First things first, it’s pronounced ‘Why-Hecky’ and it’s a tiny island in New Zealand. Not the North Island, nor the South Island, Waiheke is it’s very own dot on the map. Known internationally as one of the most beautiful islands in the world and as a favoured recreational haunt, the Hauraki gulf’s second-largest island (93sq km) has long had a bohemian side with abundant art and crafts to be found in its galleries and studios. It is also New Zealand’s most densely populated island with some 10,000 locals swelling to about 50,000 in the summer. Nobody is in too much of a hurry, even in “downtown” Oneroa, where the galleries and handicraft shops and cafés are lively but not in the least hectic. It was not much of a surprise to learn that Waiheke was a notorious hippie hangout in the sixties and seventies, a refuge of pot farmers and burnouts and surfers who settled among the long-residing dairy and sheep farmers and fishermen, counterculture types who starting in the mid-eighties were joined by (and in some cases morphed into) craftspeople and artists, olive and grape producers. But Waiheke’s main claim to fame is as the “Island of Wine”. Grapes love it here as the more than 30 vineyards attest. Waiheke wineries have a reputation for quality reds, particularly cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, syrah and merlot – and many cellar doors have restaurants and accommodation as a bonus. Waiheke is just 35 minutes from downtown Auckland on the passenger ferry or 45 minutes by the car ferry.
- Batch winery– Waiheke’s newest winery and occupying the highest point of any vineyard on the island, a vist to Batch winery is a must, even if just for the setting alone. (129 Carsons Rd, Waiheke Island). Cellar door open 7 days, 11:30-7:30pm- call ahead for operating hours during winter).
- Cable Bay– the cellar door and restaurant is a sleek, sophisticated building, but also a beautiful and welcoming place. The view is elegantly framed by gently sloping hills, overlooking the sea and city in the distance. It would be so easy to spend a lazy afternoon here. The wines here are quite average, but the grounds are worth a visit and the winery is centrally located. (12 Nick Johnstone Drive, Oneroa). Cellar door open 7 days, 11-4.
- Frenchmans Hill Estate– the property comprises 12 acres of north facing sloped vineyard, olive groves and wetlands. The stunning range of their exclusive “expatrius” wines are a must try. (1 Margaret Reeve Lane, Waiheke Island).
- Jurassic Ridge- atop the oldest piece of rock on the island, this small family vineyard produces handcrafted varietals, including pinot grigio and a Montepulciano, fermented and seasoned in American oak. All the wines are cellared for up to 5 years before release. (144 Church Bay Road, Oneroa). Cellar door open 7 days, 11-4.
- Kennedy Point– stepping into kennedy point vineyard, the island’s first organic-certified winery, is like stepping into a tree house. Its the ideal spot to stop visit when you get off the car ferry or when you leave the island. Don’t miss trying the red trumpet – a cabernet merlot franc blend with a lovely supple finish. The estate-made olive oil is also outstanding. (44 Donald Bruce road. Right near the car ferry terminal). Cellar door open 7 days, 11-3.
- Man O’ War– it’s worth taking the 30-minute scenic drive to the eastern side of the island, as that’s where you’ll find one of the most beautifully appointed cellar doors in the country. In the Man O’ War range, pinot gris and Bordeaux blends are particularly excellent as well as their sauvignon blanc semillon blend. Cellar door open 7 days, 11-4.
- Miro vineyard– a short driveway from the road reveals what’s possibly the steepest vineyard on the island. Terraced and facing the sun, it’s a small plot that produces bold and sumptuous red wines. Close to Onetangi beach, and incorporating the excellent restaurant, Casita Miro, this is a popular spot for locals and visitors. The syrah, with a touch of viogner, is stylish and finely balanced and was my preferred wine of the tasting. (3 Brown Rd, Onetangi). Cellar door open 7 days, 11:30-4.
- Mudbrick– hand picking, hand plunging and gentle pressing reflect in the character of all the wines. The wines and setting of the vineyard are outstanding, as is the professional yet friendly service, and the cellar door’s knowledgeable staff will guide you through the extensive range. The pick of the bunch for me were the reserve chardonnay and voigner 2013, the sheperds point 2012 (merlot/cabernet sauvignon/cabernet franc) and the 2013 reserve syrah. Mudbrick vineyard is definitely one of the island’s most rewarding places to visit. (Church Bay Road, Oneroa). Cellar door open 7 days, 10-4.
