Welcome to a world of wine, set apart from the mainland on a small island in the Hauraki Gulf, off shore from New Zealand’s biggest city – Auckland. Home to over 30 wineries, Waiheke is easily accessible. Many people commute to Auckland city and live on the island – with people also doing the same in the opposite direction. Onboard a ferry is the most common way to get across the water between Waiheke and Auckland – with passenger and vehicle ferries operating frequent services.
If you are on foot, the ferries will typically leave from the downtown ferry wharf, and the journey is a beautiful short cruise – taking around 40 minutes. Check out www.fullers.co.nz for the timetable, but you’ll find sailings from Auckland start as early as 5.30am, then run once an hour throughout the day. A few of the sailings are scheduled to call in at Devonport on the way, so you can catch the boat from there. The ferry back to the city generally runs into the evening – enabling you to have dinner at one of Waiheke’s excellent restaurants. The standard return fare for one passenger is between $35 and $42 depending on time of service.
A ferry ticket can be bought from Fullers that combines the cruise with the Hop-On Hop-Off Explorer Bus. This service typically meets every Fullers ferry from Auckland (on Thursday to Sundays) and travels around the island stopping at 16 bus stops. If you choose to combine the ferry and bus, then the ticket is currently $68 for the day. You could also opt to take a bicycle to the island – or hire one once on Waiheke. I’m told that the main destinations on the island are possible to visit on a bike (by people far fitter than myself!) and you could consider an electric bike as an option.
Car hire is also available – I’d be thinking of booking in advance for this; and again, a special ticket fare is available that combines a passenger ferry ticket and car hire for the day.
If travelling over to the island for more than a day trip sounds appealing, then you could think about driving your own car and using the vehicle ferry. The main route from Auckland sees you departing from Half Moon Bay, in the eastern suburbs, but Sealink also operate a few sailings to and from Wynyard, downtown Auckland. If you’re thinking of staying, there aren’t that many commercial accommodation offerings on Waiheke. It’s not dotted with hotels and motels – or even backpackers, but AirBnB and holiday homes for rent make up the difference and there’s something for most budgets. I would recommend anyone visiting to go under your own steam – this article is intended as a helpful guide – but there are, of course (as in any wine region) organised tours that can be booked in advance and will take you on a sanitised trip around a handful of wineries.
Starting at the western end of the island… the main town is Oneroa, with lots of options for food, shops and places to take a break. The ferry arrives on the outskirts of Oneroa – about a 2km walk up the hill into the town. You could also walk to the first wineries directly from the ferry – Cable Bay is just over a kilometre walk. Follow signs to Te Atawhai Whenua Reserve and you’ll walk through forest and a bird reserve before reaching the three wineries in Church Bay. The first is Cable Bay, with the signs to Mudbrick and Jurassic Ridge just a few minutes further along Church Bay Road.
Cable Bay Vineyards is at 12 Nick Johnstone Drive, and is one of the bigger operations on the island. The Cellar Door is open daily from 11am to 5pm, with food available Wednesday to Sunday from 11am until late. The vineyard was first planted in 1998, with the winery, cellar door and restaurant opening in 2007 – expanding to include the Verandah restaurant in 2013. The property also has an olive grove and their own honey produced from beehives on site. As well as two dining options, the wine tasting options ($12 per person) can include a Tour twice daily, if pre-booked. Cable Bay also own a vineyard in the Awatere Valley, Marlborough.
At the other end of the spectrum in terms of size of operation, is Jurassic Ridge at 144 Church Bay Road. The Cellar Door here is open from Wednesday through to Sunday in summer, and Friday to Sunday in the colder months. Lance Blumhardt is an artisan winegrower, and uses slow, natural winemaking methods with minimal intervention and extended ageing, in the winery and in bottle. Looking at their website, they’ve been given plenty of compliments from visitors, and a rather good 97/100 score for their Syrah (from Fine Wine Delivery Co.).
