A scenic gourmet paradise lies an hour from Auckland, writes Caitlin Smith.

It was a smooth scene, not out of place in the most cosmopolitan city – a sleek wine bar, a good-natured end-of-week crowd, a splash of pinot gris and great company in form of a couple of new friends extending a warm welcome and sharing their passion for the place they call home.

Bit it wasn’t an urban locale. I was … in the very rural Matakana Village, about an hour’s drive north of downtown Auckland. I’d just stepped outside, the warmth of the fire and the wine yet to recede, when out of the blue “Did they show you the toilets?”

It was an enthusiastic query from Claudia Schenz, gregarious, highly entertaining, German-born and bred, but now a proud local. She had earlier delivered a sublime facial at her Alegria Beautyfarm bed-and-breakfast and spa, before taking pity on a solo traveller and offering to play tour guide.

“Um no”, I replied, puzzled by the unexpected bend in conversation. Fairly standard in size and shape, and complete with all the usual infrastructure, the difference was that these loos almost vibrated with the intensity of the lime-green paint job.

The rest of my experience was about soaking up the natural beauty of deserted beaches, expansive bays and sheep-spotted pastures. The other theme was food. Food, food and more food.

I had been told a visit to Matakana Village Farmers Market, which has put the area firmly on New Zealand’s gourmet map, was a must.

Held every Saturday, the markets have permanent residency, with a purpose built complex in the centre of the town. Away from the markets themselves, you can check out an ice-creamery and chocolate shop in main street. Across the road is the Brookview Teahouse, which offers a slightly more formal setting.

This a spot yet to receive much tourism attention, a search of Air New Zealand’s inhouse programming proving fruitless and the airport information kiosk equally bare of information.

But if it’s an undiscovered gem, it’s one with considerable polish and real potential for a tasty long weekend away from home.

Caitlin Smith – Sunday Telegraph Australia – Escape 2009 – escape.com.au