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TRAVEL & LEISURE

A Weekender's Guide to Waiheke Island

Where to eat, drink, sleep and play during a long weekend on this island of wine just outside of Auckland city centre.
By Stephen Heard and Marissa Ciampi
April 10, 2018
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A Weekender's Guide to Waiheke Island

Where to eat, drink, sleep and play during a long weekend on this island of wine just outside of Auckland city centre.
By Stephen Heard and Marissa Ciampi
April 10, 2018
  shares

in partnership with

An escape to New Zealand's Waiheke Island feels miles away from the bustle of central Auckland, though it's only a quick ferry ride from downtown. It's an island of varying landscape, with the turquoise-blue waters of the coast giving way to rolling green hills inland. This gives visitors endless options, too — from bushwalks and beaches to art galleries and, most notably, the plentiful wineries on offer. The whole island is easily explored by bus or bike, and trips from the vines of one winery to the next take only a traipse through the vineyard. You could spend a week here and still not hit all of the artisanal producers dotting the island. Join an art walking tour, try your hand at archery or distil your own bespoke gin, just to name a few things waiting for you on this wine island. Here's how to spend your days on Waiheke — what to taste, what to do and where to stay on the island.

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Julian Apse.

DRINK

Thanks to the microclimate on Waiheke, there are close to 30 wineries and cellar doors dotted around the island. Wine excursions are one of the most popular attractions, and cellar doors can be enjoyed both with a guide or by simply following your own nose on public transport. Perched on a hill and a 30-minute walk from the ferry terminal is Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant. With its stunning panoramic views, the spot has always been a popular location for proposals, weddings or special weekend visits via helicopter. Wine tastings are available from the cellar door seven days a week, where you'll be guided through four of the winery's varietals across 30 minutes.

Mudbrick.

Go deeper into the island, all the way to the far side, and you'll reach Man O' War. This picture-perfect winery is an excellent spot to while away an afternoon sampling flagship and single vineyard drops. When you've settled on your varietal of choice, find a spot on the grass and enjoy a casual game of lawn cricket with views across to the Coromandel Peninsula.

If you're after something away from the tourist trail wineries of the island, head to Te Motu. Continue past big brother winery Stonyridge, and you'll be presented with a shed that has been transformed into a five-star restaurant where you can sample five aged red wines in the tasting room — drops that are not typically available by the glass.

Other cellar doors worth checking out while you're roaming the island include Obsidian, Passage Rock, Tantalus Estate, Goldie Estate, Peacock Sky and Cable Bay. And for something entirely different, head to Rangihoua Estate for a lesson in olive oil tasting.

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Matthew Crawford.

EAT

While the Island of Wine is its official moniker, Waiheke has an equal measure of exceptional restaurants. Casita Miro is a glasshouse-like structure located on a rolling, Spanish-influenced vineyard. Here, order one of their Spanish wines alongside the tapas and raciones sharing menu featuring fine Iberian meats and cheeses. You can also top off the meal with a good range of Spanish sherry. The outdoor area keeps the Spanish theme going, featuring an evolving mosaic inspired by Gaudi's infamous Parc Guell.

Poderi Crisci.

Off the beaten track and on to another European country, you'll find award-winning Italian eatery Poderi Crisci. With a setting that welcomes comparisons to the Tuscan countryside, the restaurant-vineyard is owned by Antonio Crisci, the founding father of Auckland's famed metre-long pizzeria Toto's and Parnell institution Non Solo Pizza — a regular contender for the best Italian in Auckland. As well as a rustic a la carte menu, the restaurant is known for its Sunday long lunch. Set aside a good five hours for this one.

The Oyster Inn.

Just up from the ferry and with a large sun-soaked balcony, The Oyster Inn has a roadside allure that draws you upstairs even if you're not in the business of having lunch. A table outside is the quintessential dining position to take in views over Oneroa village and make the most of the seafood-led menu. Not feeling seafood? Down the road, Dragonfired serves up wood-fired street food from its small black trailer. Spending most of its time sitting in the car park by Little Oneroa Beach, the food truck keeps a bustling trade through summer and is widely thought of as the best takeaway spot on the island. The pizzas, calzones and pocket breads are best enjoyed right on the beach and with a bottle of island red, of course.

