KIWI: Unpack, Inhale and Unwind – Breathing Easy on Auckland’s West CoastIt was only a short 40 minute drive from downtown Auckland to the heart of Kumeu’s renowned wine country and the famous black sand surfing breaks at Bethells Beach and Muriwai Beach. If wine and beaches aren’t enough, for those with a passion for outdoor adventures there’s surfing lessons, horse riding treks, mountain biking trails or riding an ATV (all-terrain vehicle).
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013
Aerodynamically speaking, hand gliding enthusiasts are no match for the gannets that effortlessly glide, whirl, nosedive, or dive bomb the ocean at up to 145km an hour off the windswept cliff face at the south end of Muriwai Beach. This is considered one of the few places in the world where gannets nest on the mainland. Here they reside and breed their chicks between September and March every year above the crashing west coast surf.
It was only a short 40 minute drive from downtown Auckland to the heart of Kumeu’s renowned wine country and the famous black sand surfing breaks at Bethells Beach and Muriwai Beach. If wine and beaches aren’t enough, for those with a passion for outdoor adventures there’s surfing lessons, horse riding treks, mountain biking trails or straddle an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) traversing four-wheel drive tracks.
The tangata whenua of the Waitakere Ranges and the coastal valleys is called Te Kawerau a Maki. This is an area rich in social history from the early logging days of the 1860s to the present day, where various accommodations, vineyards, restaurants, breweries and tourist activities blend seamlessly together.
My first taste of the region was at the appropriately named, The Tasting Shed. As the name implies they offer a range of entrée sized tasting plates. Unusual dishes served in season can vary from ostrich liver, venison carpaccio to spaltzle with smoked mushrooms, hazelnuts and tallegio. It’s also hard to resist their chunky potato wedges that are triple cooked with garlic and rosemary. The Tasting Room’s signature dish is pig’s head with pickled onion puree, carrot, cumin and coriander. I chose the fish of the day, john dory on a white bean cassolet that included a shellfish stock, with whole baby tomatoes and finely chopped celery, peppers and bacon bits. House white or red wine can be bought by the carafe too.
After visiting the gannet colony I popped into the Muriwai Surf School for a friendly chat with Martin Wallis, the owner. Outside his shop a sign read, ‘closed until the weekend.’ Martin said that in the 10 years he’d been teaching surfing, he had never closed his doors but the recent tragic shark attack earlier in the week had forced the beach closure. “As far as records go back,” said Martin, “there has been no reported shark attacks on Muriwai Beach, so we are all in shock, but yes it’ll be business as usual tomorrow.” A wetsuit and surfboard can be hired from Martin for $20 an hour or for $60 you can get a two hour introduction surfing lesson including wetsuit and surfboard.
As the sun was dropping towards the Tasman Sea, I made my way to the very end of a high bluff where my hosts for the evening, John and Trude greeted me. Bethells Beach Eco Cotttages are situated in one of the most stunning locations on the West Coast, well protected from the sou’ westerly winds by huge pohutukawa trees, however, it’s the views from the cottages over Bethells Beach that are breathtaking.
As I contemplated life in such a location with a glass of wine in hand, I struck up a conversation with Trude. It transpires she is a fifth generation Bethell. Trude’s great, great Grandfather was Frances Bethell who’d sailed from England to New Zealand with his wife and seven children in 1860 in the ship, the Kingston, a journey of 15 weeks. Four years after his arrival Frances was finally granted 225 hectares in the area we now know as Bethells Beach.
John and Trude have two freestanding cottages facing the ocean as well as a large self-contained apartment under the main house. The rooms are beautifully furnished in an eclectic manner in a certain rustic-style with clever use of all-manner of materials by John, a builder by trade. Trude on the other hand is the stylist, she even designs and prints her own cushion slips and shawls.
One of the highlights of staying in the cottages is the nearby walking path through bush down to the deserted beach. The five kilometer round-trip took me a good hour to complete the following daybreak, that is if you walk the full length of the beach, something that certainly makes you appreciate this rugged landscape in this part of the world.
By 10.30 the next morning I was being instructed on the use of an ATV and how not to hit a tree or stump, or the more serious consequences of rolling a 200kg machine. After our safety briefing and a few practice laps our group of ten intrepid adventurers headed deep into Woodhill Forest, with a tour guide, as paths dissect the forest in all directions. On our two hour journey, 4TrackAdventures guided us all the way out to the sand dunes of Muriwai Beach and back again using a plethora of dusty trails that test your skills. As one American remarked on completing the trip, “that’s one hellava way to start the day.”.
