One of the best features of Auckland is just how easy it is to get out of the city to stunning natural surroundings, and possibly the easiest place to get to is beautiful Waiheke Island. It’s a journey well worth making for tourists and city dwellers alike. The island is just a short 35 minute ferry ride from Auckland City. Experience the views of the city and the harbour, with all of its sailboats and water sport enthusiasts, from the ferry as you leave it all behind.
Waiheke is home to over two dozen vineyards, amazing beaches, and the very small town centre of Oneroa. It’s an ideal setting to get to know some New Zealand wines. We started our weekend with a half day wine tour with Around Waiheke Tours.
First let me say, it’s essential to plan your day(s) of winetasting prior to arriving. We came across dozens of bewildered tourists who had arrived on our ferry or others over the weekend who expected to just walk around this “small” island from winery to winery. Later we would see them sitting on the side of the road in nearly the same place we left them, having made it to the nearest winery and no further.
Around Waiheke tours will pick you up from the ferry or the Oneroa town centre and the rest is taken care of from there. Our tour guide, Simon, picked us up at 11am fresh off the ferry, eager to see the island and taste some wines. Simon was very knowledgeable about Waiheke, ready for any questions, and an entertaining guide. He first took us up to a lookout over Palm Beach and Little Palm Beach (more on that later) with views of the Coromandel Peninsula to the East. Then it was on to our first winery, which also happened to be a brewery (by the way, Around Waiheke Tours also has a brewery tour!). Wild on Waiheke was a great place to start! W.o.W. is home to Top Knot Wines, Waiheke Island Brewery, as well as lots of other activities, such as archery and a giant chess board. There we tasted a chardonnay, two beers, and a delicious ginger beer (actually I paid $4 to add a taste of local rum and make that a Dark ‘n’ Stormy), and some other locally made food products. All of the typical tasting fees are taken care of with Around Waiheke Tours, adding to the value of booking a tour, but you can ask to taste more when available. Here I, and 3 others from our tour, also dared to try the “Drunken Oyster,” an oyster in dark beer; strange but still tasty.
With our palates whetted and thirsty for more wine, it was a short drive to Te Motu Vineyards, where we sampled four of the Dunleavy label’s wines, learned more about the history and process of winemaking on Waiheke and across New Zealand, and had a quick walk around. Finally, it was on to our third and final winery, the newest on Waiheke, Batch. While the Around Waiheke Wine Tour has a repertoire of approximately seven rotating wineries, Batch is a crowd favourite, and is always a stop on the tour, and it’s easy to see why. Here we tasted four more delicious wines, saw the inner workings of the winery, and finished the experience off perfectly with a glass of bubbly on the grass overlooking a view of the city in the distance. It’s times like this when the value of getting away from it all, if only for a weekend, hits you. That city, your daily life, and its troubles seem so small and so far away. This is what it means to be on vacation.
Upon being dropped off back in town a little after 2pm, we stopped into Waiheke Wine Centre for a little more wine tasting, before heading off to the beach. Beaches on Waiheke island are world class. Oneroa beach is just a ten minute stroll out of the town center, so very convenient. I would also recommend Onetangi Beach, an expansive white sand beach fully equipped with bbq’s. Or if you have a little exhibitionist in you, head over to Little Palm Beach, the popular clothing optional beach.
There are lots of accommodation options on the island, and it’s definitely worth staying at least one night. The island also has excellent choices for food, from fish and chips on the beach to more upscale options at the wineries. Check out Dragonfired Pizzas on Little Oneroa Beach; Island Gelato Company; The Cove, a cute place with an oceanic atmosphere and lots of local beer and wine, and great eats; and Wai Kitchen, with more stunning ocean views and quite possibly the best brunch I’ve had in New Zealand. Another Winery worth a visit is Goldie, the oldest on Waiheke, which has recently been gifted to the University of Auckland. Goldie has a great selection of wines and yet another wonderful hill on which to enjoy them.
Waiheke Island is not to be missed when visiting Auckland, and even if you live here, it’s the perfect place to take a mini vacation. Around Auckland Tours was the perfect start to our trip, and I definitely recommend doing a tour with them, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to waste.