Waiheke Island is a hidden gem just a 35 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland and this year was voted by Lonely Planet as one of the top ten destinations to visit in 2016 – they came in at #5 on that prestigious list. As the Lonely Planet say, “Waiheke is a utopia of coves, beaches, vineyards, bohemian sensibilities, and above all, fun. “
If you have got a long weekend planned in Auckland, Waiheke Island is a place you need to add to your to do list. A day trip to the island will give you plenty of time to explore – you can hire a car when you get over there or even take your own car across on the car ferry, however there is a good bus service that goes around the island so it’s perfectly feasible to make the journey across on foot. Of course if you do have a bit more time, spending a couple of nights on the island and hiring a bach (holiday home) for a couple of nights will give you even more time to explore.
The Island’s Wineries
One of the things that Waiheke is most famous for is its wineries. There are around 30 on the island and they produce some world-class, award-winning wines that you need to sample. There are a number of organised wine tours you can book onto before you get over to Waiheke or book once you get there and this is a great way to see the island and sample some delicious wine without having to worry about the driving. As well as the delicious wines produced by these vineyards – Syrah (Shiraz) is a speciality of the island – most of the wineries also have amazing views, either looking back towards the Auckland city skyline or out across the stunning blue of the Pacific.
Most wine tours will end with a chance to enjoy a meal at one of the stunning wineries and we definitely recommend taking them up on this option. The food is perfectly matched the wine and it’s definitely a great place to splash out and treat yourself.
Waiheke’s Bohemian Past and Present
Waiheke was originally a bit of a bohemian and hippie retreat with many people looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the big smoke in Auckland and it still retains many of those bohemian traditions with a thriving artistic community on the island. There are still hundreds of artists on the island from sculptors to glass blowers, painters to woodworkers and you are never far from a small and unique shop selling some of this amazing work. Despite its popularity, Waiheke has retained its laid back atmosphere and is a fantastic place to get away from it all for the weekend and kick back.
Most of the island’s activities thrive around the outdoors. Whether it’s wine tasting and admiring the stunning views or taking in some of the action-packed activities, there is something for everyone on the island. If you are looking for something to get the adrenaline pumping you can get involved with mountain biking, sea kayaking and sailing. If that’s not enough to get you going, pay a visit to Eco Zip Adventures – an amazing aerial assault course set in the grounds of a vineyard – a match made in heaven!
The island itself is bustling with wildlife and in the summer months, you will hear the constant chirrup of the cicadas. In the winter months, the Hauraki Gulf is the perfect place for dolphin watching and it’s not unusual for the ferry ride across to Waiheke to be accompanied by a school of dolphins running alongside the ferry. The island is a fantastic mix of lush forest and hillside and stunning coves and bays and whether you are more of a sea or a land person, there is adventure and nature to be found at every turn.
Exploring the far side
If you are arriving by ferry, you will be dropped in at Matiatia Bay, just a short walk down the hill from the main town of Oneroa. There is plenty to see and do in this area, however if you do have more time and you have access to a car, we highly recommend a trip to the far side of the island and Man O War Bay. It’s a bit of a mission to get here along a bumpy gravel road, but it’s worth the drive we promise. Here you will find a stunning bay with tranquil waters which are perfect for swimming and everything is set against the backdrop of the beautiful Man O War Vineyard, with its stunning garden where you can sit out on bean bags and enjoy the wine and a game of cricket.
Getting there and away
Fullers run a regular service to Waiheke Island with ferries running every half an hour during the week and once an hour on the weekend right through until 11.45pm going out to Waiheke and the last ferry returning back at 12.30am giving you plenty of time to explore the island, stay for dinner and make it back to Auckland. More information can be found on the Fullers website.