What to do in Warkworth and Matakana
Matakana and Warkworth are two small towns sitting side-by-side roughly an hour north of Auckland. We make a brief stop in Matakana during our Tawharanui tours so you can pick up a coffee and have a look around, but there’s plenty more to this area if you have some time to spare.
Here are a few of the best things to do in Matakana and Warkworth!
Warkworth Museum and Parry Kauri Park
When we head north of Auckland to visit the Tawharanui nature reserve, we make a stop at the Parry Kauri Park on the way, as it’s undoubtedly one of the best spots in the region. The park’s history goes back to the early settler days, but is now a public treasure with a fantastic nature trail of elevated walkways through the trees. The kauri trees are one of the world’s largest species, and the McKinney Kauri (which you can see from the carpark) is roughly 800 years old.
The small museum right next to the park is where you can pick up brochures with more details about the flora and fauna in the area, as well as old kauri digging tools, giant pieces of kauri gum, and other historic items.
The Matakana Wine Trail
The warm climate and rich soils north of Auckland make for a divine region for vineyards, which has resulted in a wonderful wine trail throughout the area. There are more than a dozen wineries on the trail, including Hyperion, Takatu, Ransom Wines, and Brick Bay. Known largely for the variety of excellent reds, these wineries allow you to taste test their fares and purchase your favourites to take home. Be sure to check opening times and whether or not you need to make an appointment before heading off on this trail.
Snells Beach is just 15 minutes from Warkworth or only 5 minutes from Matakana, and is one of the most popular beaches in the area. It’s the perfect place to cool off on hot summer days, and offers plenty of white sand to stretch out on with a good book and a picnic. The water is known for its clarity and has surf life savers from the Omaha surf club posted throughout the year to ensure your safety while swimming. If you’d like to stay in the area for a holiday, there are a number of beach houses you can rent in this picturesque location.
Matakana Farmers Market
Matakana village is home to one of the most popular farmers’ markets in the country. It runs every Saturday from 8am until 1pm, and is so popular that Auckland locals regularly make the trip to start off the weekend. It’s where you’ll find all manner of local fare, with plenty of fresh produce and home-made treats to both satisfy your hunger on the day and stock up your cupboards for the week.
New Zealand's best birds of prey
While many birds hunt for their food, it takes a certain set of features for one to be known as a ‘bird of prey’ or ‘raptor’. A bird of prey is one that uses its feet to catch their food, and they also have a hooked bill that’s used to tear its catch apart for easier eating.
New Zealand is home to several bird of prey species, and was once where you would find the massive Haast Eagle, which is now extinct, but still fearsome by reputation.
Here’s a little on each of our menacing birds of prey!
New Zealand Falcon
The New Zealand Falcon, or ‘Karearea’, is one of just four species of forest falcons in the world (there are 38 falcon species worldwide). It’s the rarest of all our birds of prey, and won the prestigious title of bird of the year in 2012. This bird is one of the most aggressive falcons in the world, and will have no qualms about attacking a human with its sharp talons should he or she get too close to the nest. They can fly at up to 200km/h, and will often attack animals much larger than itself.
The Swamp Harrier is by far the most common of New Zealand’s raptor birds, and is actually extremely useful in our day-to-day lives. If you see a large bird picking up the pieces of carrion from the roadside, it’s likely that it’s a Swamp Harrier. They’re great rat and mouse catchers and are plentiful around the country, eating everything from small mammals to other birds and lizards. You’ll also find this species throughout Australasia pretty much anywhere in the open country.
The Morepork is a very special bird, as it’s our very own native owl species. With a distinctive call that you’ll likely hear around dusk, the morepork (or ‘ruru’) can be found in forest land and on plenty of our offshore islands. We regularly spot morepork during out night-time tours from Auckland when we head to Tawharanui. They sleep during the day and hunt at night, but generally eat smaller prey than our other raptor birds, feasting instead on moths, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, rats, mice, and even the odd smaller bird. And while you might hear its call, it’s unlikely you’ll hear the morepork in flight, as it is a particularly silent glider.
While sadly now extinct, the Haast Eagle was once the largest bird of prey on the planet with a wingspan of 2-3 metres. They weighed as much as 13 kilograms, and according to myth, were apparently quite the menace to many early settlers. They are known in Maori legend as ‘Pouakai’, and had talons that were roughly 9cm long – which is about the same length as those you would find on a tiger. They went extinct around the same time as the moa, and despite the fact that the moa was significantly larger (weighing as much as 200 kilograms), the Haast Eagle would prey on this massive flightless bird.
