Friday, March 1, 2024

The Great Kiwi Road Trip: A Foodie Weekend At Matakana For Tired, Hungry People

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Celebrating the start of a NZ summer, Emma takes her family on a road trip to Matakana to experience an easy, delicious weekend away that’s fun for the whole family, no matter the weather (torrential rain).

In partnership with our pals at Toyota New Zealand

For the past five years, I have rented a flat on the same street as a very fancy Auckland primary school and every day between 2-4pm, you simply cannot drive down our street due to the sheer number of $100k+ SUVs that barrel down the road.

Every time I was forced to go out into this melee, I would complain loudly to myself or whoever was unfortunate enough to be around me, ‘Why do parents insist on driving SUVs???’

I, a terrible parker, had always picked the smallest cars I could possibly find, so that I could park diagonally in a carpark but still be in the lines. I did not understand any other car logic.

Then I had a baby. And while your average baby is fairly compact, the baby accoutrements are on another level. For our first road trip with our son, we quickly realised we had to pick between a bassinet or a pram, because both simply did not fit unless we left the actual baby behind.

So the news that Toyota had put out a Toyota Corolla Cross – e.g. a Toyota Corolla SUV – was music to my ears. All of the practicality of a Toyota Corolla – really, the Birkenstock of the car world – with actual room to put things in it. And so we upgraded our lives for the next baby car trip, and packed every single thing we could imagine.

We headed up Matakana to enjoy an easy road trip for tired parents; the new road means that it’s a faster drive, bypassing Warkworth but also sadly bypassing the Puhoi cheese factory, which is a devastating loss! Justice for the Puhoi cheese factory!

But tragic lack of cheese aside, Matakana has long been a foodie favourite due to the excellent town village and, of course, the Saturday morning Matakana Village Farmers market. The weekend we had picked to go away was your classic summer weather – torrential rain the entire time – and I had naively assumed that Matakana would be quiet because of this. But as we arrived, I realised that all of Auckland has learned that rain is our greatest constant, and just soldiers on regardless, so it was absolutely packed and very cheerful, despite everyone being in full winter outfits in December.

The Matakana Village Farmers Market is full of local foodie stands and is the kind of place where you want to turn up hungry, because you’re going to want to get in at least two breakfasts. From French crepes, fresh pastries, smoothie bowels, breakfast pizzas to a breakfast wrap – food of the gods – you can pick up a coffee and wander around, collecting local honey, candles, wine and produce along the way.

The whole experience is very French village, in that you can wander through bookshops, art shops, clothing stores and bakeries as you then start to think about your next meal (a hot tip is that the Elle & Riley cashmere outlet store is there, so you can try and score a snuggly bargain).

We picked up sandwiches and lemon cream-filled croissants (!) from the Ringawera bakery in the main village and drove to the famous-for-a-reason Tāwharanui Regional Park beach, which even in sideways rain (!), was still full of surfers, tourists and brave locals in raincoats. But if you’re after a more cultural and less carb-based experience, you can also head along to one of the many art or sculpture sites around the area.

In nicer days, this area is spoiled for choice for great beaches – Tāwharanui Regional Park is filled with lots of little coastal spots, which means you can usually avoid the crowds, but if you want guaranteed peace, head up to the giant stretch of Pākiri beach, where you’ve got 14km of white sand to enjoy.

For the slightly more adventurous/awake weekend tourist, there’s also the Goat Island Marine Reserve where you can snorkel in the super clear waters and feel like maybe you’re on a tropical holiday (only easier, but also… colder).

Every time we make the drive to Matakana, I always end up thinking ‘why don’t we do this more?’ For an hour’s trip door to door, you end up in a place that combines everything I love about a village – wandering, cute shops, delicious farmer’s market – and then some of the best beaches in our beautiful country. If you’re based in Tāmaki Makaurau and staying put over the summer holidays, it’s a great place to get a break from the city.

Now, to the road trip chariot itself: the Toyota Corolla Cross. Let’s talk fuel consumption, because this is a big freaking deal. If you put the car in ECO mode, the Toyota Corolla Cross automatically drives as an EV or a hybrid.

But what does this actually mean for your back pocket? Well, as a test, we kept note of how much petrol we used when we returned the hire car to Auckland airport. It was a very hot day – which is basically a worst-case scenario in terms of fuel consumption, as not only were we in very heavy traffic, we also had the AC on full.

For that 37 minute car ride, 72% of that trip was the car running as an EV – which means our fuel consumption was 3.6L/100km, a staggeringly low number. As someone who quite frequently drives around with the petrol light on until I can financially face another service station trip, that’s a huge win.

That fuel consumption detail was the detail that won over my car-loving husband, a man who is a classic car devotee and therefore doesn’t usually like to acknowledge hybrid vehicles. But for me – again, quite famously a below average driver – the details that cinched the Toyota Corolla Cross for me was how user friendly it was.

Look, I don’t believe in self-driving cars because I’ve seen iRobot twice and that was enough proof for me, but a car that gently assists you in every facet of driving? Yes please, I will take that help, because I once drove into the side of an extremely stationary KFC drive-through and I need all the help I can get.

Among other things, the Toyota Corolla Cross has automatic headlights, wipers, blind spot warning, lane recognition and – the big one – adaptive cruise control, which means that after you set the speed and distance, the car will accelerate, decelerate, and adjust itself depending on traffic conditions, road angles, etc. I usually find cruise control way too stressful in rainy conditions, but we tested it a lot on the motorway and it was flawless.

If a car can handle a baby, plus baby luggage, torrential rain and heavy traffic on a humid-as-hell day, it’s got all three sides of the road-trip apocalypse handled.

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