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Featured Restaurant Featured Restaurant
posted July 20th 2003 features the Vine Dining series.

Mahurangi Estate Cafe
162 Hamiton Road
North of Auckland
Phone: 09 425 0306

Open from 10-5pm on weekends, 11-4pm on week days during the winter.

Just 50 minutes north of Auckland City - on a good traffic day - you can forget the traffic woes and have a relaxing lunch in Matakana Wine Country. And none quite gives that 'country' feel as Mahurangi Estate in Hamilton Road. For you have to navigate a metal road - once so common in rural New Zealand - to reach the vineyard where the decidedly rural theme is kept intact with the cellar door and café. The rustic looking macrocarpa building, inspired by the typical New Zealand sheep shearing shed, sits high on the hill overlooking the vineyard and the vista that extends over the rural countryside for miles beyond.

Once you enter the property the metal under the tyres changes to concrete and the road wends it way to the car park at the top of the hill. It is a pretty drive through the rolling vine-covered hills and in the dip there's a duck pond fringed with flax plants.

The view from the top of the hill, where the café building was originally planned for, looks out over Kawau Bay. The Council opposed the siting of the building on the hilltop for they didn't want commercial buildings visible to boaties in the bay. In retrospect this was a good decision for it can be quite windy on the hilltop from time to time. There is also the fact that the outer fringe of the Snell's Beach residential area is visible and there's going to be a shopping mall, including 'The Warehouse' in its bright red colour scheme, sited there - not exactly the outlook that's most desirable for a wine country café.

The tasting room and cafe is a little walk down the hill from the carpark. Landscaping was not quite finished when I visited and the path was just rough metal so if you're wearing stilettos ask to be dropped off at the door. As we walked the aromas of coffee and good food wafted towards us.

It was warm and cosy inside and voices of the diners in the full restaurant echoed though the high ceiling room. A couple of 'littlies' were crawling around the floor and made gleeful sounds of gaiety as they discovered the toys in the wicker baskets.

We decided to taste wine before we sat down to eat, besides there was nowhere to sit unless we went outside - we hadn't booked you see. It was too windy and chilly to sit on either of the decks this day so we would have to sit inside. The prevailing wind meant that the fold-back panoramic windows, that would make the place so light and airy on a summer's day, could not be opened either.

Wine tasting is free, except for groups of 8 or more and there's a good selection of wines to taste - a typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, a delicious Marlborough Riesling, a buttery Chardonnay and a tannic young red that would be better with a little age - see tasting notes below. There's also some Hamilton's Landing wines with grapes imported from Australia to provide wines for the restaurant while Mahurangi's own wines are coming on stream. I recommend the New Zealand wines and chose the Riesling for lunch while Neil had the Chardonnay, the first commercial release from the Mahurangi home vineyard.

Soon people were leaving and we grabbed a seat in the little annex beside the kitchen. It was quieter here but I think the group of 12 that had just vacated the space was the noisy lot.

I looked around as the waitperson cleared the tables. The wood theme was dominant with the polished macrocarpa walls, macrocarpa slats lining the ceiling and polished cork floors. The magnificent works of corrugated iron sculptor extraordinaire, Jeff Thompson adorned the walls. I love Jeff's work and one day I just might buy myself a piece. My favourite work is a mini-corrugated iron wine bottle - it's in his personal collection, however. We have a special affinity for Jeff, for we worked with him one weekend making a corrugated iron sculpture for the Mairangi Bay Arts Centre. He taught us many tricks of his art form. Jeff's sculptures really suited the Mahurangi Estate Cafe, adding to its rustic charm.

Platters are the main staple of the menu, large platters, big enough for two. They had typical vineyard café names of Vintners Lunch (meats, breads, cheese, relishes and salad), Pruners Lunch (cheeses, bread and preserves), Shooters lunch (breads with dukkahs, dips, olives etc.,) and Pickers Lunch (salmon pate, mussels, bread, cheese, etc). The price of $30 included two glasses of wine, beer, juice or soft drink. There was also a Birdscarer's Platter ($8), a tasty selection of nibbles and a drink for one little bird scarer.

We decided to take advantage of the daily specials and I was glad I had. The Open Chicken Sandwich ($14) was a pile of char-grilled chicken tenderloins and tender they were - cooked to perfection. They were piled on top of tasty bread and accompanied with salad.

Neil chose the Pumpkin Quiche ($14) accompanied by panzanella (bread salad) - another tasty treat.

Also on the specials today was a tomato pasta dish ($16).

We could have had cake and coffee if we had wanted and the orange cake ($4 a slice) looked mighty tempting. But there were places to go, people to see and we were running late.

Together with our glasses of wine, about an 80ml pour in a handsome big glass for $6 each, the meal in total came to $40. We'll be back another time, for sure.

I definitely recommend Mahurangi Estate in its lovely wine country setting. In the summer there will be picnic tables adjacent to the car park on the top of the hill. Position yourself to take advantage of the best views.

The staff were extremely friendly too and so I left with a bottle of the Mahurangi Estate Selection Riesling 2002 ($18) and a bottle of the Mahurangi Estate Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 ($24) to try again at home.

How to get to Mahurangi Estate
Travelling north from Auckland on State Highway One turn right (i.e. east) at the SH1 intersection with Hill Street (the second set of lights) where the blue signs say 'Leigh / Sandspit/ Snells Beach / Algie's Bay ' and the brown sign says 'Tawharanui Regional Park'. Then take the third right into Sandspit Road, which is only about 100 metres from the main intersection. Travel along this road for about 3.5 kilometres and turn right into Hamilton Road. Just past Duck Creek Road, along which new vineyards are being planted, you will see the entrance to Mahurangi Estate.

Visit between 10am to 5pm on weekends and summer week days, and 11am to 4pm on weekdays during the winter.

A Mahurangi Estate wine tasting
Mahurangi Selection Marlborough Riesling 2002 ($17). Made from fruit grown in the Awatere Valley, this is dry and citrussy with good fruit weight and concentration. Strong limey citrus and honeysuckle aromas carry through to the palate. A wine with the ability to flourish as the acidity integrates further into the flower. The best wine in the Mahurangi Estate range and a good combo with the open chicken sandwich.

Mahurangi Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($18). Lively and zingy with pungent gooseberry and ripe passionfruit flavours. A good Marlborough savvie.

Mahurangi Estate Chardonnay 2002 ($18). Creamy and mellow with lightly oaked tropical fruits and a buttery finish. It's the only wine released from home vineyard so far.

Mahurangi Selection Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2000 ($24), is a robust tannic red with good fruit flavours.

Copyright © Sue Courtney
July 2003

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