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Exploring Auckland’s Hibiscus Coast with Sean Fitzpatrick.

28 April 2022

Sean Fitzpatrick opts for the scenic route on a trip down memory lane from Orewa to Leigh in the all-electric EQC.

Explore


Exploring Auckland’s Hibiscus Coast with Sean Fitzpatrick.

28 April 2022

Sean Fitzpatrick opts for the scenic route on a trip down memory lane from Orewa to Leigh in the all-electric EQC.

Sean Fitzpatrick and the EQC

“You have to slow down when you’re taking the coast,” says former All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick. Image: LikeMinds.

Today, we’re cruising Auckland’s Hibiscus Coast, from the beachside suburbs of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula north to the quaint fishing village of Leigh. ‘Cruising’ is the operative word here, because former All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick is behind the wheel of the all-electric EQC and he’s in no rush to get to our destination.

State Highway 1 would take us from point A to point B in just under an hour. But that’s not the point of our drive, says Sean, who is about to head to the UK after spending the summer at home in New Zealand. Today’s trip is about the journey.

So instead, we pull out of Sean’s driveway in the Auckland suburb of Manly and head for Hatfields Beach, the long way, via Whangaparaoa Road.

The EQC from Mercedes-EQ
The videos shows Sean Fitzpatrick's road trip to Auckland’s Hibiscus Coast
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On the way to Hatfields, we make a pitstop for coffee in Orewa, a town that spreads inland from the edge of a magnificent three-kilometre beach. There’s no shortage of quality cafes in Orewa, but we’re headed for Goodhub Eatery, in the centre of the beach boulevard – a prime spot for people-watching over excellent coffee and homemade goodies.

“You have to slow down when you’re taking the coast,” Sean says. “Just pull over and take your shoes off, walk on the beach and get a bit of sand between your toes. If you’re really daring, take your shirt off and pile into the water.” Which is exactly what we do five minutes later when we reach Hatfields Beach – a spot we would have otherwise zoomed past on the State Highway.  

“This is what I remember as a child,” Sean says as we drink our coffees, looking out over the water. “One of our former prime ministers used to live here, a gentleman called Robert Muldoon. As kids, we used to get very excited about being able to drive past his house at Hatfields Beach.” 

Our next stop en route to Leigh is Puhoi, just 13 minutes north. Situated on the Puhoi River, many of the village’s century-old buildings are still intact, including a wonderfully preserved Catholic church that dates back to 1880. But we’re not here for a history lesson, we’re here for the Puhoi Valley Café & Cheese Store

Sean Fitzpatrick at Puhoi Valley Cafe and Cheese Store

Puhoi Valley Cafe and Cheese Store has a wide range of award-winning cheeses. Image: LikeMinds.

There’s a huge range of cheese ranging from the subtle Pakiri Beach Blue to the mild and creamy Cow’s Milk Feta, both winners of a 2021 NZ Champions of Cheese award. If you want to pair your cheese with a glass of wine, there’s a list of local drops to try, and sweet tooths would do well to seek out a scoop of the award-winning ice cream, which is made from Puhoi Valley milk.  

“Another thing I love to do when I come to Puhoi is to go kayaking,” says Sean. “You can head out through Wenderholm and Waiwera and then into the open sea.” Puhoi Kayaks offers kayak rental and instruction for a leisurely unguided paddle along the Puhoi River through to the scenic Wenderholm Regional Park.  

While we’re chatting over a cheese board, I ask Sean why he made the switch to an electric vehicle, having long favoured the Mercedes-AMG G 63.  

The EQC from Mercedes-EQ

“Believe it or not, I love the silence of it,” Sean says of the whisper-quiet EQC. Image: LikeMinds.

“I’m a bit of a petrol head, I like the noise of big V8s,” Sean says. Behind the wheel of the EQC, however, he has a newfound appreciation for a lack thereof: “Believe it or not, I love the silence of it.”

