For the next two nights, we’re staying at one of two suites at the strawbale constructed Strawlodge. There’s a message of welcome printed on the blackboard outside and that’s always a positive start. Hosts, Nettie and Jane along with Texas, their adorable Lab, give us a brief tour of the property. Texas tends to take up the position of team leader and we fall in behind.

There’s more here than initially meets the eye at Strawlodge. (Just ask Texas. He knows). Nettie takes us over to their newly built honeymoon cottage situated further from the main house – love at first sight for me – Superking bed, recliner seats and beautifully crafted handmade furniture. Think I’ll book that next time. Perhaps best of all Strawlodge has it’s own vineyard and produces a Savignon Blanc that according to Nettie, is guaranteed to knock your socks off. So whatdaya think of the view from the breakfast table?

We’re settled in nicely and now it’s time to explore the LOCAL LOOP of artisan food producers and top attractions. Our first stop is HEDGEROWS HYDROPONIC strawberry farm and the attraction by which all others will be judged! What a find! We’re taking a tour around the massive glasshouses with co-owner, Mary. She and her husband Ian are retired farmers and were looking for a less hective activity to fill their day. Wow, Mary had no idea how labour-intensive this operation would be but she and Ian are hooked…and everyone else it seems. I’m about to find out why.

Throughout our walk through the massive glasshouses, Mary is constantly feeding us with different varieties of strawberries. I want to refuse the fourth but it’s fruity aroma is irresistable and the cutest little strawberry pops right on in. Of all the varieties grown here, the Albion is my fav. I can honestly say I haven’t eaten a strawberry with this intensity of flavour and sweetness, since I was a child…nuff to make a grown woman cry.

We need to get chocolate to go with the strawberries..oh yes we do and where better than just up the road at Makana Confections, also based in the Bay of Islands. You can’t leave this place without a purchase. Michael wants to have his photo taken from inside the glass window, where you can actually view the chocolates being made. There’s a protracted discussion between Factory and Shop Manager and it’s all becoming a bit ‘complicated’ so to save any awkwardness, we withdraw the request. I purchase a box of Cherry Armagnac Truffles (delish) Dark Chocolate Syrup and a chocolate candle. My descent into gluttony is now complete.

…but no, I spoke to soon. We have to visit the darlingest place called ‘Traditional Country Preserves’. You could be mistaken by thinking you’d stepped into a child’s fairytale book. We open the door and a little bell rings. There’s a cheerful soul behind the counter. Is it ‘Mrs Christmas’? Well if it is, she’s been very busy making Christmas Cakes this morning and the smell is gorgeous. Whiskey Marmalade, now that’s a different take on the original. I adore the bitter taste of this particular breakfast jam and not many people get it right these days, but these guys have. Beautiful texture and huge chunks of real orange and lemon. Oh, and they serve Devonshire Teas in the garden and upstairs. No more food thank you. We’re saving ourselves for dinner at Hotel d’Urville.

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