Looking for some outdoor adventure, Lisa Beattie and her family head to New Zealand’s Waiheke Island to enjoy fresh air, clean beaches, rolling hills – and the odd drop of wine
Waiheke island, a short 40-minute ferry hop from Auckland’s ferry port, was nothing short of my ideal location. The food, beaches, hiking, wineries and the perfectly clear, fresh air – what’s not to love?
The New Zealand island boasts 92 square kilometres of pristine beaches, stunning coastal headlands, vineyards, olive groves and seaside villages and has been rated as one of the top island escapes in the world.
Compared by some to Queensland’s Byron Bay, Waiheke is home to some of the region’s most talented artisans, producers and foodies, so there truly is something for everyone. Organic comes as standard and the quality of life is enviable.
The adventure itself begins on the ferry ride out. Leaving approximately every 30 minutes, the journey provides endless views of the Auckland city coastline, outlying islands and of course dormant volcanoes. By the time you arrive at the ferry pier in Oneroa, you’ll be fully engaged in the Maori spirit of ‘māhorahora’, sipping your first hand-crafted flat white or beer, and ready to soak up all that the island has to offer.
Oneroa is the island’s ‘capital village’, its main street is decorated with local retailers and restaurants, with hardly a mainstream brand name to be seen – perfect escapism! Oneroa is home to some of the island’s most renowned eateries, such as The Oyster Inn, where you can easily tell from the taste that the seafood is fresh that day, if not hour. It goes without saying that their oysters are a must! Snappy lunchtime eats can be had at the funky little burger joint, Two Fat Buns, where the kids will be kept perfectly occupied by their tasty burgers and old fashioned milk shakes. Oh and Mums, whilst you are waiting for your order, you should nip next door to check out The Oyster Inn’s clothing store – lots of quirky little finds in there.
Choosing to stay out of the thick of it, our Airbnb rental, Bella Vista Escape, was set within wooded hills above Rocky Bay, along a dusty, charming road, approximately 15 minutes’ drive from Oneroa. Boasting amazing views over the sweeping bay, many a glass of wine was enjoyed whilst taking in the island’s national parks and some untouched beaches and nature reserves. I even got my yoga mat out and enjoyed some me time, taking advantage of the peaceful surrounds. With two young boys to be kept entertained, the house was in a great location, merely a stone’s throw from the family-friendly hiking path down to Rocky Bay, or a short jaunt down a windy road to Orapiu Bay, where there were plenty of rocks for climbing and the boys were happy to mess about on the shore – with not a soul in sight!
The local supermarket, butchers, and seafood market were an easy 10-minute drive away, making it easy to stock up on brekkie, snacks and BBQ bits for when you fancied a night-in, chilling out on the house’s main deck. We also visited the local farmers’ market, held every Saturday morning in Ostend, buying locally made tamarind chutney and cheese, which were all devoured within the day.
Luckily for us, the house came with a car, so we were able to investigate all of the main beaches and some of the more unknown ones. A particular highlight for us was Onetangi beach, where if you hit it at the right time when the tide is far far out, you are presented with over a kilometre of powdery white sand, and easy access to the curious little rock pool trail at the far-easterly edge, which takes you round to the adjacent tiny little cove. But if beach combing is more your thing, then there’s a plethora of treasure to be found in perfectly formed shells, jointed clams and oyster shells, ideal for sand castle adornments.
With waves a-plenty, a dip in the ocean becomes a sure daily habit, after all, it’s good to live like a local. Albeit slightly nippy, the kids were happy jumping around in the fairly shallow waters, whilst the adults practiced their wave dodging a bit further out.
Most of the island beaches are accompanied by car parks, spotless public conveniences and great shaded playgrounds for when you need to escape the super-strong sunlight – it’s worth noting that New Zealand is generally ozone layer free, meaning that SPF50 should be your standard protection sun care, with perhaps total sunblock for the littlies.
But if you are looking to ramp up your activity a bit, then get your adrenaline hit from one of the island’s pulse heightening zip-line experiences or hit the coastal hiking route covering over 100km in scenic trails. The island’s golf and country club welcomes visitors, but be sure to book in advance of your trip.
Waiheke is big on recycling and many examples of upcycling and reuse are seen on the island – particularly in the form of pop-up eateries. Dragonfired, situated at Little Oneroa and Onetangi beaches do some particularly fabulous pizzas and flatbread, cooked in their stone fired pizza in the back of their upcycled shipping container, great for a relaxed beach sunset family dinner. Island Gelato’s container serves up quirky concoctions such as Lemoncurd and Sour Cream, and Thai Basil Mandarin for a cheeky afternoon treat. Their brekkie bagels and coffee are also pretty good.
Of course, you can’t travel all that way without visiting some of the island’s outlying beauty spots, giving the kids the chance to snooze on the car journey. With the maximum travel time to anywhere being 40 minutes we checked out numerous little hamlets and beaches, the hypnotic scenery taking us back to our Scottish homeland through the vast rolling hills and forests. Many photos were snapped of us standing atop the island’s well-positioned scenic benches, yelling out (to the sheep!) and taking advantage of what seemed like endless countryside.
But of course, the good thing about Waiheke is that all roads lead to a winery, and a particular stand-out for us was Man O’War winery, situated on the same-named bay which was notably Captain Cook’s first historic landing point on New Zealand. The artisanal wine producer also sold their most amazing honey and olive oil from their colonial tasting room. Aptly placed garden picnic tables give you the chance to enjoy the wares and lose yourself with the magical views. The kids were also able to get involved with their own sampling in the form of a honey sandwich in the cute snack bag.
Grassy lawns, games and special menus come as standard at the majority of wineries on the island, with kids more than welcome at both lunch and dinner sittings and also at the Cellar Doors, if you are just popping in for a quick taste. We had outstanding dinners at Bach (pronounced Batch) and also at Tantalus Estate, where you can wander around some of the vines or chill out on an oversized bean bag in the garden, enjoying a glass from their Cellar Door whilst the sun goes down.
A fantastic experience was also had at Mudbrick Winery, a popular setting for many a beautiful wedding. We went along late in the afternoon, and spent time chatting to the staff in Cellar Door, before heading to one of their restaurants later for dinner. Their Chef’s tasting and wine pairing menu, featuring their local speciality, abalone, was exquisite as was the service and their acceptance of visiting children lounging on the sofas in the reception area. A parent’s dream. Thankfully other diners weren’t perturbed by this at all.
The island itself has a very efficient bus service, reaching most parts of the island, or if you fancy a bit of activity there are a couple of bike rental companies – one of which specialises in e-bikes.
The week flew by too fast and before we knew it, we were heading back to Auckland on the Fuller’s ferry – but don’t worry Waiheke, we’ll be back again before long …