While only a short, scenic ferry ride from downtown Auckland, Waiheke Island can feel like a world away. With its world-class wineries, glorious beaches, enclaves of native forest and warm microclimate, it’s easy to see why this 20km-long island is a frequent feature in tourism top 10 lists around the world.
In an ideal world you would have at least a week to explore the island’s many restaurants, walking trails and secret bays, but if you’re short on time then we recommend adding a few of the following activities to your itinerary, providing you with the perfect day escape from the mainland.
Head to the beach!
It’s no secret that Waiheke is home to some of New Zealand’s most stunning beaches. Perhaps the most frequented of these is Oneroa, thanks to its proximity to the island’s ferry terminal and the sophisticated, seaside settlement of the same name. It’s also a popular choice for anchorage and its emerald waters are perpetually dotted with a picturesque array of boats and masts. Just down the road from the main strip you’ll find the smaller, more secluded Little Oneroa – a good choice during the heaving summer months if the main beach is too crowded.
Onetangi is Waiheke’s largest beach – with white sands stretching for nearly 2km, a northerly swell and plenty of native Pohutukawa trees, it’s the perfect spot for swimming, surfing or simply soaking up the sunshine. For those wanting a more active experience, the south-facing Blackpool and Surfdale beaches are great for kayaking, paddle boarding and windsurfing. And your best bet for spotting a pod of Orcas? Head to sheltered Sandy Bay on the island’s northern coastline.
Sample the local drops
A trip to Waiheke isn’t complete without a visit to at least one of its countless vineyards. In total there are around 30 wineries scattered around the island, with many boasting their own tasting rooms, renowned restaurants and views that are simply too good to miss.
A firm favourite is Stonyridge, offering enormous deli platters and comfortable cabanas alongside its award-wining vintages. If you’re a sucker for a good view, head to Cable Bay. Sitting on top of the hills and propped up against some of the island’s oldest rock formations, it overlooks vine-covered valley and the island-studded Hauraki Gulf below. Nearby Mudbrick is another popular option, known for its variety of Chardonnay and Bordeaux blends; however, if you venture to the eastern end of the island, both Passage Rock and Man O’ War Vineyards are just as equally impressive.
If you’re feeling like you need to work off some of those sharing platters, then Waiheke offers an array of pursuits that are bound to get your heart pumping. A network of walking trails weaves through lush forestry reserves, along cliff-tops and past multi-million-dollar mansions. Te Ara Hura is a network of tracks that will take you to some of the island’s best spots, while Stony Batter walkway at the eastern end of the island features historic WWII sites and tunnels. For adrenaline junkies, EcoZip Adventures offers an exhilarating ride through native rainforest on a series of giant flying-fox ziplines!
A haven for many artists and sculptors, the island has plenty of unique art galleries and craft stores to lose yourself in, a throwback to its creative, bohemian roots. Waiheke Community Art Gallery in Oneroa showcases a diverse range of events and exhibitions from local artists, offering the best of Waiheke to the world. It’s also worth a visit to its wonderful gift shop where you can buy locally made ceramics, glass and jewellery. Just down the road is TOI Gallery, presenting the works of internationally acclaimed artists Chris Bailey and Sally Smith. Leave time to check out one of the island’s sculpture walks, such as Alison Park Sculpture Trail or Connelly’s Bay Sculpture Park, for a memorable fusion of art and nature.
Want to see what all the fuss about? Visit Waiheke for a wine tasting tour, including lunch at Stonyridge Winery, on Cosmos’ Magnificent North Island tour!