What is the Muriwai Gannet Colony and why is it special?
Just an hour out of Auckland city is one of the most enthralling sights you’ll find in New Zealand (which is really saying something).
The Muriwai Gannet Colony is a collection of close-knit nests with roughly 1,200 pairs of birds making their home by the shore every year between August and March.
A fully grown gannet can have a wingspan of close to two metres, and can weigh as much as 2.5 kilograms, so it’s always an incredible sight to watch so many of them duck, dive, fly, and return to their own nests, all without crashing into one another.
The chicks are another matter entirely. These fuzzy and cute little creatures spend a lot of time preparing for flight by stretching and flapping their wings as soon as they start growing feathers, all in preparation for the moment when they make a daring leap from the comfort of the nest out to the sea.
When you manage to tear your eyes away from the masses of birds on the shore, watch as the adults go fishing in the sea (you may need your binoculars). Gannets are capable of epic dive-bombs, reaching speeds of up to 145 kilometres per hour as they plunge into the water for small fish.
As well as the attraction of the gannets, the beach itself is also visually arresting. The black sand is a beautiful change from the usual golden shores around New Zealand, and the crashing waves are a huge draw card for surfers who spend summers floating and riding on the water. Plus, you can take the time to hike the four-hour track between Muriwai and Bethells Beach further along the coast.
In fact, we love Muriwai - its gannets and its views – so much that we make a stop here during our full-day tours to the Waitakere Ranges.
Top 5 ecotourism destinations in NZ
As the world becomes more interested in conserving our natural resources and landscapes – all the while still being extremely attracted to fantastic travel opportunities – ecotourism is quickly becoming an exciting, growing industry.
Habitat Tours is one of countless ecotourism operators here in New Zealand, so here are five of our favourite destinations around the country to enjoy tours, scenery and wildlife.
1. The Routeburn Track
The Routeburn Track is one of many of the country’s ‘Great Walks’. It’s one of the reasons why keen hikers travel from around the globe to set foot on our precious walkways dotted all over the country.
While it’s hard to choose just one, the Routeburn in Otago is a special place for many reasons. It takes just 2-4 days and is 32 kilometres one way, offering spectacular mountain views of the Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks. It’s also where you might be lucky enough to spot a rare yellowhead (mohua) bird, although you’re guaranteed to enjoy views of blue alpine lakes, beech forest and snow-capped mountains in the cooler months.
2. Rotoroa Wildlife Sanctuary
This wildlife sanctuary is one of dozens from around New Zealand, but being so close to home, it’s hard to ignore this gorgeous, eco-friendly destination just out of Auckland.
Auckland Zoo was part of setting this island up as a sanctuary, where it recently released its 300th kiwi into the wild. The sanctuary itself is due to see 20 species of our native fauna introduced within the next 10 years, and any visit here made extra special by the museum and exhibition centre.
3. Kaikoura Cruise
Ecotourism in New Zealand is by no means limited to what you can find on land. There are plenty of cruises and boat available around the country to show you just how diverse we are both on the land and off it.
In Kaikoura, on the east coast of the South Island, you’ll find one of our most treasured cruise destinations. This is because it’s one of the best places in New Zealand – and arguably the world – to go whale watching. The company here has won numerous awards such as the Australasian Responsible Tourism Award thanks to their initiatives in ecotourism. All that, and you get to spot fantastic creatures such as sperm whales, New Zealand fur seals, dusky dolphins and albatross. At this time of the year there are even humpback whales passing through.
4. Waitomo glowworm caves
Of all the glowworm caves in New Zealand, Waitomo is arguably the most famous. This species of glowworm is unique to New Zealand, so no matter where you see them, you’ll fall in love with their constellation-like appearance and magical atmosphere.
What’s special about Waitomo is that the caves themselves have an incredible historical and geological significance to the country, and you’ll get the full explanation from your tour guide on this trip.
5. The Mount John Observatory
On one of our recent night-time tours to Tawharanui, one of our guests commented on the incredible night sky over New Zealand. Clear, crisp, and spectacular, the sky is just another phenomenal ecotourism destination – only, you’ll have to keep your feet on the ground.
Take a trip to the world’s largest International Dark Sky reserve at Lake Tekapo in the South Island. You can either simply stand under the stars in this exceptionally clear area, or take it a step further with a visit to the Mt. John Observatory, which gives you the power to observe as many as 50 million stars in a single night.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist