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Matakana Coast

Goat Island Beach, Matakana Coast, winter 2009

Matakana Coast is a beautiful part of New Zealand. It was a favourite weekend getaway when we lived in Auckland because it was so easy – just pile into the car, take a short drive to the north, turn east at Warkworth and then take your pick of wineries, beaches, regional parks, marine reserves, cafes, art, sculpture, live music, diving and fishing. I would love to live in that little slice of paradise one day.

Leigh Wharf, Matakana Coast New Zealand

I have so many Matakana Coast memories. There was that time that we took a spur of the moment holiday, revelling in five days of swimming and diving at the marine reserve. Our holiday snaps are under-exposed and blurry (this was my pre-DSLR days), but full of wildflowers, candles, silly poses in our flippers and dents in our faces from too-tight diving masks. Steve Irwin had recently been killed by a sting ray when diving, and I remember how our hearts leaped each time a baby ray loomed out of the dark waters.

Morning light, Goat Island Marine Reserve, Matakana Coast New Zealand

Another time we took the day off work to celebrate our birthday’s and spent the day on the coast with my sister. It was a crisp and mild winter’s day and we had Amy’s homemade birthday cake in the car, explored Matakana village and ate wood-fired pizza in Leigh. In the late afternoon we made a final stop to explore the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail. As the sun dipped towards the horizon we drank a final glass of wine, stretching out the last moments of a perfect day. 

Brick Bay Winery and Sculpture Trail

Yet another time, with weary bodies and heavy hearts, we took a brief mid-week escape in search of something vaguely other. We sat on a white bench at Snells Beach, gazing out to Kawau Island and the lilac shells strewing the foreshore. At Goat Island the waves were whipped and frothing and at stunning Tawharanui Regional Park we found a calm, concave bay lined with stones. Not much was said as the salty air did its work.

Tawharanui Regional Park, Matakana Coast New ZealandLilac shells at Snells Beach, Matakana Coast New ZealandTawharanui Regional Park, Matakana Coast NZ

It had been six years since we’d visited the Matakana Coast, but when we were home for Christmas in December we decided that a brief interlude was just what we needed. Returning to beloved places always feels like some sort of homecoming, and we took our time driving, drinking in the golden hills and the pristine waters of Whangateau, just metres from the road.

Matakana village buzzed as usual, and after a short stop we moved on to our favourite spot, the Sawmill Café at Leigh. There we ate a late lunch, checked into our room and spent a lazy afternoon in our shady courtyard. In the evening we drank rosé in the garden, eating fresh raw fish and crispy wood-fired pizza as the sun slowly sank.

The next morning, not long after dawn, we drove down to the Goat Island Marine Reserve to wander over the rock pools and enjoy the solitude before the day’s tourists descended. Back to the Sawmill for eggs and coffee, then a leisurely drive south to Auckland. It was a magical not-quite-24 hours that just made me love it all the more.

Cool summer evening, Leigh Sawmill Cafe, Matakana CoastLeigh Sawmill Cafe, Matakana Coast, New Zealand collageWoodfired pizza, Leigh Sawmill Cafe, Matakana Coast, New ZealandAt dusk - Leigh Sawmill Cafe, Matakana Coast, NZRosy rose at Leigh Sawmill Cafe, Matakana Coast New ZealandCoastline at Goat Island Beach, Leigh, Matakana CoastGoat Island Beach, Matakana Coast, New Zealand collageSeaweed, Goat Island Beach, Leigh, Matakana CoastRockpools at Goat Island Marine Reserve, Leigh, Matakana CoastSeagull highway at Goat Island Marine Reserve, Matakana Coast New Zealand


  1. Michele

    Seems there is another ‘to be seen’ region of your beautiful country to add to our wish list. Just as well I am tiring of long haul … The short jump across the ditch is far more appealing. Altho I might steer clear of beleaguered Christchurch for a bit.

    I enjoy how you evoke the sense of place in this blog. It is so important to all of us. That space which talks to us, heals us, soothes us. I was talking to an elderly lady the other day and we somehow touched on this topic. She recalled to me a visit she made to Uluru many decades ago … in the days when you could climb the Rock. She said they were just preparing to start the trek up when it ‘spoke’ to her. She ended up not doing the climb because, as she put it “I realised it was a sacred place.. It told me to honor it by not climbing.” I assure you, she didn’t strike me as a fanciful person, so I was a tad surprised when she said this.

    Lesson being, I suppose, we all need to find somewhere special which will give us peace. It appears that you have found yours.

    • That is interesting about Uluru, especially since a few decades ago there wasn’t the same level of awareness there is now about its status. Good on her for listening and responding. I wonder how the other people in the trekking group handled it – whether they still climbed, how they interpreted her decision. I’m so glad for her that her response has now been soundly validated.

  2. We never stopped to explore the Auckland region during our last 2 visits to NZ from the UK, there always seemed to be too much to see to do anything properly, but seeing your wonderfully nostalgic article above i have vowed to spend more time at each place when we next visit NZ in 2017 and the Matakana coast has now been added to our itinerary thanks to your excellent article. Thank you Chez.

    • I’m very glad Andy, it’s definitely worth it, and so easy to access from Auckland (which you’ll no doubt pass through at some point). Let me know if you need any other NZ travel tips!

  3. What a lovely post. I enjoyed the photos and reading about your memories. New Zealand and summer are very far away from me right now, so it was fun to “visit” somewhere so different. It’s amazing how special places can hold so many memories and how they can do healing work when we need it.

    • Thanks Jenny! When you spend a lot of time in a place you have time to build up memories, which just makes it more special. It was lovely to go back and experience it all over again, even if just for a few hours. I suppose that you are still in the grip of winter in Michigan, but spring can’t be too far away now?

    • It certainly felt like a perfect summer when we were there over Christmas – lovely crisp mornings, warm and sunny days, hot enough to go swimming but not too hot to sleep – perfect! Loved your stunning Tongariro photos from your last post – yet another NZ destination to visit xx

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