As small villages go, the riverside village of Matakana has it all.
Situated within the picturesque Matakana wine region with its boutique vineyards, olive groves and eateries, the village boasts an arthouse cinema, cafes, boutique shopping and galleries but still exudes that strong community spirit people love.
Every Saturday at the farmers market visitors and locals share in the rich bounty of locally grown food and produce.
Even the public toilets are Instagram-worthy.
However, there’s something else in Matakana that you won’t find in Auckland, or anywhere else for that matter, and that’s Sculptureum.
No, you won’t find it in the dictionary but that wouldn’t bother Sculptureum’s founder and owner, 69-year-old Anthony Grant, whose eclectic sculpture and art collection is a mixture of the conventional and the confounding.
The barrister, who has spent decades amassing the collection, wanted to have something that would attract people from near and far who would normally shun traditional galleries.
Most of all, he wanted people to have fun.
If you like your art served with a dash of whimsy and a big helping of humour you’ll love this place.
The Garden of Creative Diversity is filled with sculptures ranging from the classical fountain to life-sized elephants made of driftwood. A giant giraffe rears its head over the palm trees.
But there are also exhibits that have a pulse, like the aviaries full of beautiful birds and the Rabbiton, a sophisticated rabbit enclosure with elevated platforms to keep the bunnies, not to mention their visitors, amused all day long.
In the reflective garden you can rest on park benches made from the roots of giant trees.
Inside are magnificent glasswork and serious works by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse and Cezanne.
Alongside are animals made out of foraged items like forks, corrugated iron, plastic milk bottles, mops and wire coathangers.
A stone path outside takes you through to more artwork and sculptures, including giant pink plastic snails and a life-sized polar bear made from recycled white goods such as dishwashers and dry-cleaning machines.
It’s weird, wacky and wonderful – and thankfully is readily accessible because it’s also wheelchair-friendly.
Matakana’s love affair with artistry continues at another gem – the Brick Bay Wine and Sculpture Trail, a two-kilometre trail with boardwalks winding around a beautiful lake.
Open daily from 10am, the trail features the work of some of the most exciting artists in New Zealand today with more than 50 largescale sculptures set among kauri trees, palms and native bush. Here, however, there is some uneven terrain so it is not suitable for wheelchairs.
Those who don’t do the outdoor gallery walk can enjoy a glass of wine and refreshments at The Glasshouse Kitchen at Brick Bay, an award-winning glass pavilion cantilevered over the lake.
Like other restaurants in and around Matakana, the emphasis is on utilising local produce. One of the people at the forefront of promoting the area’s food and wine is Mark Griffiths, whose business, The Local Food Kitchen, connects people with some keen and passionate producers.
With Mark in the driver’s seat, we are taken to Matthew Quested’s free range chook farm in the Whangaripo Valley (is there a better sight than thousands of chooks freely roaming the paddocks?) and call in on artisan chocolatier Nico Bonnaud whose additive-free Honest Chocolat is winning accolades across the country.
We also meet Phil Armstrong, aka “Buffalo Phil”, and his 45-strong herd of buffalo.
His buffalo milk is highly sought after for cheeses, fresh buffalo curd and yoghurt. People who are dairy-intolerant can often cope well with buffalo milk and it’s said to make the best cappuccino.
We drop in on the region’s oldest cellar door, Heron’s Flight, to meet owners David Hoskins and Mary Evans and their Belgian sheppard dog Dionysius which, appropriately for a winery dog, means goddess of wine. David and Mary are producing Italian style organic wines specialising in Sangiovese and Dolcetto.
There’s so much to see and do in Matakana that it warrants staying for a few days.
There’s plenty of accommodation choices but the pick of the bunch is Takatu Lodge and Vineyard which has four luxurious and spacious suites each with its own terrace looking out over the vineyard.
The contemporary design of this boutique lodge set in a working vineyard incorporates wood, stone and marble with a wall of glass bringing the outside in.
There is a lovely lounge where you can settle in by the open fire and enjoy a drink before dinner. Allow at least one night for dining in as lodge manager Sharon Greene serves up a superb meal from local produce.
The cooked breakfast is equally indulgent.
If you’re lucky enough to be here during the warmer weather you can enjoy alfresco dining overlooking the vines.
IF YOU GO
Fly direct to New Zealand from capital cities as well as the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Cairns with Air New Zealand.
The premium carrier offers everything from the lie-flat business premier beds through to the award-winning premium economy cabin, full service economy or just a seat and carry-on bag.
After the trans-Tasman flight into Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Queenstown, you can connect seamlessly with Air New Zealand’s network of 21 domestic destinations – airnewzealand.com.au
Sawmill Brewery and Smoko Room. The independently owned brewery showcases its boutique beer at the front bar and a tasting shed with casual meals in a relaxed setting – www.sawmillbrewery.co.nz
Matakana Oysters at the Green Shed is the place to enjoy quality fresh oysters. You’ll find it at 1217 Leigh Road, Matakana.
Rothko Restaurant (at Sculptureum) is where head chef Jarrod McGregor works with local producers and suppliers to deliver a menu which embodies the flavours of the region – www.sculptureum.nz
Other useful websites:
Sue Preston was a guest of Tourism New Zealand and flew courtesy Air New Zealand.
This story originally appeared on The Senior.