can be a fun night out.

Medlands Beach and cabana.

Where to stay

The best way to stay on Great Barrier is to book a bach – there’s a dedicated website, islandaccommodation.co.nz (a couple of baches we designed are available on it for rent). The campground on Kaitoke Beach is sensational, as are all the DOC campgrounds around the island.

Best walks

Our favourite is the walk along the coast from Okiwi to Harataonga. Stop in at the visitor information booth at the airport when you arrive, as they have maps of the DOC walks.

Pah Beach in Tryphena Harbour.

Best beaches

The east coast beaches are the surf beaches. It’s good to start south and move up: Medlands, Kaitoke, Awana, Harataonga, Okiwi. The west coast beaches are shallow bays with that perfect colour contrast in summer between aquamarine water and pōhutukawa red – Tryphena Bay and Okupu are  both worth a visit.

Best day trips

Charter a boat to fish for kingfish, or circumnavigate the island. You can hire kayaks or paddleboards in Whangaparapara and cruise the harbour.

Dolphin Bay – on the inside of the island.

Dolphin Bay – on the inside of the island.

Best way to get there

It’s fastest to fly – Barrier Air and Fly My Sky both do regular flights from Auckland Airport and the North Shore. The only alternative is the Sealink car ferry.

Best island activities

Surf and fish and dive and walk – and relax.

 

Coromandel

A tour of the peninsula’s best places to eat, drink and swim with Matt Sephton and Caitlin Moloney

Whangapoua Beach looking towards New Chum Beach.

Matt Sephton, freelance audio engineer and owner of Coro Sonic Lab, and Caitlin Moloney, a ceramic artist (view her work as part of the Coromandel Open Studios Arts Tour 7–14 Oct), live in Coromandel Town. Epic stormy winters and booming summers filled with friends, music and beach visits make Coro a great place to live, they say.

Where to eat

Wharf Road Cafe (24 Wharf Rd) or the Driving Creek Cafe (180 Driving Creek Rd). Driving Creek Cafe’s atmosphere is relaxed with a lush outside area. The coffee is really good and so is the haloumi stack.

Where to drink

Luke’s Kitchen in Kuaotunu (20 Black Jack Rd) for local craft beer and wood-fired pizza. It’s right near the beach – perfect for a post-surf feed. They put on a lot of live music in summer too.

Coro Summer Fest.

Where to stay

For a luxurious weekend away, The Coromandel Treehouse (480 Driving Creek Rd) or Driving Creek Villas (21A Colville Rd). For lower budget places, Long Bay Motor Camp (3200 Long Bay Rd) is a favourite; you can camp right by the ocean.

Where to listen to live music

The Coroglen Tavern (1937 Tairua Whitianga Rd) puts on big acts around New Year’s. At Wharf Road Cafe, there is a monthly DJ line-up. We also host the annual Coro Summer Fest (Sat 13 Jan) at our property – a totally awesome afternoon and evening of picnics, games, live music and barefoot dancing.

Driving Creek Cafe.

Best beaches

New Chums – most people only see it in the summer, all golden and perfect, but in the middle of a winter storm the place is epic, and well worth the adventure. Little Bay, further north, is a relatively sheltered beach with good snorkelling and big old pōhutukawa trees to laze under. Closer to home, we love Golden Bay.

Best day trips

Waikawau and Little Bay. Hot Water Beach is fun, although these days it gets really crowded! The best time is low tide at night time with a full moon in the middle of winter – then you might have a hot pool to yourself. Our favourite day trip is over to New Chums, Kuaotunu or Otama for a surf, followed by pizza and beer at Luke’s Kitchen. 

Driving Creek Railway.

Best walks

Castle Rock along the famous (or infamous) 309 Road has fabulous views. Freshen up after by leaping off into the Waiau Falls.

Hidden gems

Ōamaru Bay is one of our favourite places to swim and is so incredibly beautiful. Also, Wharf Road Cafe’s Sunday DJ sessions with happy party people, and Driving Creek Railway and Potteries.

Northland’s east coast

Leonie Ropiha shares her seaside picks

Mermaid pools.

Leonie Ropiha, from Ngunguru on the Tutukākā Coast, shares insights into New Zealand’s northernmost city, Whāngārei, and surrounds.

Where to eat

Schnappa Rock (1 Marina Rd, Tutukaka). My go-to is the kokoda (raw marinated fish)! I rely on Nectar Cafe (88 Bank St, Whāngārei) for a nutritious breakfast. The Fat Camel (12 Quality St, Whāngārei) is one of the best eateries for traditional Middle Eastern food. For a more low-key dining experience, nothing beats fish and chips from Ngunguru Takeaways (1977 Ngunguru Rd). Eat them sitting by the side of the estuary; it’s a bit of a tradition!