- Obsidian– just a short drive from Onetangi beach, Obsidian’s laid-back cellar door offers a casual setting below gently sloping vineyards. The vineyard was originally planted with Bordeaux varieties in 1993, and it has now expanded to include chardonnay, viognier, syrah, montepulciano and tempranillo. There are two labels – Weeping Sands and Obsidian. They are remarkably approachable in their youth, yet able to mature graciously.The wines here were definately some of my favourite on the island. I particularly liked the Obsidian label chardonnay, voigner and cabernet merlot. (22 Te Makiri Rd, Onetangi). Cellar door open 7 days, 11-4.
- Stonyridge vineyard– a great place to kick back. From the cellar door and cafe, the expansive view includes New Zealand’s oldest commercially grown olive trees. Staff are friendly and relaxed, encouraging you to follow suit. The winemaker continues to make profound wines that thrill and captivate wine enthusiasts worldwide. Today, Stonyridge produces an extensive range. The flagship wine, Larose, is a wonderful cabernet sauvignon-dominant Bordeaux blend that’s capable of ageing for decades, and is one of New Zealand’s most-collected wines. The pick of the bunch for me was the Rhône ranger pilgrim – a syrah mourvèdre grenache blend, emulating the classic southern Rhône wines. (80 Onetangi Rd, Onetangi). Cellar door open 7 days, 11:30-5
- Te Motu Vineyard– was one of the early growers on the island, established in 1989 by the Dunleavy family. They set out to specialise in cabernet merlot blends under two labels – Te Motu and Dunleavy. Now the range of wines has expanded, but cabernet merlot remains dear to their hearts. My preferred wine was the 2012 Kokoro ( a merlot dominant blend with cabernet sauvignon, franc, malbec and syrah). The winery also has a lovely cellar door-restaurant, The Shed. (76 Onetangi Road, Onetangi). Cellar door open Thursday to Sunday 12pm – 5pm.
- Te Whau Vineyard– focuses on growing and making premium wine with minimal intervention, using sustainable viticultural practices, no chemicals or additives, and with quality of the grapes being of paramount importance. Their award-winning Bordeaux-blend “The Point” is a must try. The cellar door-restaurant, which happens to boast one of the best wine lists in the country, is like a giant lighthouse with its panoramic 360-degree view of the sea, the Auckland city skyline, coastlines and bays, and the home vineyard on a steep slope. (218 Te Whau drive, Oneroa). Cellar door open 6 days a week (closed Tuesday’s), 11-4:30.
- Cable Bay– Up on a hill, facing west over sweeping vineyards and the sea, with the Sky Tower and the rest of Auckland city in the distance — it’s brilliant every which way — and the setting sun glorifying everything. The menu here is formal yet quite pricey. (12 Nick Johnstone Drive, Oneroa). www.cablebayvineyards.co.nz/
- Casita Miro– the restaurant is small, Spanish-influenced, with big heavy beams, lots of glass and plenty of ornate tile work. The menu changes constantly, depending on what they can get hold of and what’s fresh. (3 Brown Rd, Onetangi). www.casitamiro.co.nz/
- Charlie Farley’s– the Tropicana-inspired beachfront spot, with its front-row view of the beach, sets the scene for an array of crowd-pleasing dishes. Fresh Te Matuku oysters give way to vibrant tuna poke bowls, garlic dusted calamari, your classic wagyu ‘n’ cheeseburgers and, of course, a truly delectable offering of fish and chips. (21 The Strand, Onetangi). https://charliefarleys.co.nz/
- Dragonfired– serving the islands best pizza in the most idyllic location. Food aside, being 10 steps from the sandy beach of little Oneroa makes dragonfired the perfect place to stock up for a picnic lunch or dinner. I suggest you grab a bottle of wine and pick a spot by the rocks and watch the setting sun, safe in the knowledge that what you’re feeding your body – and soul – is all good. (Little Oneroa Beach, Oneroa). http://dragonfired.co.nz/
- Fenice Restaurant– if you feel like going to Italy for a little holiday with authentic food and friendly Italian staff, pop into Fenice and soak up the ambience, nibble on freshly baked focaccia, enjoy an aperitif…enjoy a slice of Italy in the heart of Oneroa by the sea. (122 Oceanview Road, Oneroa).
