No visit to Auckland is complete without a ferry across the Hauraki Gulf to volcanically sculpted Waiheke Island. It forms part of the great escape plan for locals alike so don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s simply a tourist trap. It’s a wonderful day out, or longer if you rent a holiday home which immerses any visitor into an essential side of kiwi culture.
Only a 40 minute scenic ferry ride, departing from downtown Auckland and with each mile travelled it took me back to a time when Kiwi’s left house and car doors unlocked and property prices were a shadow of the current valuation. Waiheke’s rural, bohemian charm remains intact and has escaped the expansion of Auckland town.
Waiheke Island has a slow and relaxed pace. Cars don’t feel the need for speed, bicycles meander the foot paths and ferns and cabbage trees line the roadside. It’s one of those places you come to for a day trip and find yourself working on a vineyard 2 years later telling people how you could never go back to the ‘rat race’. Many people working on the island actually live in Auckland itself and make the commute every morning for good reason.
Growing up in New Zealand, family holidays were spent in a rented holiday home on Waiheke playing under the kiwi sunshine, swimming, and enjoying smoking barbeques in the evening. It’s the ideal family destination with no need for devices or stress. Interested yet? Well you should be because it’s simply amazing and a throw-back to life in New Zealand 30 years ago.
It’s been a long time since I lived in New Zealand and being much older, I returned to Waiheke with ulterior motives; to hit the vineyards, sample incredible food, wine and more importantly the hospitality. Kiwis are some of the friendliest people in the world in my biased opinion and every glass of wine poured is served with an outpouring of genuine curiosity about where I was from, where I was travelling and local tit-bits. This is after all the best way to discover the country, through recommendations from locals who truly know it- folks please throw your guide books away.
Before drenching your pallet with fine wines it’s worth visiting the Waiheke Community Art Gallery and town of Oneroa for your chance to buy the work of local artists such as Rueben Price, a wonderful and innovative photographer and artist. Not only are paintings and ornate sculptures available, but also the chance to sit in one of the cafes enjoying one of the best coffees in the world with a view across the bay. New Zealand doesn’t grow its own beans but it’s in the way they roast them (apparently), either way the coffee is superb!
My advice is to visit the Humble Pie Company to line your stomach before drinking ensues. Ask any Kiwi which pie is their favourite and you will receive a multitude of answers, but one thing we can all agree is that New Zealand cooks the best pies in the world (again slightly biased). Some would say it’s the pastry, some the chunks of steak, others the way the cheese hugs the mince and I defy any traveller to stop at just one.
I had been to Cable Bay Vineyards before and enjoyed it so much I had to return. There are many others and all offer a similar experience but the service, views, food and of course the wine are all the ingredients you need for a brilliant day out, all of which you’ll find at Cable Bay. Since the first vine was planted on Waiheke Island in 1998 with three varieties, they now have 10 varietals across New Zealand including Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
We started out day with a tasting of 5 wines for NZ$10 and a host to answer questions, explain the wine making process and tempt us with purchases. It’s a great way to familiarise yourselves with the wine you’re likely to spend the afternoon sipping. Start your day off with a Michelin star meal in either the dining room or in the open air on the veranda, ok the portions are not large however the fusion of flavours and presentation we found could not have been more perfect. The line caught monkfish with crayfish and prawn was sumptuous!
After a perfect meal accompanied by a glass of some of New Zealand’s finest red, what is there really left to do but retire to the stylish and comfortable veranda sofas and relax with the gentle sea breeze. Why not do as we did and pull giant bean bags onto the grass to laze in the sun as the wine takes hold, enjoying views across the Hauraki Gulf.
If you treat the day on Waiheke Island touring vineyards as a luxury and not try to slip it into your daily backpacking budget you’ll be fine. Make no mistake wine tasting, fine dining and cocktails on the veranda can devour your daily budget but as one of those unmissable experiences in New Zealand and in my opinion life, you can’t afford not to.
How to Get There:
Passenger ferry from downtown Auckland. There is a regular ferry from downtown Auckland to Waiheke’s Matiatia Wharf. For timetables and fares see www.fullers.co.nz
Vehicle ferry departs from Aratai Drive in Auckland’s Half Moon Bay, operated by Sealink. (+6493005900. www.sealink.co.nz
Car hire Call ahead for a taxi (+ 6493726643; www.waiheketransport.co.nz) or car hire (+6493728635; www.waihekerentalcars.co.nz).
Happy travelling folks!