When Anna Smith arrives at Waiheke Island it is raining, but the weather doesn’t deter her as she reveals her exclusive Waiheke Island guide.
There’s always been something magical about Waiheke – even in the rain, which is pit-pattering on the ferry windows as we glide into the small port 35 minutes from Auckland. The lush, green island on the Hauraki Gulf is home to many artists as well as farmers, vineyard owners and wealthy reclusive types who helicopter into their holiday retreats. With acres of barely-inhabited land and numerous quiet beaches, you really can get away from it all here – but there’s no shortage of culture, either. It’s the kind of place you dream about retiring to.
What to do on Waiheke Island
The first town to greets you from the ferry is Oneroa, small by most standards but the main centre of Waiheke, with a line of shops, restaurants and bars. Come here if you fancy browsing classy boutiques for hand crafted goods or an upscale souvenir. Oneroa is also home to the Waiheke Community Art Gallery – this being an artists’ colony, there’s plenty of talent on display in the realm of ceramics, glass and sculpture as well as painting – and there’s no shortage of inspiration for more traditional landscape artists.
I’m a big fan of community run cinemas so I love the characterful Waiheke Cinema, which shows new releases in a cosy, characterful environment: think quirky donated sofas and volunteer staff. They also screen locally made short documentaries before the main features, so a visit here gives you a good feel for local life.
If you’re keen to get close to nature, hire a car to drive around the island (some people even hire backpackers to drive them round, we’re told). There are some gorgeous guided walks and outdoor tours as well as horse riding and cycling activities that will take you along the beautiful beaches – see here for a list of tours. Kite surfing, kayaking, stand-up-paddle boarding and all manner of boating options are available.
Where to eat and drink on Waiheke Island
Most of the eateries enjoy stunning views of the sea: The Oyster Inn in Oneroa is a popular choice with both locals and visitors, serving up tremendous steaks as well as their trademark Oysters – they recently won Metro’s Restaurant Of The Year award. Naturally, they have a great selection of wines and the staff are super cheery and helpful.
The Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant enjoys legendary local status, but there are plenty of other vineyard worth visiting: we pop into Passage Rock for a tasting with cheerful host Charity, who plies us with an impressive selection of award-winning wines – make sure you leave some room in your suitcase for a take-home, although you can of course also ship them home. Their Reserve Syrah is the island’s most awarded wine, having bagged over 18 gold medals and six trophies.
Where to stay in Waiheke Island
Alongside its restaurant, The Oyster Inn offers comfortable boutique accommodation in its colonial-style building, with crisp white decor, well stocked bedrooms and roomy bathrooms. Rates start at NZ$195 a night and include ferry transfers and a hearty breakfast with locally sourced produce.
Tell me more about getting to Waiheke Island
Cathay Pacific now offers a choice of three routes between the UK to Hong Kong, and onwards to Auckland: fly from London Heathrow, Manchester Airport or Gatwick Airport. Economy return fares from £729, Premium economy from £2,019, Business from £3,639. Call 0208 834 8888.