There must be something about Waiheke. The sea-ringed speck of land – a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland – keeps bubbling up in the travel press as one of the world’s best islands. Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast Travel, and Lonely Planet universally award Waiheke accolades. So what is it about Waiheke?
Let’s start with the aesthetics. Geographically, Waiheke looks like the love child of Ireland and Jamaica. The island’s zig-zag perimeter produces a profusion rocky cliffs and crescent sand beaches which twist and turn and look back upon themselves with dramatic effect. Inland, the terrain is hilly and wildly verdant, nurtured by Waiheke’s mellow subtropical climate.
Culturally, Waiheke has a strong bohemian bent, having long been a magnet for creative types. Despite the island’s diminutive size – a mere 35 square miles – Waiheke is home to some thirty-six galleries and two sculpture parks.
While Waiheke’s arty, non-conformist character remains stubbornly intact, more recently, the island’s natural beauty and laid back vibe has lured an influx of jetsetting celebrities, including Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift. Likewise, Waiheke has seduced fat-walleted investors eager to own a piece of this Kiwi paradise.
Fortuitously, many of Waiheke’s immigrants brought along some very fine grapevines, which have flourished in the island’s clay-like soil and temperate climate. Today, Waiheke hosts over forty vineyards. The island is especially known for the production of excellent Syrah, Merlot and Bordeaux-style blends.
As often is the case, where great wine flows, inspired food follows. Accordingly, a vibrant locavore food movement has taken root in Waiheke, where the distance from farm to table is often virtually indiscernible. In fact, many of the most favored dining destinations in ‘Auckland’ are actually located on nearby Waiheke.
So what is it about Waiheke? Breathtaking scenic beauty, quirky, creative inhabitants, prolific vineyards, and a dynamic dining scene…. indeed, there is something about Waiheke.
Waiheke Island Guide:
Where to Stay:
The Boatshed is just as unique and appealing as Waiheke itself. With a nautical theme and sea views straight out of a Coastal Living photo shoot, The Boatshed nails the beachy chic ethos unique to Waiheke. No matter where you roam in New Zealand, when you mention that you are visiting Waiheke and staying at The Boatshed, the response will be an appreciative ‘sigh’.
The Boatshed’s trump card is a half-acre, terraced organic garden, lovingly tended by two staff gardeners. The garden is a feast for the senses and a wellspring of inspiration for the power breakfasts and glorious four-course, guests-only dinners at The Boatshed.
Boatshed owner, Jonathan Scott, is no island interloper. The Scott family has owned the property since the 1970’s. The original summer cottage, or bach, still stands on the site. Jonathan and his energetic staff are well positioned with insider tips to assure that guests of The Boatshed experience the real Waiheke, including the use of ‘Mini Moke’ vehicles to putter about in true island style.
Where to Eat:
The natural abundance of Waiheke’s sea and soil is the catalyst behind the island’s culinary emergence. The island is awash with distinctive, destination eateries within winery compounds, the most exceptional being the restaurants at the Mudbrick, Te Whau, and Miro vineyards.
In Oneroa, a buzzy crowd flocks to the Hamptons-esque Oyster Inn. The Oyster Inn is an excellent option for sampling eponymous bivalves and other coastal classics, artfully paired with the island’s best wines.
Native islanders favor Dragonfired, a food cart perennially positioned on beautiful Little Oneroa Beach, for organic pizzas, calzones, pocket breads and polenta. Another popular local haunt is Island Gelato Company, a purveyor of artisan gelato, coffee and bagels housed in a converted shipping container in central Oneroa.
What to Do:
Hunt and gather at the Ostend Market, held every Saturday. The Ostend Market is equal parts culture and commerce: a neighborhood gathering where the entire spectrum of the funkiness and fertility of Waiheke is on full display.
Get inspired at the Waiheke Community Art Gallery. Exhibitions feature the work of local artists including ceramics, jewelry, sculpture, photography and paintings. Pick up a copy of the Waiheke Art Map and plot your own creative excursion.
Take a hike on the Te Ara Hura walking track network. The system of interconnected trails spans all exertion levels and extends 100 kilometers along the seashore and through the native bush.
Make time for wine. Visit as many wineries as your taster can tolerate, but don’t miss the remote Te Whau Vineyards for stunning views over the sea to the Auckland skyline. Another prime pick is the Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant, where a lavender-laced garden welcomes visitors. Other top stops on the vineyard tour include Cable Bay Vineyards for alfresco nibbles and scenic sips on the Verandah, and rustic, ivy-covered Stonyridge Vineyard for award-winning Cabernet Blends.
Go off the grid on a road tour of the east side of Waiheke Island. The jaw-dropping scenery of the ‘other’ side of the island is payoff enough. The bonus is a stop at the picturesque, seaside Man O’ War Vineyards for complimentary tasting of highly acclaimed Man O’ War Sauvignon Blanc and red blends. An inspiring interlude awaits a little further down the ‘road less traveled’ at Connells Bay. Take a guided walking tour of the striking Connells Bay Sculpture Park, where art and nature collide with dramatic effect.