If you love wine, go to Waiheke. At least, that’s what everyone told me when I moved to Auckland.
Waiheke is a small island off the coast of Auckland. It’s easily accessible by a 30 minute ferry that runs regularly throughout the week. The island is known for its wineries and restaurants.
Since I’m not a big drinker, I was more excited about the food. But I have to say, the wine was pretty excellent on a boiling day.
But it’s not just all about food and drink. Waiheke has something for everyone! The island boasts hiking trails, sand and rock beaches, eclectic shopping, stunning views, water sports, bicycling, olive oil and activities like ziplining.
I don’t think it’s possible to be bored when you visit Waiheke!
Waiheke is the perfect day trip from Auckland. Make the most of your experience by hitting the must dos on the island.
Like I said, Waiheke = wine. Vineyards are spread out across every corner of the island. There are so many, companies run full day wine tours so you can visit them all!
Since I’m not a big drinker, I stuck to one vineyard – Mudbrick. I intended to go to Cable Bay (since it was closer), but it was closed for a private function so I went to the next nearest spot.
Most vineyards, like Mudbrick and Cable Bay, have a basic tasting option for $10. For that price, you get 3-4 samples of wine. They include a mix of red and white (at Mudbrick it also included bubbles!).
Wineries open around 11am, so plan your trip to the island accordingly!
Stroll around the vineyard with glass in hand, lounge on the sunny patios or cool down in the cellars. Take in the gorgeous views of rolling green hills or the strikingly blue sea.
Sampling New Zealand wine in Waiheke should definitely be on your to do list.
The most popular vineyards are:
- Cable Bay
- Kennedy Point Vineyard (Organic)
- Wild Estate Vineyard (Also known for their beer)
- Man O War Vineyard
Everywhere in New Zealand seems to have incredible beaches.
In Waiheke, you can find both sand beaches and rocky beaches. The sandy beaches are on the western side of the island (closer to the ferry terminal). The rocky beaches are on the eastern side.
You can choose which you prefer and spend your day lounging in the sun.
I spent my afternoon on Oneroa beach, since it is one of the most central spots. From there, I could go to a winery, eat great food, hike and spend some time writing in the shade.
Although it is one of the most popular beaches, on a busy Saturday there was plenty of space to spread out.
Head to one of these great beaches to soak up some sun on Waiheke:
- Oneroa Beach
- Little Oneroa Beach
- Opiu (Rocky beach)
- Palm Beach
- Sandy Bay
- Man O War Bay (Rocky beach)
- Enclosure Bay (A lagoon beach)
What goes better with good wine than good food? I assume that was the thought behind all the amazing restaurants on Waiheke.
From fish and chips to fine dining, you can find something to fill your belly. Vineyards and olive oil estates boast some of the best dining on the island. Put on a nice outfit to enjoy a fresh meal, usually with a view of the water.
If you’re not looking for a fancy meal, pick up some ice cream or a burger and eat on the beach. Food just tastes better around the ocean air (or maybe it’s just saltier).
Want to try it all? Book a food tour that will take you around the island for the day. You can even pair a food and wine tour to have an epically decadent experience.
There are so many places to eat around Waiheke. Some of the most well-known spots are:
- Te Motu’s “The Shed” (Known for their sunset view and fresh produce)
- Casita Miro (Spanish tapas)
- The Oyster Inn (Enjoy their fresh fish on their upper patio)
- Island gelato (Try their bagels!)
- Two Fat Buns (Delicious burgers)
- The Local (Fish and chips)
- Charlie Farley’s (Diverse menu options)
The rolling hills of Waiheke make for excellent hiking. There are a number of walks around the island that vary from 30 mins to 5 hours long.
Plan ahead for your hikes, as Waiheke can be very hot and has few grocery stores. Pack lots of water and snacks to keep you going during your adventure.
Check out some of these great trails on the island:
- Onetangi Reserve
- Oneroa beach walk
- Church Bay Circuit
- Whakanewha Regional Park
- Matiatia to Owhanake loop
- Hekerua Bay to Palm Beach
- Te Ara Hura network of walking tracks (Coastal and bush options)
- Otakawhe bay to Pearl Bay
Waiheke is a great spot for bird watchers. Since I know nothing about birds, I won’t even pretend to list all of the cool species I saw. But every time I looked around there seemed to be birds chirping in the trees or flying by. Go on a hike to find more species.
If you make your way up to Kennedy Point on the eastern side of the island, you might even be able to spot some blue penguins!
Sunsets on Waiheke are said to be some of the best in New Zealand. Basically every guide to Waiheke tells you that you cannot miss the sunset!
Well, I did.