Other eateries to add to the list include the ever-popular Island Gelato, Ringawera artisan bakery for fresh baked goods and the Te Mataku Bay Shop for freshly shucked local oysters.

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Christian Nicolson: Barebottomland; photographed by Russell Street.

DO

Adventurers, art lovers and foodies can equally feel at home on Waiheke. For a bit of everything, Wild on Waiheke offers an unusual combination of archery and clay bird shooting mixed with a vineyard and craft brewery — plus, a beanbag dotted-lawn, beer garden and regular live music to boot.

On the artsy side of things, the ideal way to see it all is with the Waiheke Island Art Walk. The four-hour walk begins at the Waiheke Community Art Gallery in Oneroa and proceeds through artist collectives, galleries and studios, with the tour including an artisan glassmaker, shoemaker and goldsmith. For lunch, the tour makes a stop at the home and studio of artist Gabriella Lewenz, Church Bay Studio, which boasts stunning views over the bay. Finish off among nature with the walk back along the Atawhai-Whenua Forest and Bird Reserve — just one of several walking tracks on offer throughout the island.

After your epic culture walk, unwind back in town at the Waiheke Community Cinema. The 16-seat cinema consists of comfy couches rather than theatre seats and shows a mix of new and cult classic films. For a boozier way to relax, book into one of The Botanical Distillery's events that allows visitors to create their own botanical gin and handcrafted tonic, which will be distilled for you during the experience.

Flamingo Pier.

If you're looking for an extra reason to visit, there are several events throughout the year worthy of a trip over. In February, nab a doubleheader by checking out Sculpture on the Gulf coastal art exhibition and attending the Flamingo Pier annual music festival — which only takes place in London and on Waiheke each year. Over Easter long weekend, there's the Waiheke Jazz Festival; in November you can participate in the Waiheke Walking Festival; and in December, Sculpt Oneroa kicks off its ten-week art display.

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Fossil Bay Lodge.

STAY

From boutique hotels to cottages, vineyard stays to glamping tents, there is an overwhelming number of accommodation options to choose from on Waiheke — and a lot of them exist at many of the places you'll be venturing to already. If you're after boutique vibes, The Oyster Inn also holds three hotel rooms along with its breezy restaurant. Plus, they offer complimentary pickup from the Matiatia ferry.

For wine lovers, Mudbrick's cottages offer a luxurious stay within their rolling vineyard and cellar door. The charming, two-bedroom cottages include a kitchenette and washer-dryer, plus a private barbecue and even a private spa pool. An easy walk to Oneroa, it's an ideal stay for someone who wants access to both. Getting there may be the best part of all — you can take a helicopter that lands directly on the Mudbrick estate, with three 'heli-partners' to choose from.

More rustic types should opt for Fossil Bay Lodge, which offers simple cottages along with a range of glamping tents for $100–$120 per night. You won't quite be roughing it, however — each tent includes a private ensuite with hot shower, queen-sized beds, wooden floors and even a phone battery pack, as well as share facilities like a fully-equipped kitchen, lounge area and free wifi.

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LET'S DO THIS, HOW DO I GET THERE?

Flights to Auckland from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are super short — around three-and-a-half hours on average — and Air New Zealand flies direct from all three cities and offers accessible fares.

Once you arrive in Auckland, Waiheke Island is only a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown. Fullers ferries provide the most regular option, leaving about every 30 minutes, with a return adult ticket costing $38. Or, if you're looking for something a bit swankier and have the cash to spare, you can hop on an Auckland Seaplane and make the trip by sky instead of water, catching all of that breathtaking coast along the way ($400 return). Head over here to check out all of the options to reach the island.

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Book your flights to Auckland with Air New Zealand and start planning your next long weekend away.

Published on April 10, 2018 by Stephen Heard

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