Beaches like Sandy Bay in Tutukaka are beautiful in any weather.
Beaches like Sandy Bay in Tutukaka are beautiful in any weather. Supplied

Autumnal escape

TUTUKAKA is one of the great Northland summer destinations. Surrounded by gorgeous bays such as Matapouri for swimming and Sandy Bay for surfing, it's the perfect base for a week away from it all. There's easy access to diving at the Poor Knights, kayak hire from the marina and lots of deep-sea fishing charters. But what about in autumn?

We decided to test the theory that pure relaxation only comes when you truly get away from everything by spending a weekend at Oceans Resort in Tutukaka at the beginning of autumn.

Knowing the summer holidaymaker crowds would well and truly have departed, I envisaged having the place to ourselves - strolling out to the end of the picturesque marina, stopping in for a glass of wine at the pizzeria or fishing club on the way back to the hotel.

What I hadn't anticipated was that we would end up there on one of the rainiest weekends of the year.

Although I worked in Whangarei for 18 months, I never ventured very far out of the CBD, so our trip was a good chance to take in some of the outer suburbs.

Glenbervie, with its sprawling orchards, historic stone walls and lifestyle blocks, is not only the source of much of the city's fruit and vegetable supply, but is something of a goldmine of arts and crafts - the Glenbervie Pottery Gallery (open every day 9am-5pm) is worth a look. Or stop in at The Painted Pony Inn. It's a bed and breakfast but also has a gallery of work by Suzanne Liddall, who has won several Northland art awards.

If you are up for something a bit more active, the Glenbervie Forest is great for walking or mountain biking. With 37 trails, there are options for all degrees of experience. But with rain threatening, we decided to push on for Tutukaka.

From Glenbervie, it's about a 10-minute drive along the windy but pretty Ngunguru Rd. Ngunguru itself is worth a stop - the sandspit creates a sheltered lagoon perfect for children swimming, or kayaking.

Over the hill, the feel of the area changes completely. Ngunguru's traditional Kiwi baches give way to something that looks a bit like another Omaha dropped on the Northland coast.

A new housing development overlooks the marina, and Oceans Resort perches almost on the water's edge. It's a complex divided up into privately owned apartments and hotel rooms, with shops, restaurants and the Tukaha art gallery at its base.

Despite a chequered history - it's gone into liquidation in the past - Oceans is perfectly positioned. It's got the feel of an upmarket, big-city hotel in a reasonably isolated location. We settled into our marina-view room on the first floor, with a bottle of wine and a view of what turned out to be a cyclone coming in from the sea.

Despite the weather, we decided to head for a late lunch at Schnappa Rock, a five-minute walk up the road. Established in 1992, it's a landmark of the area, whether it's for locals dropping in for a drink after work or tourists wanting a meal and a view of the sea. I opted for a goat's cheese salad and a glass of sauvignon blanc, while my fellow traveller went for the fish of the day. Everything on the menu is extremely fresh and masterfully put together. The chef appeared to have timed it just right, too, with the soup of the day - an almost stew-like beef that wafted past our noses was definitely tempting on such a bleak afternoon.

After lunch, we went for a drive around the coast, stopping at several beautiful bays. A subtropical nursery and alpaca farm are popular tourist destinations on the route around the coast but I was most struck by the way lots of little art galleries are tucked into the tree-covered hillsides. Mi Casa Gallery / Art Studio is one example - a workshop and gallery offering Mexican art and unique jewellery.

By this time the rain had become more persistent so we retreated to our hotel. Knights Bar on the bottom floor was a welcoming respite - we settled in front of the open fireplace with a drink before going through to the hotel's restaurant for dinner.

The Oceans' menu is really heavy on seafood. We chose oysters and squid as starters, then my partner moved on to a scotch fillet and I decided on the chicken breast with lemon and rosemary. All the food was excellent - and the wait staff were extremely attentive.

We had booked a late checkout for the Sunday, so lazed around in bed listening to the storm howling outside before setting off back to the city. If you are doing the trip in better weather, it is worth stopping off at Whangarei Falls, just on the edge of the city.

It's only a short walk to what has been called the most picturesque waterfall in New Zealand.

>> Read more travel stories.

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