- Frenchot– a charming French cafe and bistro offering pastries, cakes and delicious savoury crepes, as well as moderately-priced meals with French influence. (8 Miami Ave, Surfdale, Waiheke Island)
- Stefano’s– authentic Italian styled thin-based pizza’s and pasta. (18 Hamilton Rd, Surfdale). http://stef.co.nz/
- The Shed– yes, it’s a shed, made of plywood with plastic-sheet windows, and you look onto the storage sheds and tanks of the vineyard: rustic charm, and great food. The menu features dishes offering a perfect balance of flavour and texture. The wine is good, and well matched to the food. (79 Onetangi Rd, Onetangi). www.temotu.co.nz/the-shed/
- The Courtyard– the Courtyard is the sort of place you can happily stop in, no matter the time of day. The staff are friendly, the atmosphere is relaxed, yet the food is refined. It’s the perfect balance and a much-appreciated addition to the Waiheke culinary set. (149 Ocean View Road, Waiheke Island). https://www.thecourtyardwaiheke.co.nz/
- The oyster inn– a really good bistro in the Oneroa town centre. (124 Ocean View Rd, Oneroa). www.theoysterinn.co.nz/kitchen/index.php
- Three Seven Two– Boasting a superb sea view and unparalleled proximity to the beach, the newly renovated restaurant is taking casual dining up a notch while remaining thoroughly unpretentious. (21 The Strand, Onetangi). https://www.threeseventwo.co.nz/
- Too Fat Buns– Heaving burgers that don’t hold back on the good stuff, Too Fat Buns is the kind of place you stop at when you want something fast, filling and downright delicious. Handily positioned a few minutes walk from Oneroa beach, we suggest stopping in then whistling down oceanside to enjoy it… if you can make it that far without digging in that is. (Unit 4, 118 Oceanview Road, Oneroa).
- Wai Kitchen– a solid restaurant housed in a stunning location. The service is also warm and professional. (1/149 Ocean view rd, Oneroa).
- Be My Guest– has a hand picked portfolio of luxury self-contained holiday homes in some of Waiheke’s most sensational locations. Each property has been chosen for its distinctive appeal and is individually owned and furnished, ensuring Be My Guest offers a unique range of quality accommodation to meet your holiday needs. The area’s I would stay include; Oneroa, Onetangi and Palm beach (Palm beach are for those who prefer a more secluded setting). www.bemyguestwaiheke.com/
- Delamore Lodge– this five star lodge is nestled on a hillside, one hundred metres above the sheltered waters of Owhanake Bay on the north-western tip of Waiheke Island. The lodge has four luxury guest suites – each suite provides guests with total privacy, the finest facilities and views of the Hauraki Gulf. All north-facing, the suites have been specially designed to maximize your enjoyment of the view. Whether you are relaxing in a plump armchair or on the super-king-size bed, soaking in the bath, or lazing in the sun on your private patio, the sea is always directly before you. www.delamorelodge.com/
- Hei Matau– my wife and I were fortunate enough to have stayed at this spectacular lodge. This is a comment I posted about it- “Hei Matau Lodge is the ultimate romantic beautiful lodge. Our three night stay left us speechless. From the moment we drove through the front gate, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.The grounds are lush, well manicured and have the feel of a secluded yet charming and country setting looking out over the beautiful Cable Bay. We felt like royalty as the owners were there to greet us and offer a glass of crisp cold wine while viewing the grounds. Our suite was large yet cozy and beautifully appointed. Every detail was taken into account. We were served canapes with accompanying wines both inside and outside the lodge each evening by the wonderful hosts, Peter and Fiona. The food and the inclusive breakfasts were quite superb. We even asked Fiona for her closely guarded recipes to take home. We will definitely be back!! Best wishes Hei Matau lodge…you have our accolades!” www.heimatau.co.nz/
- The Boatshed– a five star boutique hotel sitting above the sun-drenched bay and white sandy beaches of Oneroa on Waiheke Island. The nautically inspired hotel offers relaxed island setting only ten minutes walk from the beach and five minutes from local markets. The contemporary suites have understated style and are luxuriously appointed with fine linen, day beds, cushions and throws to ensure utmost comfort. Each suite offers panoramic views of the bay and the gulf from a private deck. The Boatsheds are reminiscent of seaside cottages and feature king size beds. www.boatshed.co.nz/
- The Oyster Inn– three minimalist rooms with a vibe that’s warmly rustic and slightly retro. www.theoysterinn.co.nz/
- Beaches – Oneroa (facing sunny north with clear water and white sand, Oneroa beach offers great swimming at all tides), little Oneroa (a picturesque sheltered bay ideal for family swimming- make sure you try the mobile pizza store adjacent to the beach- Dragonfired), Palm Beach (facing sunny north with clear water and white sand, Palm Beach offers great swimming at all tides and is a must to visit), Onetangi (at two kilometers long, Onetangi is a fabulous walking beach as well as offering great swimming at all tides and another must to visit), Man O’ War bay (adjacent to the Man O war tasting room).