The other winery in Church Bay is possibly the most photogenic on the island? Mudbrick Winery at 126 Church Bay Road was established in 1992 by Nick and Robyn Jones, when they were just 28 and 27 years old. Bought as a bare land lifestyle block (with wonderful views) it has evolved into one of the most picturesque, and downright gorgeous, properties imaginable. With the enthusiasm and energy of a young(er) couple, they started with a building made from mud bricks, and thought of the project as a long-term venture. 29 years later you, as a customer, can enjoy the fruits of their labours in one of two restaurants, or sit and have a wine tasting on the terrace.
That tasting will cost from $25 to $35 per person based upon your choice of ‘standard’ or ‘premium’ and the tasting room is open 7 days a week, year round from 10am to 6pm. I know people who’s favourite Chardonnay is the Mudbrick ‘Francesca’, and I can definitely say that their ‘Reserve Chardonnay’ is worth a look too. I’ve reviewed a few of their wines – such as the Reserve Syrah…
In Oneroa township you’ll find a plethora of places to have a bite to eat. The Oyster Inn opened in 2012 on the main street, and also has a few rooms as options to stay. Now owned by well-known chef Josh Emett, the balcony is a lovely spot to enjoy some local seafood. Vino Vino Bistro and Bar across the road is operated by ex-Stonyridge chef Connie Aldao, a native of Argentina, and offers her distinctive take on local ingredients. Whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner there’s a few places that offer a spot to linger, and every visitor will have their favourites. There are plenty of smart boutiques for shopping and a store called Waiheke Wine Centre offering a wide range of local wines.
The beaches at this end of the island are delightful – wide bays with plenty of room for everyone. At Little Oneroa there is a legendary food truck – Dragonfired which does pizza, pocket breads, and polenta dishes. There’s also a fish and chip shop – Little Oneroa Takeaways, so it’s a good spot to take in one evening (or lunch) and sit down at the shore with some food in the open air.
Moving on from Oneroa, there are picturesque bays all along the northern coastline to Palm Beach. Enclosure Bay is a photogenic rocky bay with parking right at the beach. Palm Beach has a lovely playground if you have the kids in tow. There’s a nice grassy reserve at the eastern end where a short walk gives you a good view back down the beach, and is a good spot for watching the sun set. Arcadia is the local café bar at Palm Beach, with an outside terrace, and is licensed. There are wider bays on the south, in Huruhi Bay, at Blackpool (sort of a southern suburb of Oneroa) and Surfdale. Just watch out if you are swimming, or lazing on the beach at one the beaches that are actually tidal mudflats – as these are prone to sea-lice. There are a cluster of places to get food in Surfdale – on the main road.
Leaving Surfdale and heading east, the road down to Kennedy Point for the vehicle ferry turns off at this point. Just beyond that is Goldie Estate, at 18 Causeway Road. Originally known as Goldwater Estate, the property is now home to the University of Auckland’s Wine Science Centre with students alongside the commercial operations. As I write, the Cellar Door has been closed, but is due to re-open after a renovation.
Bookings are available online – www.goldieestate.co.nz. A range of options include a hosted tasting and a tour with a winemaker. Their ‘Zell Chardonnay’ had a good reputation, and Goldie continue to make a range of wines in both the Estate and Reserve ranges – including a Chardonnay (as well as Syrah and red blends) – so worth a try!
Heading back down the road towards the ferry, you’ll find Kennedy Point Vineyard at 44 Donald Bruce Road. Their Cellar Door is generally open from Thursday to Monday 11am to 4pm, where tasting amongst the olive grove could include their olive oil, as well as the Kennedy Point honey. There is accommodation on the vineyard – see the website for details – www.kennedypointvineyard.com. I reviewed a couple of their wines – the Reserve Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc – see below
That’s the end of the WineFolio guide to the island … part 1. In part 2 we’ll cover the rest of Waiheke. Any comments, please let me know, below?