A cool glass of sauvignon blanc and a great piece of fish at the Mangonui Fish Shop combined with this view, now that is heaven. (TOP RIGHT) Turn off the main road and discover Coopers Beach.
A cool glass of sauvignon blanc and a great piece of fish at the Mangonui Fish Shop combined with this view, now that is heaven. (TOP RIGHT) Turn off the main road and discover Coopers Beach. Photo Helen Hawkes

Stop time and meander through New Zealand

IF YOU ever feel that you are a speed bump on the road of life, the solution is to turn off the highway.

On the north coast of New Zealand, a different idea of time exists. There is no rushing, rather a sort of meandering, in a way that allows you to suck the marrow out of the juicy lamb bone of Kiwi life.

Flying into Auckland, to a cool 20 degrees, I head for the hippest and most colourful neighbourhood in town, Ponsonby, before my trip up the coast.

A high crime area in the '70s, Ponsonby now boasts some of the most expensive properties in New Zealand, with prices rivalling Sydney.

Home here is luscious, old Victorian terraces, painted and primed, with colourful gardens and quaint fixtures, many with a view of the nearby harbour, its wharves jammed with luxury yachts.

If you're cashed up, make sure you shop at the designer store of Karen Walker, or eat at chi chi Asian fusion restaurant Mekong Baby. The kingfish sashimi with green nam jim coconut and basil is hard to resist. And don't miss Larry Woods, the San Franciscan born shoe-shine man and performer plying his trade around the corner. Even better, catch him and friends at the Creole-inspired Orleans restaurant in Custom St East on a Saturday night.

Breakfast at Didas in the adjacent Jervois Rd, where the traditional Kiwi cheese scone may still be found on occasion, is a must. Lunch in the Auckland Domain, after visiting the hothouse gardens, is another treat - corn fritters with fresh salmon and a crisp glass of local sauvignon blanc.

Be warned that Auckland isn't cheap, making the Inner Link and Outer Link buses, that will take you around the hot spots, a bargain at $2.50, especially when you consider petrol is about $2 a litre.

On to the coast and it's a short jaunt north to Helensville, where the mineral hot pools of Parakai Springs await. After soaking the body, and eating a Jellytip - vanilla ice cream topped with raspberry jelly and covered in chocolate - it's a pit stop at the delightful Luptons Lodge in Whangarei.

Then it's on to Coopers Beach, a perfect piece of paradise where time does seem to stand still. This oceanside village, with a warm subtropical climate, sits on more than 70km of unspoiled coastline and an abundance of safe beaches called Doubtless Bay. Fishing, diving, golfing, sunbathing, museums and beach walks are what's on offer, although it's most tempting to do nothing.

At Coopers Beachfront Suites, Americans Janet and George provide luxury suites cheek-by-jowl with the beach and first class hospitality. A local supermarket two minutes' walk away offers fresh mussels and fish and prepared salads - curried kumara - as well as wine and beer so you never really need to go out for dinner.

I am there two days before reluctantly heading out of town, but not before I stop at a local market to get a freshly made mussel fritter for breakfast.

My end journey takes me to the country town of Kaitaia, a short drive from the famous 90 Mile Beach.

The town has a reputation as a fairly rough area although the rate at which Kiwis are moving north to find a beach house - or bach as they call it - and the influx of Australians buying cheap property, probably means gentrification is around the corner.

Mangonui Fish Shop

It boasts that it is New Zealand's best fish and chip shop. And it's no empty skite.

A five-minute drive from Coopers Beach in the north takes you to the Mangonui Fish Shop and if there's a better view ever from a chippie, please write.

Over a drippingly fresh piece of battered snapper and a generous green salad, I sip a cool glass of white wine - yes it's a licensed chippie - and enjoy a water view complete with seabirds. The fish is straight out of the ocean and cooked anyway you like, say the owners.

Nearby a sign warns Penguins Crossing.

Mangonui also has a 3km Heritage Trail, beginning and ending at the historic courthouse and taking in buildings that date back to around 1860.



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