Monday, April 9, 2012

Foodie Excursion: Pick Your Own Chestnuts @ Chestnut Traders

Rather than hunting for chocolate Easter eggs, a friend's family had the children search for feijoas instead.  Makes sense really: not only is it healthier, but you always have too many feijoas waiting to be picked up if you grow them.  This is how I remember when the feijoa season is.  Recently though, I've come to associate something else with Easter: fresh chestnuts, where you can pick your own for only about one month in the year.

I actually wanted to go to Chestnut Charlie's in Clevedon, as it is probably the closest to central Auckland.  Unfortunately, though normally open every day, they were not open today, Easter Monday.  Instead, we went to Chestnut Traders in Helensville, which, by the way, isn't so much in Helensville as in South Head, past Parakai and even further north than Shelly Beach, where we had a late lunch of fish and chips.  Their website says to allow for an hour to get there.  Given you will probably miss the turn into Nancy's Lane, which leads to the property, I would allow for more time.  Come to think of it, it is probably no closer than Chestnut Ridge, which I had rejected (even though they had cheaper chestnuts) on account of it being technically outside greater Auckland, almost as far as Huntly.  I should have noted that you would be travelling almost solely on the motorway, while there were gravel roads involved in getting to Chestnut Traders.

What Chestnut Traders has going for it, though, is that you can combine a whole raft of other activities to the chestnut picking to make for a great day out.  A tour at Crescent Dairy Goats, for instance, or a nice lunch at The Tasting Shed or the Bees Online Cafe, followed perhaps by a visit to the MacNuts orchard, or outdoor pursuits in the Woodhill Forest, such as Tree Adventures, mountain biking, paintballing or quad biking.

Even if you have nothing planned other than chestnut picking, the very distance you travel to get there, combined with the scenery, makes it feel like an adventure.  To even get Chestnut Traders, you have to find the entrance to Nancy's Lane.  Then you open (and close behind you) a gate through which you can see a path leading into the distance.  You drive down this gravel road until you get to a gate for the Pakaka farm, where Chestnut Traders lives.  The house on the left is where you will probably find your host; the shed on the right is where the chestnuts you collect will get weighed.

Gate number 1, which you will see if you have turned down Nancy's Lane.
Being the city person that I am, I had no idea that chestnuts came in a prickly husk, multiple nuts to a ball of spikes.  Fortunately, the farm had spare gloves on hand.

Chestnuts, with a spiky exterior covering.
I was also clueless enough to imagine that I would be plucking chestnuts from trees.  Although they do indeed grow on trees, they dry out and fall down by themselves.

Chestnut balls sitting on the grass, just waiting to be collected.

Growing chestnuts, still on the tree.
It is tempting to pick up the first chestnuts that you see, but the biggest, shinest chestnuts can be found under the trees right at the end.  Ask where the best pickings are to be had, and you will be amazed at the quality of the chestnuts available.  Enjoy!

Road leading to the weighing shed, with chestnuts swept into piles in the background.

Farm Details

Chestnut Traders
1716 South Head Road, Helensville/South Head (allow for at least an hour from central Auckland)
(09) 420 2750

Opening hours:
Saturdays to Sundays 10am - 5pm


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1 comment:

  1. Hi

    John at Chestnut Ridge Farmstay B&B & Orchard here. You are right about the ease of getting here. Only 45 mins, almost all motorway and expressway diving, south of the Airport.

    Not only are our PYO chestnuts $2/Kg (inc GST) but we also give a free chestnut keeping & recipe leaflet, and we encourage families to bring a picnic to have in the orchard or on the lawn, before or after picking. There are a few picnic tables & chairs with lovely views, and plenty of space to throw a blanket on the lawn. We even have hot water on hand for making tea or coffee. No charge for the facilities. All we expect is that visitors pick & pay for chestnuts and have a good time here. We even have some church groups bring the congregation and have a service in the orchard or on the lawn before having lunch and picking chestnuts. The sound of hymns drifting up from the orchard is beautiful.
    For some it's just a picking chestnut for eating later but for others its a pleasant day out in the country as well and maybe a new experience to be repeated next season (mid March to end of April)
    If this is too much like an advert by all means delete it but I think your readers should know that the trip to Te Kauwhata tp pick chestnuts can be a memorable experience for the whole family (kids, parents and grandparents - good old-fashioned family fun). Groups of young adults also seem to enjoy. More details at www.chestnutridge-nz.com.

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