I am ashamed to say I’ve lived in Auckland for 15 years and I’ve never been to Mangawhai. Apalling I know. But this weekend I remedied that and headed 80 minutes north of the city – taking the fancy new toll road. (Oops, that reminds me, I’d better log on and pay my $2 each way or a policeman might come knocking.)
In fact the whole toll road business was a bit of an anti-climax. I was expecting some sort of fanfare. Maybe a powhiri as I crossed from the original road onto the new one? But no. Not a toll booth, not even a sign heralding my entrance. If you had been keeping your eyes closed – or on the road which would be safer – you could miss the fact that you got on and then suddenly were off after whizzing through a tunnel. However, it is very easy and fast and for $4 for a return trip once in 15 years, it’s worth it.
Mangawhai is a hidden gem that only those with baches up there or ones who have spent years secreting away on family camping holidays seem to know about.
This blog is to blow their cover and let you in on it. I stayed at the very cute, very rustic and very secluded Milestone Cottages at Mangawhai Heads. These were built by the owners – Gael McConachy and Box Milestone who started a B&B here in 1991 and by 1996 had built 6 individual cottages on the 4 acre property that leads down to the sea. Actually Box built them and Gael runs the business.
Each wooden cottage is self contained with a kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, balonies and their own gas BBQs. I stayed in Gumdiggers with views of the Mangawhai estuary and wandered down to the beach, past the flowering pohutukawa to paddle in the incoming tide.
Along the way I passed the yurts. No, I had no idea either. A yurt is a circular hut covered in felt wool and most commonly found in Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Makes perfect sense to find one in Mangawhai then. They have detailed wooden framing like an umbrella leading up to an open circle in the roof, each piece of wood is hand painted and they are typically lined with felt and canvas. However in the humid climate of New Zealand, Gael explained that they become smelly (like a wet dog I’m imagining) so these particular yurts, imported from Mongolia, are lined with building paper and weather-proof canvas, but still have the traditional the felt roof. At Milestone Cottages the yurts are used for yoga retreats and meditation. There are 2 of them side by side surrounded by a wooden deck that drops away into the native bush overlooking views of the Hen and Chickens islands. Milestone Cottages also have a conference room that can take up to 30 delegates and swimming pool hidden in the extensive gardens.
It was a stunning Friday evening so I sat in my own personal courtyard and quaffed a cheeky sauvignon blanc with my girlfriends as the sun set and we barbecued sausages and wrapped them in white bread with plenty of Watties sauce. Brilliant. Then followed up with cheeses from the local Kaiwaka Cheese Shop and strawberries. It was one of those idyllic moments in life when you tell your brain to take a picture so you never forget.
Mangawhai is very arty. You’ll find galleries selling wacky and stunning bits and bobs for indoor and outdoor decoration. I popped in on the Saturday market where the locals meet in the town hall to peddle their wares – fresh flowers, oils, clothing, jewellery and right now, Christmas decorations and loads of pressies. Just down the road is Bennetts of Mangawhai, the chocolatiers (who have free tastings and I was tempted to do a 2nd lap around the shop to have another boysenberry chocolate) and a cafe, Bennetts Cafe, from which I can highly recommend the mushrooms on toast with grated parmesan and rocket.
PS – I just logged into www.tollroad.govt.nz and they already knew I had been back and forth and owed them $4. For some things there’s Mastercard…
Milestone Cottages, 27 Moir Pt Road, Mangawhai Heads Ph +64 9 431 4018 www.milestonecottages.co.nz