Waiheke Island may be just a short and scenic 40-minute ferry ride from the centre of Auckland’s central business district, but on arrival the picturesque wine-lovers’ paradise feels like a world away.
Surrounded by the waters of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, Waiheke Island has been a long-time haven for free spirits, artists and Auckland families on beach holidays. In more recent times Waiheke's relaxed joys have also earned international appreciation.
These days, Waiheke is the favourite island get-away for Aucklanders attracted by beautiful white sandy beaches and historic sites, a thriving food scene, an eclectic mix of artists, an extensive list of boutique and luxury accommodation, brazen architectural delights and some of New Zealand’s most coveted vineyards and wineries.
Waiheke Island may be New Zealand’s third-most populated island but with a permanent population of around 9,000 and only 92 km2 land area, it’s hardly overcrowded.
Island of wine
The island’s dry, sunny microclimate has inspired the development of vineyards and wineries – so much so that it’s earned the title of ‘Island of Wine’.
With approximately 216ha of vineyards and 30 wineries, Waiheke Island is one of New Zealand’s award-winning wine-growing regions. Known for producing flavoursome drops from mainly cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and chardonnay grape varieties, Waiheke wines are enhanced by the stony soil that lies beneath and the sea breeze that surrounds.
Most wineries and vineyards on Waiheke have cellar doors, many with on-site cafés or restaurants that can be explored on dedicated wine tours or even by bike or scooter, making the island the perfect getaway for wine and food lovers.
Waiheke’s compact size makes the island the perfect destination for a day-trip or weekend break and the choice, when it comes to wine tasting or tempting the palate with gourmet cuisine and locally grown produce, is endless.
Wineries like the Provence-style Mudbrick offer uninterrupted views of Rangitoto Island in the Waitemata Harbour, and a chance to view Auckland’s cityscape from afar. Stonyridge, nestled amongst a swathe of olive groves, is dedicated in its quest to produce New Zealand’s finest cabernet blends and offers a taste of the south of France with a distinctly Kiwi twist. Batch Winery offers tastings in a fine example of outstanding contemporary New Zealand architecture, fine dine in at elegant Tantalus Estate or taste and nibble at relaxed Te Motu.
The island might be best known as a must-do for wine enthusiasts, but the numerous white sand beaches also make Waiheke a great place to relax, unwind or making the most of on the water activities.
Many Waiheke beaches offer perfect conditions for swimming and the beautiful coastline, small bays and marine wildlife are easily explored by kayak, boat and stand up paddle boarding (SUP).
From sea to land, nature is never out of sight on Waiheke and one of the best ways to experience it is from above. EcoZip Adventures Waiheke gives an altogether different experience of the island, allowing visitors to fly through the trees on flying fox zip lines, or keep their feet firmly on the ground with an eco-walk through ancient New Zealand forest, exploring native New Zealand flora and fauna and the history of this special island.
At the eastern end of Waiheke a historic adventure awaits. Stony Batter Historic Reserve is a labyrinth of underground tunnels – originally dug by hand – complete with gun emplacements and dating back to WWII.
Named for the surrounding dramatic rocky outcrops and rugged landscape, a short walk allows visitors to learn about Stony Batter’s fascinating history, while experiencing some of the island’s most stunning landscapes.
Selection of events
Taking in one of Waiheke’s varied events is a great way to experience a real taste of the island. Events range from weekend markets where fresh produce and locally crafted gifts can be found, to the spectacular biennial art festival Headland Sculpture on the Gulf (25 January – 17 February, 2019) - a two-kilometre coastal walkway featuring a diverse mix of sculptures created by New Zealand artists.
The Waiheke Walking Festival (17 – 25 November, 2018) is the perfect way to explore the island on foot, while the Waiheke Wine and Food Festival (TBC March 2019) is a festival of good food and great wine, held over five days in 19 vineyards with over 40 events.
There are plenty of accommodation options on Waiheke to suit all styles and budgets, including a wide selection of unique, bespoke accommodation delights.
Sitting above the expansive sun-kissed bay and white sandy beaches of Oneroa, the closest of Waiheke’s towns to the incoming and outgoing Auckland ferries, is The Boatshed. With five guest suites, two cottages and the newly opened owner's villa, the Boatshed is a modern take on the Kiwi bach and offers an iconic luxury Kiwi experience.
In the heart of Oneroa, The Oyster Inn is a quirky seafood restaurant where visitors can shop and stay all in one place. Founded by former London fashion and entertainment executives, Andrew Glenn (Louis Vuitton, Topshop) and Jonathan Rutherfurd Best (designer) this boutique accommodation oozes New Zealand sophistication and style. The three guest rooms are simple yet elegant and the on-site restaurant offers a tantalising selection of freshly caught seafood with the top local produce.
Those wanting to arrive at the Oyster Inn in style can take a sea-plane from Auckland’s city harbour. Auckland Sea Planes taking visitors soaring over Rangitoto – Auckland’s most prominent volcanic landmark – before landing on Oneroa beach ready for the feast of the senses to begin. The seaplane also lands flies regularly into Man o-War Bay for lunches at the beachside vineyard restaurant.