Talk about rain! The very first day I landed on Waiheke Island I was greeted by a torrential downpour that lasted all day. The island, with its subtropical climate, is prone to a deluge like this though, from time to time.
I flew from Wellington to Auckland and there was a very good connection with Skybus, which picked me up right outside Auckland Airport and dropped me off about 5 minutes walk from the Ferry Terminal, on Quay Street, where I got the 4pm Fullers Ferry to Waiheke. Considering the fact that the route takes you right across the city, the bus got from A to B in an hour and cost NZD36/£20 return, which I was impressed with. One tip though, if you’re making this journey, do it in off peak hours. If you get stuck in rush hour traffic, it can take double the time.
The ferry from Auckland only took 40 minutes to get to Matiatia on Waiheke Island, passing a number of islands on the way. That return ticket cost NZD40/£23. If you want to take your car to Waiheke, then there is a passenger/vehicle ferry that you can get from Half Moon Bay in Auckland to Kennedy Point. Hiring a car on the Island is another option, as there a few car rental companies at Matiatia Ferry. I was travelling by bus mostly, but got talking to a couple on the boat who live on the island and they, very kindly, gave me a lift to my accommodation in Surfdale.
Waiheke Island is rich with a very interesting mix of vineyards, pristine beaches, coastal walkways, arts and culture, charming seaside villages, olive groves and craft breweries. There are plenty of activities to choose from, like ziplining, surfing, mountain biking, kayaking, golfing, jetskiing, wine tours, not to mention excellent restaurants and cafes that will make you want to stay all year long.
After the torrential rain and a bit of thunder and lightning the next morning, the weather cleared up. It turned into a warm day, with temperatures hitting 23 degrees and glorious sunshine. I had arranged to meet up with an ex-colleague of mine called Milli for lunch, who I used to work with in Lake Tekapo. She has been working on Waiheke again for the last year and a half and had a car. So we headed to Casita Miro near Onetangi Beach.
There are about 30 vineyards on the island. Some of them have stunning sea views, others specialise in different types of food such as Italian, bistro-style dishes, Spanish tapas and they all have wine/beer tastings. Situated in the Hauraki Gulf, the surrounding sea has a great influence on the island’s climate. Sea breezes, moderate maritime and warm night time temperatures and its suitable geology create the ideal climate for growing and ripening grapes.
Casita Miro has a tasting room and a tapas eatery. We had one of the most delicious lunches I have ever tasted of really soft, fresh, homemade focaccia bread with red pesto, almonds and beetroot dips, potato bravas, goats cheese balls and a crumb coated fish dish, washed down with a glass of white wine for me and a beer for my friend. It was gorgeous. We then drove down to Onetangi Beach, which was very close by and one of the nicest beaches on the island. It’s the longest beach: 1.87km and on a clear day, which it was today, you can see Coromandel Peninsula across the water. Its white sandy stretch of shoreline is lovely to walk on, with boats bobbing in the water but not all that busy luckily. It was great to catch up with my friend Milli. I really enjoyed the day. She dropped me off at Oneroa, my favourite township on the island.
Oneroa is one of three main villages on the island. For me it was the most charming. Ostend is known as the industrial hub, Surfdale is the main residential area and Oneroa……well, this little gem of a village has its own unique character. You’ll find a lot of art here. There’s the Community Art Gallery with exhibitions, a gallery shop, events and art education, there’s an art walking trail which features a small sculpture park and a few smaller art galleries in the village making jewellery, ceramics and ancient kauri wood sculpture. There are some unique gift shops, a great variety of restaurants, cafes and bars and a lovely, quirky art-house cinema with soft couches to lay back in while watching local or international films. To top it all off, the village has two white sandy beaches. The main one is Oneroa Beach, on the northern side of the town and Little Oneroa Beach, the second one, is a small secluded beach at the eastern end.
The following day I took the Explorer Hop-on Hop-Off Bus Tour which gives you the opportunity to experience some of the islands beautiful beaches, vineyards, villages and tourist spots. You can hop-on and off the bus to visit various locations or stay onboard and enjoy the 1 and ½ hour guided tour. I started the tour at Matiatia Ferry and got off at Tantalus Estate, stop number 7 on the route. I did the Tantalus Regional Flight White Wine Tasting here at a very reasonable price of NZD10. There were 4 wines in the Flight and I enjoyed all of them. There was also the option to taste 4 red wines and 4 varieties of their craft beers.
There was a pathway at the back of Tantalus Estate Vineyard which led into open country fields and on to Te Motu Vineyard. This route is part of the Onetangi Valley Vineyard Walking Trail. There’s a fairly steep uphill climb through olive groves, over a hill and into a wonderful open amphitheatre of vines leading down to Obsidian Vineyard. Casita Miro Vineyard and Eatery is the next vineyard you come across and from there you pick up the path/road onto Onetangi Beach where the route ends. It took me just over an hour to walk but it was one of the most enjoyable walks I have ever done. I love walking through open fields and countryside and having the chance to explore this vineyard valley in glorious sunshine was brilliant. I picked up the Explorer Bus at Onetangi Beach and we headed on towards Bach Vineyard, the highest point on the island. I got off again at Oneroa, had dinner there and got the local bus back to Surfdale.
I had heard that Palm Beach was another lovely beach to explore. So the following afternoon I walked down there to have a look around. It was ANZAC Day and most cafes, bars and shops opened at 1pm after the commemorations at Ostend. ANZAC Day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australia and New Zealand forces during the First World War. I was hungry by 2pm and needed to have a bite to eat. There’s a really nice café at Palm Beach called Arcadia. I loved the feel of the place. The location is perfect as it’s just across the road from the beach. There is an outside terrace and inside is a cosy café with a relaxing atmosphere, good service and great food. They have a good range of dishes on their breakfast menu, an even better selection of small plates for lunch and large plates for dinner. I had the Bread and Dips which consisted of wild wheat artisan breads and pesto, olive oil and hummus dips. It was delicious.
I had a stroll on the beach afterwards to walk off my lunch. The weather was warm and sunny again and I did my best to make the most of my last day on Waiheke. The accommodation I stayed in on the island was an Air BnB again and I must admit that my hosts here, Tom and Fiona, were the best. They were extremely helpful and friendly. They gave me lots of suggestions for places to go and things to do and see. It was a plus too having 2 cats in the house, who were also very friendly. I really enjoyed my stay on Waiheke. Even though it was a bit of a soggy start, it turned out better than I expected.
Overall the whole trip was great. I got to meet up with a lot of friends and ex-colleagues, discovered 3 or 4 new places and revisited some of my favourite haunts. It’s always hard to leave New Zealand and this time was no different but one consolation is that I can always come back on holiday. One tip though: I see from the New Zealand Immigration website that from 1st October 2019 those visiting, or in transit from a visa waiver country (including Ireland)and cruise ship passengers will need to hold a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) and pay an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL) before departure. The IVL is a way for travellers to contribute directly to the tourism infrastructure they use and to help protect and enhance the natural environment they will enjoy during their stay in New Zealand.
A NZeTA costs NZD9 for requests using the mobile app and NZD 12 for requests using the website form. The IVL costs NZD35 for each person travelling to New Zealand and is charged in the same transaction as the NZeTA. They’re valid for multiple visits and up to 2 years. Up until now all visitors from a visa waiver country travelling to New Zealand were able to travel to the country on a free 3 month holiday visa and had to fulfill the conditions attached to that visa. I’m happy to pay that fee as long as I know that it will contribute to the tourism infrastructure and help protect/enhance the natural environment. I hope it will.