New Zealand was abuzz with stories of Matakana when I arrived. The wine-producing village an hour north of Auckland was the cover story in Air New Zealand’s in-flight magazine, and I kept hearing about the village’s initiatives to become the country’s first Cittaslow, or slow town.
By the time I was in a car heading over Auckland’s Harbour Bridge toward Matakana, I felt like I knew what to expect, but seeing, smelling, and tasting the town’s delicious yields—food and wine—was even more enjoyable than I’d expected. The coast’s vineyard-dotted hills hide a foodie haven (and heaven).
Our first stop was the Matakana Farmers’ Market, open every Saturday morning and full of visiting Aucklanders. More importantly, it’s full of delicious food, with stalls selling local and organic garlic, blueberries, terrines and pâtés, jams and chutneys, rice-paper rolls, coffee, vinegar, roses, baked goods, chocolates, cheeses, mussel fritters, and more. Locally brewed and canned Leigh Sawmill Beer has a stand, as does the Matakana Bag Lady. While I wandered the perfectly designed grounds with my coffee, I enjoyed live music from a three-piece band in the center. Shopping here is completely guilt-free (save the chocolate)—not only is everything you’re buying grown or made locally, but the market has a zero-waste policy. And the food craftspeople behind the counters are uniformly delightful.
After shopping the market, and the small flea market next door, we were ready for some sit-down food, so we headed to the outdoor restaurant Cosi at Morris and James (48 Tongue Farm Rd.). The setting is gorgeous but laid-back—exactly what I’d come to expect from New Zealand’s best eateries. We ordered food at the counter that was served at our table, and the owner’s son came over for a chat when he heard we were from the US. My NZ$13 fish burrito was delicious, as was my blueberry scone. An extra treat are the bathrooms—they’re part outdoors, part indoors, harmonious, and gorgeous. And for more shopping, the adjacent Morris and James Tileworks store sells beautiful, handmade pottery.
Lest we go for more than 10 minutes without sampling Matakana’s culinary delights, we headed to Heron’s Flight Vineyard and Café for their NZ$10 wine-tasting menu. They explained that 2005 was possibly the best summer for growing wine grapes in 20 years, and the Sangiovese and Dolcetto we tasted were indeed delicious. They also served equally wonderful grape juice made from Sangiovese grapes. Heron, which has the distinction of being the only winery in New Zealand that grows purely Italian grapes, offers Matakana Wine 101 classes on weekends at 11am—we were too late to attend, but they sound like a lot of fun. They also serve dinner Thursday through Saturday and breakfast and lunch daily.
If you’re in Auckland, go to Matakana...and stay in Matakana! I didn’t get to spend the night there, but it was hard to leave after just a day. The lodgings in the area, without exception, appear to be gorgeous. One in particular stood out, though: Takatu Lodge & Vineyard, renowned across New Zealand for its hospitality (and wine). The owners, Heather and John, worked with the environmentally-minded architect Steve McCracken and adhered to rules of feng shui for their rooms, and the result is spectacular. For example, outside lights are installed below knee-level because, they say, you’re in Matakana to see the stars. I was salivating over all four of their suites, and when I return to New Zealand’s Pacific-hugging wine country, I plan to spend part of my trip in one of Takatu’s giant, open-air bathtubs. It’s the only way Matakana can get any better.