Lunch was at the delightful Soljens Estate Vineyard. The owner Tony Soljens told me this is the third oldest vineyard in New Zealand and that they had just celebrated their 75th anniversary in 2012. Tony, of Croatian descent holds the annual Berba Croatian Harvest Celebration over the Easter Weekend with grape stomping, wine tasting, as well as Dalmatian and Croatian dance performances. It’s a total family affair as there are Easter eggs and face painting for the kids too.
In the centre of Kumeu that night I stayed at Wild at Heart Bed & Breakfast, hosted by Dave and Ann Hurley. This delightful luxury retreat is very popular with wedding couples, as the queen-sized accommodation is in a French themed barn. A separate dormer room further along the barn is also available with three single beds that are ideal for bridesmaids or guests. It is superbly appointed with nothing but the finest furnishings including a fully, self-contained, sophisticated kitchen.
For some local hops and a bite to eat, I made my way on Saturday evening to Hallertau Brewbar & Restaurant in Riverhead. With a birthday party in full swing in the bar, I decided to skip the entrée and ordered Moorish roasted chicken pie with spring leeks and hallertau whole grain mustard. Like their hand-crafted bews you won’t find any packet-mix in their meals, just fistfuls of freshness. The
Hallertau brews include: Luxe Kolsch, Statesman Red Ale, Deception Schwarzbier (Blackbier) and a Granny Smith Apple Cider.
Beesonline has been in Kumeu for the last 10 years and it’s fair to say it has developed quite a reputation. Their outdoor café is light, open and stylish and of course it’s a place the whole family can enjoy. The key to it’s success is that every item on the menu is infused with honey. The café and gift shop is open for lunches daily as well as dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.
Nestled on the banks of the Rangitopuni Stream which flows into the Upper Waitamata Harbour, The Riverhead Tavern is thought to be New Zealand’s oldest riverside tavern and still hold’s new Zealand’s second oldest liquor licence. The Riverhead is steeped in 150 years of local history from when it was a vital stop for early pioneering travellers: gum diggers, traders, local Maori, country folk, fishermen, farmers, smugglers, clergymen as well as a few visits from the local constabulary.
The current proprietors, Steve and Paula Pepperell reopened the iconic tavern as a family friendly restaurant, bar and wedding/corporate venue on Valentine’s Day 2011. Like a lot of locals I met, Paula is passionate about the local community spirit that has grown around the reopening. There is a giant menu to choose from but steaks are what the restaurant prides itself on. Without any pretence Paula’s business card reads – Head Saucy Serving Maid – now that says it all.
When you visit this region and see the passion the people have for their slice of paradise then you’ll begin to understand why, Auckland’s West Coast is truly a place to unpack, inhale and unwind.
To enquire about seasonal dates, opening times, pricing and directions to accommodations, restaurants, activities and attractions please go to individual websites listed below.
Ferryboats from Auckland serve the Riverhead Tavern most days over summer sometimes with up to three boats on weekends docking at the wharf. The five hour voyage includes a two hour lunch stop. The cruise is tide dependent, so booking well ahead is essential. If you have a day at leisure in Auckland this should be on your must do list.
Bethell's Beach Eco Cottages
T: 64 9 810 9581
Wild at Heart Luxury Bed & Breakfast
T: +64 9 412 5475
The Tasting Shed
T: +64 9 412 6454
Soljans estate Vineyard
T: +64 9 412 5858
Kumeu River Winery
T: +64 412 8415
T: +64 9 412 8902
Hallertau Brewbar & Restaurant
T: +64 9 412 5555
BeesOnline Honey Centre
T: +64 9 411 7953
Muriwai Surf School
T: +64 21 478 734
4Track Adventures Quad Tours
T: +64 9 420 8104
T: +64 9 376 0819
Red Boats Riverhead Cruiser
T: +64 9 834 7337
Shane Boocock would like to gratefully thank ATEED, (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development) for arranging his visit to Auckland’s West Coast region. For more information on anywhere in greater Auckland go to: www.aucklandnz.com
If you would like to read this article in full or licence it for your own publication, please click here to contact Shane.