Enjoying a majestic coastline and awesome views over the Hauraki Gulf, Auckland East is a natural paradise, and a popular destination for birdwatchers, water sports enthusiasts, leisure trampers and foodies. Farmer's markets, wineries, numerous clifftop and shoreline coastal tracks and pretty heritage villages, make this region not just a gift for tourists, but a sought-after real estate location for Auckland's more affluent residents.
With neighbouring Pakuranga, Howick is a history-rich place just half an hour from Auckland City (take the ferry to Half Moon Bay for a more scenic journey), full of charming buildings and a welcoming vibe. This is where you'll find a faithful recreation of a 19th century Fencible community, called Howick Historical Village, which includes genuine buildings from the original settlement, dismantled and reconstructed, as well as a forge, school, cafe, and guides who dress up in period costume and mingle with the other visitors.
Howick also houses the second oldest church in the country, All Saints, and a thriving drama society, Howick Little Theatre, where you can watch New Zealand's stars of tomorrow earn their acting spurs. Budding Tiger Woods can enjoy 18 holes at Howick Golf Club, on the stunning Musick Point Peninsula, or you can simply walk one of the many trails around Bucklands Beach, before stopping for a cafe lunch on the sands below. Even closer to nature, you'll find Mangemangeroa Reserve, south of the town, packed full of the flora and fauna that give this sweeping landscape its distinctive personality.
A slice of rural New Zealand, just 45mins from the city, Clevedon retains much of its 19th century pioneer charm, the village sitting on the Wairoa River, north of the rugged Hunua Ranges. The McNicol Homestead and Museum goes one step further and lets you see inside an original kauri wood house, dating from 1878, and is a fascinating education into the 'old ways' of the earlier European settlers.
Farming is a major industry here, borne out by the miles of symmetrical fields and pretty vineyards, and to the east, you'll find some great beaches at Kawakawa Bay, Umupuia Beach and the coastline of the Duder Regional Park. Every Sunday, there's a farmer's market, from which you can pack your picnic hamper with delights like smoked sausage, preserves, fudge, cake and local wines, and amble on over to watch some polo in the spring and summer months at Hololio Farm, home of Auckland Polo Club. Kids can get up close and personal with lambs and piglets at Clevedon Animal Farm, and you'll find some unique gifts at the iconic Clevedon Woolshed.
Taking in the town of Whitford, up through Beachlands and Maraetai, then down along the coast to Duder Regional Park, this beautiful road is one of the most scenic driving routes in the Auckland area. Named after the native tree that permeates the landscape here, with flame red flowers and a majestic silhouette, the Pohutukawa Coast offers some great views across the Hauraki Gulf and Tamaki Strait, and is probably where you'll find yourself taking most of your photographs.
In Whitford, you'll find the tranquil Ayrlies Gardens, plus a Bird Garden, and a few good restaurants. Heading north to Beachlands (which is only 30 mins from Auckland by ferry), there are some great clifftop walks, fresh breads and organic goodies at Pine Harbour Fresh Market, Formosa Golf Resort, some good pubs, and the beginning of a cycle/walkway, which takes you through Te Puru and Omana Parks, to Maraetai. Here, you'll find a fantastic beach and some beautiful bays, but it's the scenery on the drive south to Duder Regional Park, that'll really take your breath away. Miles of sand, sun-dappled waters, and plenty of places to just stop, sit down, and enjoy the view.