On the road to Pouto

 

Spring weather is always a bit of a mix, but this year has been more extreme, see-sawing from mild to bitter winds and wet conditions, so our two recent excursions out of Auckland couldn’t have been better timed. For once the forecasts are correct and our first trip in early September is made in beautiful sunshine. We drive north-west for a night’s stay at Petite Provence B & B (703C Tinopai Road, Matakohe), run by Linda and Guy Bucchi. The elevated one story Provencal styled accommodation is set in soft rolling farmland, dotted with poplars. We don’t go directly, stopping first on Highway 16 before Kumeu for coffee and a snack at Blossoms Café, sitting next to Borich Fruit and Vegetable Barn. The coffee is always very good and even if you arrive after the lunch rush and there’s little of the yummy food choices left in the cabinets, or they will make for you off the wall menu.

 

Making the most of photo opportunities, we take the Kaipara Flats Road heading to Warkworth, which we then bypass, making a late afternoon stop at Matakana. We potter in the charming little group of shops including art galleries showing-casing local talent, boutique clothes, an inviting bookstore, places to eat and the little cinema. Just down the road we energise ourselves with another coffee at Matakana Patisserie, Artisan Baking & Café.

 

Then it’s through little Te Hana and Kaiwaka before turning off at the Brynderwyn foothills onto the Kauri Coast Road just 27kms from Matakohe. The road passes through Paparoa and over a long single lane bridge above the Matakohe river, before turning towards Tinopai. Petite Provence is 7kms from this point. As we leave the main road and take the turnoff to the property, the pretty river view is worth a photo stop.

Shortly afterwards we find ourselves happily relaxing with a glass of red wine, in the charming spacious French ‘midi’ style dining and living area. Our generously sized bedroom with ensuite, has French doors opening onto a covered veranda overlooking lush countryside. Driving directly we’re a little more than two hours from Auckland, but it’s like being back in Provence. The décor is fresh and appealing, combining Provencal colours in a mix of gold, navy and rustic red, in plain and floral fabrics. Throughout the property, colourful and striking iron tables and chairs catch our eye. These are all the inspiration of French artisan/designer Guy Bucchi  who creates each unique piece in his workshop a few yards from the B & B.

 

Linda, a New Zealander who returned home with Guy after living and running a B & B in the South of France for many years, is a wonderful host. We share the dinner table with them and a couple from Canada. A generous selection of light and tasty dishes is offered featuring many home-grown vegetables and fruit. Our entrée of mussels is followed by a main of baked salmon, kumera, courgette balls, fresh silverbeet, pumpkin and a sliced baguette. Then it’s a cheese board, finishing with a crème brulee to die for.

It’s a good breakfast the next morning too. We choose from grapefruit halves with each segment cut ready for eating, a fresh fruit bowl, muesli, special K, cornflakes or bran flakes with milk, then toast or croissants with Feijoa jam or marmalade, served with orange juice and fresh coffee. It was a grand stay and we will be back.

 

On the road, ten minutes later, we half-heartedly decide to call in at the Matakohe Kauri Museum, 5 Church Road. A fairly ordinary visit was remembered from several years earlier but we quickly decide it’s a winner, even if you stop simply to visit the NZ gift shop. This has one of the most fabulous collections of all things good made in New Zealand. There is much to choose from amongst the quality ranges of clothing, wooden dishes, boxes and chopping boards, china, jewellery, puzzles and art, along with fabulous kauri gum chunks and gift pieces.

But, the museum itself is outstanding. Rooms and rooms of Kauri themed displays take in a whole boarding house, a sawmill, Kauri gum exhibits with fossilised spiders and period furniture, including a hand-hewn wood bath (not the most comfortable looking shape). There is space devoted to horseracing cups and photos and exhibits of old memorabilia like irons and chainsaws, plus much more.

 

The Gumdigger Café across from the museum is not such a hit. The coffee is appalling, however good humour was restored a little later at Blah Blah Blah Café in Dargaville where our delicious panini is served with a smile along with rich crema topped long blacks.

Pouto, 66kms from Dargaville, at the tip of the Kaipara Heads is the main purpose of our trip. There’s 23kms of curving mainly gravel road, make it seem a long way, but ecological interests make it worth the distance. Large billboards explain the environment, pointing out where the little wading Dotterel birds nest and where to watch out for quicksand. You can take a 4wheel drive on the beach, which we don’t have, and would prefer to walk anyway, which we do. The beach has well-worn driftwood and rippling white and black sand, with just a few houses on the cliff top to the left of walking access to the beach.

 

Heading home, we find a couple of superb vantage points to shoot panoramas.

The only downside is the rejection of our credit card by the toll pay booth linked to the Dome Valley tunnel. The touch screen is not working and we have to pay by phone! On line is the better option now, or if you are a more or less regular user, open an account which you keep 'in funds' and are reminded when the balance declines to $10. Very convenient and no more worries.

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