Around 50km north of central Auckland the city’s influence begins to wane, heralding the Matakana Coast (w matakanacoast.com), a 30km stretch of shallow harbours, beach-strung peninsulas and small islands. Its individual character becomes apparent once you pass pretty Warkworth and head out either to Kawau Island, or up the coast to the village of Matakana and the snorkelling and diving nirvana of Goat Island.
The journey from Auckland to Warkworth has been made quicker, though less scenic, by the introduction of a 7km stretch of toll road ($2.20/car). Sadly, confusing signage means people miss toll pay areas (see Northern Gateway Toll Road) on the way north and south, as well as the great views on the alternative route, via Orewa on the Hibiscus Coast Highway.
Other than the excellent wood carving on display at Te Hana, there’s little to detain you on SH1 between Warkworth and Waipu as it passes the road junction at Brynderwyn, where SH12 loops off to Dargaville, the Waipoua kauri forest and the Hokianga Harbour. If you’re heading north and want a scenic route, it’s better to stay on the coast and follow Bream Bay, named by Cook when he visited in 1770 and his crew hauled in tarakihi, which they mistook for bream. There are no sizeable towns here, only the small beach communities of Mangawhai Heads and Waipu Cove, looking out to the Hen and Chicken Islands, refuges for rare birds such as the wattled saddleback.Read More
Leigh and Goat Island
Leigh and Goat Island
The village of LEIGH, 13km northeast of Matakana, holds a picturesque harbour with bobbing wooden fishing boats. Heading a further 4km northeast brings you to the Cape Rodney–Okakari Marine Reserve, usually known simply as Goat Island for the bush-clad islet 300m offshore. In 1975, this became New Zealand’s first marine reserve, with no-take areas stretching 5km along the shoreline and 800m off the coast. Some 35 years on, the undersea life is thriving, with large rock lobster, huge snapper and rays. Feeding has been discouraged since blue maomaos developed a taste for frozen peas and began to mob swimmers and divers. Easy beach access (from the road-end parking area), clear water, rock pools on wave-cut platforms, a variety of undersea terrains and relatively benign currents combine to make this an enormously popular year-round diving spot, as well as a favourite summer destination for families: aim to come midweek if you value tranquillity.
Spread out along either side of SH1 is the small roadside settlement of TE HANA, 4km north of Wellsford. It’s your next chance to turn off towards the coast and a settlement that until recently most people have passed through without pause. This does Te Hana an injustice, as it is home to one of New Zealand’s most adventurous and spectacular wood carvers.
The Arts Factory
Te Hana is home to the The Arts Factory, where unique and iconic artist Kerry Strongman and his team carve breathtaking “jewellery for giants” – massive pieces of swamp kauri that are thousands of years old. The pieces are innovatively and experimentally carved (sometimes as interpretations of traditional Maori and/or other ancient peoples’ designs) and all are supersized to fill and enhance large spaces. Most of the pieces go to galleries and commissioners in New Zealand and abroad, but other, smaller pieces are on sale in the gallery shop. Best of all, you get to wander round the expansive studio, inside and out, and watch the works being created.