- Car and scooter hire– www.waihekerentals.co.nz/
- Connells Bay Sculpture Park– offers visitors the opportunity to view large outdoor contemporary sculpture by some of New Zealand’s best known sculptors. The 60-acre coastal property has been heralded by Lonely Planet as “one of the greatest properties we’ve ever seen”. Connells Bay Sculpture Park is open for guided walks on a prior appointment basis between October and April each year. Bookings are essential! http://www.connellsbay.co.nz/the-sculpture-park
- Double Shot– a coffee bar in the heart of Oneroa and for me, serving the best coffee on the island. (Oceanview Rd, Oneroa).
- Ecozip– Waiheke’s newest attraction offering the biggest adrenalin buzz on the island. Complimentary pickup from Oneroa village. (150 Trig Hill Rd, Onetangi). www.ecozipadventures.co.nz/
- Island coffee– located down a driveway behind the surf shop on Belgium St in Ostend, Island coffee has fast become a favourite amongst the locals. It’s open only until midday, so grab a chair at the vintage table while listening to Grace Jones on the stereo. (Belguim st, Ostend)
- Island Gelato– perched in the heart of Oneroa and housed within a repurposed shipping container, the scent of salted caramel could quite likely help lure you into Waiheke’s recently opened Island Gelato. Here you’ll find an unlikely triad for the taste buds; homemade gelato, coffee and best ugly bagels await. From strawberry daiquiri, dulce de leche to amaretto and berry compote; punters are left salivating and spoilt for choice, transfixed long after they’ve got their scoop. (Ocean View Road, Oneroa). Open daily 10am-9pm.
- Kayak Waiheke– rent a kayak or take a tour with a professional guide to see some of Waiheke’s most remote locations and special hideaways. www.kayakwaiheke.co.nz/
- Ostend Market– if you like markets head to Ostend – from 7.30am every Saturday morning you can grab a coffee chat and shop with the locals for arts and crafts, fresh produce, baking and perserves, jewellery and toffee apples. http://www.waihekeostendmarket.co.nz/Resources/Default.htm
- Te Matuku Bay oysters– the company has a shop on Tahi Rd, in the middle of the industrial district, and also sells mussels and fresh fish. It’s a godsend on an island that doesn’t have a fish shop. (13 Tahi Rd, Ostend). www.tematukubayoysters.co.nz/
- The annex– While you’re surely aware of the innumerable wineries, the finest food, and wine on the island, what you might not be aware of is this bona fide slice of Waihetian heaven. The Ostend tea and cakery will charm the pants off any townie and is arguably the island’s best-kept secret to date. (10 Putiki Rd, Ostend).
- Rangihoua Estate– Waiheke’s main olive oil producer. Visit the headquaters to taste the four different oil blends. Make sure you try the wonderful Italian Frantoio oil (which was recently voted in the top 20 olive oils in the world by the Italian Flos Olei guide). (1 Gordons Rd, Rocky Bay). www.rangihoua.co.nz/
- Walks– with 83 miles of sparkling coastline, Waiheke Island’s coastal walking trails are especially splendid as they wend around empty coves and get you within feet of some phenomenal private homes. Visit www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/en/parksfacilities/walkingtracks/pages/waihekewalkseries.aspx.
- Wild on Waiheke– home to topknot hill vineyard, as well as archery, clay bird shooting and the Waiheke island brewery. There, you can sit in the sunny garden and sample tasting flights of the beers, including Onetangi dark ale and Matiatia malt, as well as simple pub-style meals. There is a kids’ playground, giant chess board and petanque pitch, while the cafe serves platters, gourmet burgers and pizzas. (82 Onetangi Rd, Onetangi). Cellar door open 7 days, 11-4.
- EVENTS– Headland Sculpture on the Gulf- a biennial outdoor sculpture exhibition set along a 1.5km coastal walkway. (25 January- 17 February 2019) http://sculptureonthegulf.co.nz/