Where to drink

Schnappa Rock, again, is good. There is plenty of outdoor seating, it has an extensive wine list and mean cocktails. Or The Butter Factory (8 Butter Factory Ln, Whāngārei) for a quiet afternoon drink and live music.

Paihia.

Where to listen to music

McMorrissey’s Irish Pub (7 Vine St, Whāngārei) always has a band rocking out! The punters aren’t afraid of a good dance. Drink 100 pints of Guinness here and get your name on the wall of fame!

Where to stay

Pacific Rendezvous (73 Motel Rd, Tutukaka). It’s a little pricey, but it has its own private beach and looks out to the Poor Knights Islands – it’s absolute bliss. The Bay of Islands Holiday Park (678 Puketona Rd, Paihia) is a great spot, or camp beachside at Motutara Farm (42 Rockell Rd, Whananaki).

Matapōuri Bay.

Best walks

The Tutukākā Lighthouse path. I have walked this a million times and never get sick of the views. Pack a picnic and sit right on the edge of the hilltop overlooking the ocean.

Best beaches

Matapōuri Bay is a timeless classic. This white-sand beach gets pretty busy during summer but don’t let that spoil your day. Pacific Bay is almost never busy and is good for picnicking and kayaking.

Tutuakākā Lighthouse path.

Best day trips

Paihia is a cute little coastal town. Drive further to Waitangi where you can absorb some of New Zealand’s most important political history.

Favourite weekend activity

For good gelato, we head further south to Charlies Gelato Garden in Matakana (17 Sharp Rd) and check out the Matakana Farmers Market (2 Matakana Valley Rd) while we’re there.

Hidden gems

Mermaid pools, although that’s too top-secret to share. You’ll have to do your own research.

 

Raglan

Elle Farr adores the Waikato’s best getaway spot

Whale Bay.

Self-described free-spirit Elle Farr splits her time between studying in Wellington and her family home in Raglan. It’s her creative playground – from sculpting and painting to outdoor adventuring and working as a waitress and barista, Raglan’s her summer fling.

Where to eat

There’s everything from sushi at Aloha Sushi (4A Wallis St) to churros and açai at the Raglan Cruisers Food Truck (5 Pokohui Ave). For lunch, try Rock-It (248 Wainui Rd). Head to Raglan Food Department (45 Wainui Rd) for pizza and a strawberry and basil gelato. There are so many good little nooks for dinner; The Wharf Kitchen and Bar (43 Rose St) is a favourite. I may be a little biased as I work there, but I’m not lying when I say people rave about the food!

Where to drink

Raglan Roast (9 Bow St). I think 99 percent of Raglan’s coffee addiction is fuelled by these guys, but we ain’t complaining. Wherever you are, order a beer by the new Raglan Brewing Co!

Gelato at the Raglan Food Department.

Where to listen to music

The Yot Club (9 Bow St) has been a massive part of Raglan for decades. With a usually rad summer line-up, stick around for a Sunday session – you actually can’t miss it.

Where to stay

Go crazy with Bookabach or Airbnb – about one third of houses in Raglan are permanently resided in. To meet people, go to eco retreat Solscape (611 Wainui Rd), Karioi Lodge (5B Whaanga Rd) and Raglan Backpackers (6 Wi Neera St).

The steps down to Whale Bay

Best walks

The Bryant Memorial Reserve tracks or head to the wild Te Toto Gorge. A must-do hike is Raglan’s ‘Sleeping Lady’ – Mount Karioi. This walk is super rewarding and has a view to match.

Best beaches

Ngarunui Beach, the main swimming spot. For surfing, Manu Bay or Whale Bay. Go to the estuary for an obligatory Whāingaroa bridge jump. A more secret spot is a little cove beyond the airfield, hiding around the corner from the campgrounds. It’s best to go at high tide.

Three Little Birds gallery.

Best day trip

Ruapuke Beach – it’s got that wild west coast feel with a sweet-as motorcamp. If you’re vehicle-less and carefree, grab some kayaks from Raglan Backpackers or Raglan Kayak (Bow St Jetty). It’s really the only way to see the beaches on the opposite side of the harbour, and cruise into the small caves and passageways.

Hidden gems

Art! Go see Three Little Birds (5 Bow St), The Monster Company (58 Wallis St) or the Denise Fort Gallery (7 Wainui Rd). Check out what’s going on at Ahoy (11 Bankart St) or Jet Collective (19A Bow St).