Back on the road, I realise there is something peaceful about the silence of an EV – particularly as a passenger. Of course, that sense of serenity could also stem from the Multicontour Seat Package, which adjusts the seat to the shape of my back and delivers a massage effect through inflatable air chambers.

Sean is also enjoying himself over in the driver’s seat. “I love driving golf carts. And this is like a souped-up golf cart, but much better,” he says. “It’s just a beautiful car to drive. It’s responsive, you’ve got all the luxuries and power of other Mercedes-Benz vehicles, so I’m sold. I don’t see myself ever driving a petrol-fuelled car again.”

Sean Fitzpatrick charging an EQC from Mercedes-EQ.

“I’m sold. I don’t see myself ever driving a petrol-fuelled car again,” Sean says. Image: LikeMinds.

We’ve only travelled 47km, barely making a dent in the 430km range the EQC can cover, but Sean suggests stopping at a local ChargeNet station anyway. “We do plan our trips in an electric vehicle,” he says. “But there are plenty of chargers around.” He pulls in at a charging station at Warkworth and by pure luck there’s another EQC plugged in. “It’s good to see,” says Sean. And he’s right. There’s a feeling of satisfaction when you see others embracing electric vehicles, like we’re all on the path to a cleaner future together.  

Once we’ve charged up, we keep heading north past Matakana, a popular destination for weekend day trippers thanks to its excellent Saturday farmers market and high concentration of award-winning wineries. Sculptureum is well worth a visit for its art galleries, gardens and the much-lauded Rothko Restaurant, while Matakana Estate offers tastings, grazing boards and luxury accommodation if you need to bunker down for the night.

Sean Fitzpatrick with EQC from Mercedes-EQ

Sean has plenty of fond childhood memories in the pretty fishing village of Leigh. Image: LikeMinds.

It’s all very tempting, but we press onwards towards Leigh, our final stop for the day. As bright green rolling hills make way for crystal blue waters dotted with fishing boats, it’s easy to see why Sean picked this small coastal village as our final destination.

“I have lots of childhood memories here,” says Sean. “It’s where I learnt to scuba dive. We’d drive out to Goat Island Marine Reserve, which is just phenomenal. If you want to have a look at some sea life, birds … that’s the place to go.” In fact, Leigh is a smorgasbord of outdoor activities, from snorkelling and diving to kayaking and coastal walks.

Sean pulls up to Leigh Wharf, puts the EQC in park and jumps out. We stand there in silence looking out at the sea. “Just beautiful,” Sean says. Simple, but true.

On the road checklist

On the road checklist

Goodhub Eatery

326 Hibiscus Coast Highway, Orewa, NZ

Tue – Sun, 7am – 4pm

In the centre of Orewa beach boulevard, this café serves up breakfast, homemade treats and freshly roasted coffee.

 

Puhoi Valley Café & Cheese Store

275 Ahuroa Road, Puhoi, NZ

Wed – Fri, 9am – 4pm

Since 1983, Puhoi Valley has been producing some of the finest cheese to come out of New Zealand. Its double cream brie is a must.

 

Puhoi Kayaks

84 Puhoi Road, Puhoi, NZ

Tue – Thu, 9am – 5pm & Fri – Mon, 8am – 6pm

For beginners and experts, Puhoi Kayaks offer a safe and leisurely unguided paddle along the Puhoi River.

 

Sculptureum

40 Omaha Flats Road, Matakana

Sculptureum open 10am – 4pm daily, check website for restaurant and café hours

Six art galleries, three sculpture gardens, an award-winning restaurant plus nine acres under vine producing elegant varieties including a popular rosé.

 

Matakana Estate

568 Matakana Road, Matakana

Sat & Sun, 11am – 4pm

The largest winery in the Matakana region, the estate produces boutique-style wines. Stop in for a wine tasting.

 

Discover the all-electric EQC and book a test drive today.

By Constantina Demos