Waiheke Island is one of those places that you wish you’d grown up in or failing that, you wish you could retire to. Don’t confuse its name with distant Hawaii’s more famous Waikiki – this place couldn’t be more different. Just twelve miles long yet boasting over eighty miles of coastline, it sits in the Huaraki Gulf a mere half an hour by ferry from Auckland. Stepping off the ferry is like stepping back in time. With no high rises and little traffic, Waiheke Island is the perfect place to stay and unwind. Take a cycle ride along its rolling hills, go fishing, amble along the shore or sit back and enjoy a glass of wine. This is not the place to rush things.
Maori first settled here around a thousand years ago and today the island is home to a permanent population of just 8000 people. Numbers grow significantly in the summer season, however. When the baches (pronounced ‘batches’, these are New Zealand’s tiny holiday cottages) and condos are full, up to 50000 people are resident. Off season, it’s as sleepy as they come, and all the better for it.
The perfect place to head for the beach
Most people come to Waiheke Island for the laid back beach lifestyle it offers. Oneroa is just a short hop from the ferry terminal at Matiatia. Yachts nestle in its crescent bay whilst kids play in the sand and dogs chase their balls into the water. A little further east along the coast you’ll find Onetangi Beach, a two kilometre stretch of white sand. Hanging out in cafes like Charlie Farley’s or the 4th Avenue Eatery (formerly the Beach Front Cafe) after a dip in the surf is the perfect way to spend a warm summer’s day. Both offer decks right on the beach. Even in winter a walk along the sand can be the perfect way to blow away the cobwebs and get some fresh air.
Vineyards galore on Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island has made a name for itself as one of New Zealand’s prime wine-growing areas. Its hot, dry summers and stony soils are perfectly suited to viticulture. Vineyards are liberally scattered across the island offering a range of wines including merlot, Malbec, Syrah Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is easy to arrange a tasting at one of the many wineries, such as the Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant which offers stunning views across the water to Auckland, the iconic Sky Tower easily spotted from its terrace.
Sculpture on the Gulf
Time your visit to Waiheke Island well and you can experience Headland: Sculpture on the Gulf. First held in 2003, this biennial event now attracts thousands of visitors, with a staggering 45000 people making the journey across from the mainland in 2013. More than thirty large scale contemporary sculptures are displayed along a two and a half kilometre walkway making good use of the landscape in which they stand. Packages are also offered combining a chance to appreciate the sculptures with afternoon tea and cake or even a wine tasting. At other times, art still plays an important part in island life, with exhibitions and artists supported by the Waiheke Community Art Gallery.