By the end of the day, I was too tired to hunt down a winery at 8pm or sit on the windy beach. I was ready to go home, so I headed to the ferry … and got lost. I ended up seeing the sunset from the ferry (albeit, blurred by the weird waterproof sheet they had over the sides of the boat).
I’m sure the orange-pink hues are as spectacular as people say from vineyards like Cable Bay or the Oneroa Beach walk. Basically, just have a view of the northwest and you’re guaranteed a lovely sight.
If, like me, you get tired out before 8pm, try visiting the island in the winter when the sun sets earlier.
A great way to ensure you’ll see the sunset, even if you go to bed a 9pm like me, is to stay overnight on the island.
If you go camping, make sure to check out the stars at night. Waiheke is further from the light pollution of Auckland, which gives it a much better view of the night sky.
Give me olive oil over wine any day!
Although nowhere near as good as the olive oil I had when living in a small, hillside town in Italy, Waiheke has some damn good olive oil!
I visited Rangihoua Estate to sample some of their product, and I was not disappointed. Although I chose to skip the $7 NZD tour of the estate, I opted in wholeheartedly to the free olive oil tasting. That’s right: I said free!
My guide explained the differences between three types of olive oils that I got to taste, allowing me to examine their flavour profiles in a way I didn’t think was possible with olive oil. I honestly think the differences between the olive oils were more stark than the differences between the wines!
The tasting included a sample of the herb sauce that all of my coworkers demanded I try. It’s like a less finely ground pesto, with larger chunks of herbs. I nearly bought four jars.
But the real showstopper of the day was the tamarind chutney. I’m still not really sure what tamarind is, but I ate about half that sample bowl by myself. It was like a sweet jam with a slightly curried aftertaste. I’m still searching for a jar in the city, and am legitimately considering returning just to get a few jars.
If you have the time, consider taking the short tour through the orchard to see the rows of trees and learn more about olive oil production.
There are a few places to taste olive oil on the island, beyond with your dinner at a nice restaurant:
- Rangihoua Estate
- Azzerro Groves
- Matiatia Grove
I didn’t actually visit any galleries on Waiheke – mostly because I’d planned so much else to do. But Waiheke is supposed to have some beautiful exhibits done by local artists. They cover all mediums: from sculpture to painting to ceramics.
Had I known about it earlier, I might have done the Oneroa Art Trail. The trail takes you from the ferry terminal to Oneroa beach, passing open air sculptures, the Community Art Gallery, art shops, the Musical Museum, the theatre and the Tivoli Gallery.
For an artistic day on Waiheke check out:
- Alison Park (Sculptures)
- Christine…The Artist Goldsmith
- Community Art Gallery
- Kauri Art Studio (Carvings)
- Space Gallery
If you’re visiting in the summer, be sure to look out for the Sculpture on the Gulf event: a sculpture walk done outdoors on the island. The event runs biennially with New Zealand artists’ work. Tickets in 2019 are only $10 NZD.
As a budget traveller, I try to avoid shopping trips.
I did give in on Waiheke and wandered through some stores. I couldn’t help myself. It was all so pretty!
The island has a good mix of simple beach-y wear and nicer clothing. The jewellery is absolutely beautiful. I’m so glad I don’t wear jewellery or I might have bought it all.
Most of the shops are in Oneroa. Check out Veranda, The Oyster Inn Shop, We’ar, Himilayan Trading Post and Timmy Smith for a variety of goods.
If you head to Ostend, try out True Blue. In Surfdale, head to Eclectic Boutique for some interesting finds.
Beyond hiking, what is there to do on the island that’s “active”? So much!
Waiheke boasts an impressive amount of adventure sports for visitors. Take on the harbour with a rented jet ski, paddle board or kayak. Go beneath the water with some snorkels.
Not looking to get wet? Try out paintball, clay pigeon shooting, zip lining or archery.
There is honestly no way to get bored on this island!
There are five easy options for getting around the island: drive, ride a scooter, bike, take the public bus or take the hop-on hop-off bus.
Driving is only necessary if you’re planning to go to the eastern side of Waiheke. The bus will take quite a while and can be difficult for your return trip. Even so, you can easily take an electric scooter or bike.
Electric scooters (I’m talking the Vespa kind, not the razor scooter things that have taken over Auckland) and electric bikes have become a big thing on the island. They’re easy to rent, cheaper than a car and give you more freedom with parking. I’m planning to return to Waiheke closer to winter and want to rent a scooter to head to the eastern side of the island.
You can ride a regular bike around the island, but like Auckland, it is hilly. Be prepared for long stretches of uncovered road with a lot of sun, steep hills and sharing the road with cars and buses. Personally, I’m not a strong enough rider to consider this, but if you are go for it!
