Wine, Relaxation, and Fine Food on Waiheke Island Near Auckland New Zealand
By Kurt Jacobson
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
New Zealand has just about the most incredible and varied landscapes for a country its size than anywhere I’ve been.
The land of the Kiwis also has many islands waiting to be visited, some large, some small, but the most popular has to be Waiheke Island.
I recently visited Waiheke Island for the third time and loved this gem even more than before.
To get there, four family members and I hopped the Fuller’s Ferry in Auckland for the 35-minute scenic ride.
The trip gives passengers a sweeping view of the Auckland waterfront as it chugs toward paradise.
Returning with Enthusiasm
Even though I’ve been to New Zealand nine times and Waiheke Island two times previously, my excitement level is high as a kite to get a chance to return.
There’s so much to do on Waiheke for almost any traveler. White sand beaches like Oneroa, Little Oneroa, Onetangi, and other priceless waterfront spots are waiting for you to make a splash.
Take a Hike on the Te Ara Hura Track
For the fitness-minded traveler, check out the Te Ara Hura track that circles the Island.
This 100 km track offers short day hikes, or you can spend 3-4 days hiking the entire route.
Note that some segments are closed due to various reasons like track damage or to protect the Kauri trees.
On the third morning on Waiheke, we hiked the Hekarua Bay track. The track was close to our vacation rental home which took us deep into the coastal forest of tree ferns, native bushes, and tall trees.
If we had more time it would have been great to hike to Little Oneroa Bay, just 30 minutes away.
Check out iWalk Waiheke website for guided trip packages of 3 days, two nights or four days, and three nights trips that include accommodations.
Vicki is the owner of iWalk Waiheke and a former super yacht chef who will cook some of your meals on the trip.
I would have loved to try this package deal but will consider it for the next trip.
The best shopping in Waiheke is probably in the town of Oneroa. Here we found small shops hawking everything from clothing, art, food, and wine.
My wife and my sister found plenty of gifts and clothing items at Veranda and Island Design. I liked the Waiheke Wine Center’s ample selection of local Island wine and foods.
Wine Time for Wine Lovers
Waiheke Island Vineyards will attract wine lovers and those who love fine dining.
Find world-class wine and food at Mudbrick, Batch, Tantalus, Cable Bay, and Casita Miro, to name a few. These wineries combine excellent wine and food, some with spectacular views.
Tim, our tour guide, took us on a half-day adventure with several winery stops. Batch Winery was our first choice for wine tasting. With big views, Batch is a winner for lunch and wine. We tasted several wines poured by Alcides Pont Neto during our visit.
I was sold on the 2020 Syrah, and at 55NZD (New Zealand Dollar) per bottle, I found it a bit more affordable than Batch wines costing 75NZD and up.
Our next winery stop was Stoneyridge Vineyard, located in a valley with several other notable wineries.
We grabbed an outdoor table with comfy sofas on either side where Ben, the sommelier, guided us through an extensive wine tasting.
Waiheke’s Excellent Reds
Waiheke is known for excellent red wines; we liked just about every wine Ben poured for us. Stoneyridge is also a good place for lunch and has good views of the valley.
We saved the best for last on our wine touring trip. Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant delivered a fantastic dinner, epic views of Auckland, and great wines.
We started with focaccia bread and local olive oil for dipping, then moved on to lamb and seafood mains.
We loved starting with their rosé and progressed to the Velvet, a red wine blend that proved irresistible.
I bought a bottle of Velvet to take home, and at 150 NZD, the Velvet was the most expensive wine I bought during our whole trip.
We visited four wine regions, Gisborne, Wairarapa, Marlborough, and Nelson on our 12-day whirlwind trip, and Waiheke seemed to have the most costly wine.
Where We Stayed on Waiheke
I scoured the internet for lodging choices on Waiheke Island. There are few hotels/motels to choose from but many vacation rentals.
We went with Waiheke Unlimited and booked the Karaka Sanctuary, a three-bedroom home with an adorable sleepout—a detached small sleeping unit or cottage.
The house proved to be very good, with just one exception. The driveway was very steep. How steep you ask? Well, neither our guide for the wine tour nor subsequent taxi drivers would attempt to drive down it for fear of being unable to get back up.
Wheeling on Down
It was pretty interesting to wheel our suitcases down the driveway on check-in, then back up when checking out. Luckily, no humans or suitcases were harmed negotiating the driveway.
We loved the wildlife show each day as the local tui birds hung out and even gave us a courtship show on the second day.
If you haven’t heard a Tui sing, they have a melodic song that reminds me of a Western Meadowlark or Star Wars’ RD D2 robot.
If you visit Waiheke, I recommend finding a house close to either Oneroa or Onetangi where you have shops, restaurants, and beaches nearby.
Thanks to Auckland day trippers and international tourists, Waiheke supports lots of quality restaurants.
Where to Eat in Oneroa
Café Fenice in Oneroa was our first restaurant experience of the trip. Our guide came up with the suggestion when Stoneyridge was closed for a special event.
Café Fenice is an Italian eatery on the main drag with views of Oneroa Beach and the ocean. We ordered NZ Sauvignon Blanc and rosé to go with lunch; both were excellent.
Waiheke Island Restaurants
We had duck risotto and mushroom ravioli for our main dishes topped with loads of shaved parmesan. Most NZ eateries use high-quality fresh ingredients and it shows. With lunch over, we could relax and enjoy the rest of the day touring the Island.
The next day we returned to Oneroa to dine at Vino Vino, owned by Connie from Argentina.
We plowed through bread and dips, raw oysters, risotto, and more while enjoying the ocean views and wine.
As mentioned previously, we had a marvelous dinner at Mudbrick to end our short two-day stay.
If I get back to Waiheke, I’d love to try dinner or lunch at Tantalus and Ki Māha in Onetangi, as recommended by our guide.
Lessons Learned Getting to Oneroa
The first travel lesson we learned was thanks to Air New Zealand’s flight from LAX to Auckland.
My brother, his wife, and my sister had pre-purchased a row of three seats for the flight for $20 USD each.
However, shortly before the flight boarded, their seats were sold to someone who wanted the Skycouch® option.
That left the three of them shuffled about on the remaining few seats. With the flight nearly full, they ended up in a center row of four.
I got my sister re-seated with my wife and me, but my brother and his wife had the two middle seats in a row of four on the 12+ hour-long flight.
To top it off, the LAX gate agents were less than helpful or kind when we asked for an explanation.
How long is the ferry from Auckland to Waiheke?
On our scheduled 4o-minute Waiheke ferry ride back to Auckland, we arranged a Super Shuttle van to take the five of us to the airport to catch our flight to Gisborne.
The ferry was 25 minutes late due to a very full load of passengers that required the boat to slow to 15 knots.
When we finally got to the Ferry Building in Auckland, our shuttle driver had to bail out to pick up other passengers.
We lost 70NZD on the shuttle but lucked out at the taxi stand with a van just big enough to take us to the airport on time.
Be sure and allow plenty of time to get from the Waiheke ferry landing to the airport since your ferry could be late.
We were sad to leave Waiheke so soon but had a fabulous two days. I recommend taking at least three days on the Island if you can swing it. The most important thing is to include a Waiheke stop, even if it’s only for a day trip to get a taste of this amazing place.