Famous for its wine, arts and laid-back atmosphere, Waiheke Island offers hundreds of safe, sheltered beaches and rocky coves - perfect for swimming and snorkelling - only 30-minutes by ferry from Auckland’s CBD.
The island is a heady mix of the old and the new, a place where architecturally designed mansions and salty holiday homes mingle in a jumbled seaside manner. The same works for clothes, and although bare feet, jandals, tank tops and shorts are standard attire, practically anything goes.
Many artists live on Waiheke Island and their creativity and influence is reflected in all spheres of island life. A laid-back atmosphere permeates and no matter where you are, life revolves around the beach. There are many coves to choose from and several days could be spent simply exploring the coastline: Oneroa with its golden sand and calm waters, picturesque Enclosure Bay, and the pretty curve of Palm Beach.
Onetangi, with its light surf and stunning views north to Little Barrier Island, is a popular place to hang out. Relax on its white sand, take a dip in the crystal-clear ocean, or - if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to swoop like a seagull - try paragliding with Seabirds. A speedboat pulls punters aloft from the beach and the towline is released at 2000 feet, so you can glide back down to the beach.
Other popular water based activities include kayaking, sailing and windsurfing. From October through to March, Marc Kampschulte of Windsurfing Waiheke sets up his windsurfing trailer at Surfdale, while Dawn Perkins of The Kayak Company provides kayak tuition, rentals, and half-day or full-day tours to beaches with no road access.
Waiheke Island has long been a yachtie’s paradise, and many boats pull into its sheltered bays and deep inlets to anchor at night, including Bernard Rhodes and his son, Andrew - who offer sailing trips aboard Flying Carpet: an ocean-going, bi-plane-rigged catamaran. Sailing on the Flying Carpet is a relaxed affair: most guests relax and enjoy the scenery, but keen sailors are welcome to help trim the sails.
Whilst Waiheke’s nature trails, art trails, shady olive groves, sculpture gardens and range of modern eateries are tempting, it’s the island’s vineyards that provide the greatest drawcard.
At the Tuscan-style villa of Stonyridge, Norton, a sizeable black Labrador wearing a collar saying: “Do not feed me,” greets visitors. A heavy wooden doorway leads to the winery’s café overlooking grapevines and olive trees. Wide doors open to a sunny, sheltered courtyard cobbled with stones and shells; leafy vines twist around pergola poles, and Boston ivy creeps up the adobe walls. The food is superb, the wine outstanding (this is the home of New Zealand’s most sought-after red), and the setting stylish yet casual, with a relaxed Mediterranean country atmosphere.
This vineyard, along with Goldwater Estate, was the first to plant grapes on Waiheke Island, and when both proved successful, many others followed suit. Today there’s a wide range to visit including Kennedy Point Vineyard, which produces delicious Sauvignon Blanc (best teamed with an antipasto platter and sampled on its shady pohutukawa-fringed decks); Te Whau Vineyard with its extensive wine list and spectacular views of Auckland city from Te Whau Point; and Onetangi Vineyard, next to Stonyridge, where you can also sample locally brewed Baroona beer.
There’s also a wealth of popular cafés and vineyard restaurants including the Mudbrick Café, a popular haunt for visiting Aucklanders with its stunning city views, and Salvage, Schooner and Vino Vino in Oneroa.
For an entertaining night out Waiheke-style, join the locals and curl up on family-donated couches at the community cinema in Oneroa. It’s perfectly kosher to take along a bottle of your favourite red, and grab a curry from Ajadz next door to enjoy while watching the movie!
Fullers Ferries runs an hourly service to the island from the Ferry Terminal opposite Queen Elizabeth Square in downtown Auckland. The ferry ride takes about 45 minutes. Some ferries travel via Devonport and/or Rangitoto Island.