 

Waiheke Island

Jodine Bell on the best of island life

En route to Man O’War winery.

Jodine Bell, creative director in Auckland city by day and Waiheke resident by night (and weekends) makes the most of one of Auckland’s most popular getaways.

Where to eat

Casita Miro in Onetangi (3 Brown Rd) for great views, great food and wine, and great ambience. The staff are amazing and it always feels like a good time – whatever the weather. Ask for a table near the window.

Where to drink

Practically anywhere, but the balcony at The Oyster Inn (124 Oceanview Rd) is a particularly great spot in Oneroa.

Little Oneroa Beach.

Where to listen to music

There are always loads of great events on, but check the weekly line-up at Artworks Theatre (2 Korora Rd, Oneroa) or Malones Irish Pub (6 Miami Ave, Surfdale) for local talent.

Where to stay

There’s tons of great accommodation available but for proper camping I have it on great authority that the Poukaraka Flats Campground (339 Gordons Rd) at Rocky Bay, Whakanewha Regional Park is amazing, if basic in amenities!

Casita Miro.

Best walks

I’m not a walker but there is an amazing network of trails called Te Ara Hura which covers most of the island. I have friends who are working their way through the entire list. Pick up a brochure at the ferry terminals or look online; it connects to most of the vineyards too, so you can sip and sup along the way.

Beaches to visit

Little O (Little Oneroa) is a favourite (the fish and chips here are great) but there are lots of hidden bays if you’re up for exploring.

A sunny day at Man O’War winery.

Best day trips

Make the drive out to Man O’ War Vineyards (725 Man O’ War Bay Rd) for a full day of wine tasting, eating, lounging on the lawn in the sun and swimming. It’s worth the long gravel roads.

Favourite weekend activity

A morning run down bush-clad roads to the beach at Rocky Bay for a swim, followed by coffee and scones (or a bacon and egg pie) at the Rocky Bay Hall pop-up cafe (2 Glen Brook Rd, Omiha).

Hidden gems

At The Annex (10 Putiki Rd, Ostend) you’ll find the best cheese toasties, coffee, and lovely staff.

Matakana

Jessie Love shares Matakana’s best spots

Tāwharanui Beach.

Jessie Love, a wine rep and Matakana resident, shares her favourite places in the village, as well as the best of the surrounding areas.

Where to eat

My partner Riki and I start our weekend religiously at Leigh Eats (18 Cumberland St, Leigh). It has the best coffee, and while they say they’re the ‘purveyors of the best hangover cure’, we think the food is pretty good on a clear head as well. Later, Smiths (Matakana Country Park, 1151 Leigh Rd) for the cool staff and sharing plates.

Where to drink

The Sawmill Brewery (1004 Leigh Rd, Matakana) for a beer on the deck with a great view of Mount Tamahunga. We also love The Vintry (2 Matakana Valley Rd, Matakana) for a glass of wine.

Omaha.

Where to listen to music

Make a night of it with friends at the Leigh Sawmill Cafe (142 Pakiri Rd, Leigh) – it’s legendary for gigs. The Matakana Village Pub (11 Matakana Valley Rd) has DJs and music acts on the weekend, or on Saturdays, the Matakana Farmers Market (2 Matakana Valley Rd) normally has a band to keep you entertained while you devour a whitebait fritter.

Where to stay

The campsite at Whangateau Holiday Park (559 Leigh Rd) is right on the water and a great low cost option. If you’re in a campervan, you can stay down on the beach at Mathesons Bay. Mahurangi, Tāwharanui and Scandrett Regional Parks all have cottages that you can book.

Matakana Cinema.

Best walks

There’s a beautiful coastal walk around Ti Point. Park at the end of Ti Point Road and follow the gravel track and boardwalk for views back across Omaha and over to Tāwharanui. Tāwharanui itself is a must-visit.

Best beaches

Omaha, Tāwharanui, Scandrett Regional Park, Mahurangi. Pakiri is rugged but incredibly beautiful. Mathesons Bay is sheltered if you want a leisurely swim or a pontoon to throw yourself off.

Mathesons Bay.

Best day trips

Mangawhai has another magic beach, some great walks and an excellent pub. Kawau Island is easy to get to from Snells Beach and offers a bit of history. And if it’s fish (viewing) you are after, then go for Goat Island.

Hidden gems

There’s a river tour on a flat-bottom barge where you get to learn about the history of the Matakana River and native bush (Matakana River Tours). Also, Matakana Cinema (2 Matakana Valley Rd) – the cinema itself is amazing.

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