The public bus is a great option for people who don’t have a strict schedule and want to make their own route. Sometimes the buses have weird gaps in their schedule, so you may end up waiting at a stop for 30 minutes. If you have limited mobility, don’t take public transit. It doesn’t go directly to all of the attractions so you’ll end up needing to walk a bit to see the main sights. The walks are never more than 20 minutes (that was to a winery). If you’re going to take the bus, purchase the full day pass for $12 when you buy your ferry ticket for unlimited rides.
If you’re in a rush and just want to hit the touristy spots, take the hop-on-hop-off bus. The cost is more, but the bus includes an audio guide to the island. If you buy the ticket with your ferry ticket, you’ll get a discounted fare.
If you don’t feel like dealing with planning a day trip to Waiheke, let tour companies do it for you!
If you’re looking for an unstructured tour, the Fullers Waiheke Island Explorer Hop-On Hop-Off Bus is the way to go. The bus goes around the island, stopping at all of the major sites. Their website even suggests what stops to get off at to make your day more about food or wine. Buy your ticket with your ferry ticket and it only costs $25 NZD per person.
Ananda offers tours that focus on food, wine or adventure. You’ll go around the island on a shuttle bus and get a unique view of the island. Because the groups are smaller, prices are higher with their wine tour starting at $125 NZD per person.
Enjoi NZ, Waivino Wine Tours and WaiTiki Tours run excellent half-day wine tours. They will take you to a number of wineries on a shuttle bus. You will have the chance to sample and learn more about New Zealand wine.
Looking for something different? Try the art walking tour run by Walking By Nature or a private walking and wine tour with a Maori guide by Hike Bike Ako Waiheke Island.
Where to Stay
Waiheke retains its island charm with no big businesses like fast food chains or global hotels. For visitors, that leaves a few options for accomodation: a lodge, renting a house or camping.
Nikki Marshall of The Guardian suggests guests try out Delamore Lodge, Starfish on the Bay or Marino Ridge for their Waiheke stay. She and her sister stayed at Marino Ridge, a cute B&B that they absolutely loved. This is a pricey place to stay, with rates running from $790/night.
To find a personal house to rent, check out Airbnb or Be My Guest (a local property management group). There are a ton of options, from coastal cottages to expansive farms. If you are looking for an option in a mid-range budget, this is where you’ll find them.
If you want to camp on the island, look up one of the island’s many campgrounds. The most popular is at the Poukaraka Flats in Whakanewha Regional Park. Camping is a great budget option with rates running at $15/night per person.
Getting to Waiheke
Waiheke is an island most easily accessed by a ferry from Auckland. Fullers runs ferries daily for $40 NZD return. The ferries run every half hour, but end by 11:45 pm Monday to Saturday, or 10:15 pm Sunday and public holidays.
The ride takes about 40 minutes, although we seemed to get there in 30 when I went.
The boat to Waiheke is big. It has two stories, two cafes and tons of seating. Although the line ups on the wharf can be daunting, you’ll usually get onto your ferry.
I was unfortunate enough to go around 11 am on a Saturday when every bridal party in New Zealand seemed to be going to the island. I didn’t make it onto the first ferry, but was easily able to get onto the second one.
Lesson learned: go before the vineyard rush!
What to Wear on Waiheke
As I stood in line to board the ferry, I realized I was VERY underdressed. Everyone around me had on pretty sundresses, designer T-shirts or fancy hiking gear. I seemed to drift somewhere in the middle with my worn-in running shorts, blue tank top and dusty New Zealand hat.
Since I was planning to try out a bit of everything the island had to offer, I didn’t really fit into the categories around me: hen do, vineyard attendants, beach goers and hikers.
If you care more than I do about showing up to a fancy vineyard in sweaty running gear, bring a change of clothes.
That’s a lot of information for a little island, but I had to include it all to capture the magic that is Waiheke. It truly fits the cliché that “it has something for everyone.”
Waiheke easily calls you back with the promise of another unique and delightful visit.
I found so much to love on the island: from delicious olive oil to gorgeous views to kind strangers who wanted to chat. My only issue was getting tired and lost – two things that often happen to me on day trips.
If I’d had the energy (and hadn’t been positively baking in the heat), I would have tried to make it to the far side of the island to see the historic remnants of a European settlement or walk on the rocky coast. But I can always do that on my next visit!
I’ll definitely be going back while I’m in New Zealand. Although next time I may try to dress up (…maybe).
Would you be more excited for food or wine on Waiheke? Or would you skip them altogether and go for the adventure? Let me know in the comments below.