What is it about Waiheke? To Aucklanders, the island is synonymous with good food, good wine, and long, lazy days on the beach. And because it’s so close to the city – just 35 minutes from the Auckland waterfront by ferry – it’s little wonder Waiheke is one of the city’s top tourist attractions.
A combination of climate – warmer than on the Auckland isthmus and with less rain – and unique island terroir helps Waiheke produce some of New Zealand’s best-regarded wines. Its most famous wineries include Cable Bay, Mudbrick and Stonyridge, but there are many more small operations dotted across the island. Ask a wine buff about Waiheke wine and they’ll likely mention reds, particularly cabernet and syrah, but the island also grows some white varieties too.
A Winery Tour
Nearly every winery on the island offers cellar-door tastings in the summer months – you can spend a lovely day ambling around the island, tasting as you go. Plus many offer other attractions, from art collections to award-winning restaurants. Below, three of our picks. (Note: Waiheke vineyards are extremely popular as event venues, so in the summer wedding season it’s a good idea to call ahead).
With spectacular views of Auckland city, Cable Bay’s terrace (a casual bar known as The Verandah) is a wonderful place to watch the sun go down. Cable Bay boasts an upmarket restaurant and grounds full of sculpture, and is one of the most accessible wineries on the island, located only five minutes’ walk from Oneroa, the island’s main township. 12 Nick Johnstone Drive, Oneroa, Waiheke. cablebay.co.nz
One of Waiheke’s most charming properties, Mudbrick winery is an elegant adobe-brick building surrounded by gorgeous potager gardens. Like Cable Bay, Mudbrick boasts both a well-regarded restaurant and a casual terrace wine bar/bistro. Church Bay Road, Oneroa. mudbrick.co.nz
Probably the best reason to visit Te Motu is The Shed, a past winner of Metro magazine’s Best Rural Restaurant award. A more casual and less pricy option than the winery restaurants above, The Shed serves modern-rustic food in a beautiful setting. If you don’t have a car it’s around 15 minutes’ walk from the closest bus stop, but so worth it. 76 Onetangi Road, Onetangi. temotu.co.nz
Getting Around Waiheke
The Vineyard Hopper is a hop-on-hop-off bus service serving eight Waiheke wineries, including Cable Bay, Mudbrick, Stonyridge, Te Motu and Wild on Waiheke. Hopper passes are available from the Fullers ticket office in the Auckland ferry building, either as a standalone day pass ($22) or a combined Hopper day pass + return ferry ticket ($54). Your Hopper also gives you free access to Waiheke’s public bus service – useful for getting from the ferry terminal to the Hopper starting point in Oneroa township. waihekevineyardhopper.co.nz
Car hire is available on the island. If you’re taking your own car, you’ll need to use the Waiheke car ferry which departs from Wynyard Wharf, west of the Viaduct. sealink.co.nz
Standard bikes can be rented at Waiheke Bike Hire at Maiatia Ferry Wharf. E-Velo electric-assist bikes, a godsend on some of Waiheke’s more challenging hills, are available at Onya Bikes in Oneroa township. Alternatively, bikes rented in the city can be taken on the passenger ferry for free.
Waiheke Hotels and Accomodation
There’s a huge variety of accommodation on the island, from backpacker hostels to luxury retreats. At the budget end, try Fossil Lodge, which offers a range of cabins, apartments and “glamping” (glamorous camping) tents, or the self-built and eco-friendly Bioshack Backpackers.
Looking for something a little more comfortable? There are no corporate hotels on Waiheke, but a good range of self-catering apartments – like the popular Onetangi Beach Apartments or the slightly more luxurious Watermark Studios in Oneroa.
If you’re after somewhere really special to stay, the boutique Oyster Inn in Oneroa is a good choice. Waiheke is also home to a number of world-class private lodges: the most luxurious include Fossil Cove in Park Point and Panorama Bay Estate in Mataiti (both from NZD $3500 a night).
Things to Do in Waiheke
It may seem hard to believe during a perfect meal at one of Waiheke’s wineries, but there’s more to life than eating great food and drinking gorgeous wine. No one would blame you for filling the gap between lunch and dinner by lazing on one of Waiheke’s pristine beaches – try Oneroa, Surfdale, or Man-O-War – but should you get a hankering for something more active, here are some suggestions:
Though Wild on Waiheke is attached to vineyard, the place is less a winery, more a unique multi-activity venue. Try your hand at archery or claybird shooting, taste beers made at their on-site microbrewery, or shop for local arts and crafts at their Taste Waiheke marketplace. Adrenalin junkies will love Ecozip Adventures‘ three Flying Fox ziplines set among pristine native bush And if you’re on Waiheke in January or February, check out the annual Headland Sculpture on the Gulf exhibition, a 2km coastal walk past stunning site-specific sculpture.
Main photo: Acp / Wiki Commons.