Waiheke is the most popular of the Hauraki Gulf islands. Holiday-makers flock to the island’s gorgeous coastline and scenic vineyards, enjoy its sub-tropical climate and laid-back feel.
It’s a large island with a resident population of about 8700 - many of whom commute to Auckland City, just 40 minutes away on one of the frequent ferries. The island’s west is the most developed, with settlements peppered along pretty beaches backed with vineyards and olive groves. It’s the ‘happening’ side of Waiheke, with some excellent vineyard restaurants, cafes and art galleries. Te Whau Vineyard Cafe, with spectacular views in Oneroa, has been honoured by New York-based “Wine Spectator” magazine as “One of the Best Restaurants in the World for Wine Lovers”. Oneroa, facing north, is the main beach and township. Palm Beach is beautiful, and Little Palm Beach at the far end is the place to sunbathe if you like to get your kit off. Further east, the long, white sandy beach of Onetangi has pohutukawa trees to recline under. If you have a boat or kayak, you could head around to Cactus Bay, an idyllic beach that no longer has public land access. On the south coast, the beach at Blackpool is good for kayaking and windsurfing, and is linked by an esplanade to Surfdale, which is popular with kitesurfers.
The east of the island is less populated, with farms and vineyards, and secluded coves stretching along the coast. Few are easily accessible, but in some of the bays you’ll find peaceful baches and holiday homes to rent.
What to see and do
If you like markets head to Ostend - from 7.30 every Saturday morning you can chat and shop with the locals for arts and crafts, fresh produce, baking and preserves, jewelry and toffee apples perhaps. For a bit of a walk with tranquil scenery and art to boot, try the gardens and sculpture park at Dead Dog Bay, 10 minutes drive from Matiatia, or Connells Bay in the southeast of the island. From late January to mid February visit headland Sculpture on the Gulf, an outdoor sculpture exhibition set on a spectacular coastal walkway at Matiatia Headland. For an indoory outing, you could join the locals at the Waiheke Island Community Cinema, a 50 seat lounge cinema in Oneroa, with comfy couches and a fine array of films. The Waiheke Island Historical Village is in Onetangi - trawl their website for historical titbits, such as plans to set up a city of 200,000 Belgians on Waiheke after Belgium was struck by the potato famine in the 1840s!
For active types, there are lots of trails to explore. If you’re into mountain biking you’ll find single track at the Onetangi Sports Park. At the northeastern end of the island, Stony Batter is a popular place to walk to, with its tunnels and gun emplacements from the end of the Second World War. Take a torch - or rent one. You’ll be greeted by tame sheep and a volunteer guide.
Distance from Auckland by ferry: 17.7km (35 minutes on fast ferry)
Where to stay
www.doc.govt.nz - Waiheke walks and Stony Batter
www.aucklandnz.com - Waiheke vineyards and olive groves
www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz - Waiheke Island walks
www.deaddogbay.co.nz - Dead Dog Bay wetland garden and sculpture
www.eventfinder.co.nz - Upcoming events on Waiheke
www.waihekecinema.net - Waiheke Island Community Cinema