Set just 17km offshore from downtown Auckland, Waiheke Island was described by Lonely Planet as ‘the playground of the Gods’ and the New York Times deemed it one of the places ‘you absolutely must-see’. Trip Advisor called included it in the list of the world’s best islands (it made 5th place, which isn’t bad when you consider the competition) and recently Conde Nast Traveller Magazine included the island in the 2021 Gold List, describing it as ‘the stuff we daydreamed of in lockdown’.
Once a sleepy outpost of Auckland, today Waiheke is an eclectic mix of artists and free-spirits who mingle with the island’s rich and famous residents. Covering 93m2, the island boasts over 40km of sheltered, golden-sand beaches. While only a 35-minute cruise from Auckland, visitors comment on the sense of island time that sets in quickly after stepping off the ferry. That sense of being a million-miles away from the hustle and bustle of the real world intensifies as you discover that this is a haven of uncrowded beaches, gastronomical treasures and boutique vineyards. Many of New Zealand’s most highly awarded restaurants and vineyards are set on Waiheke, leading one commentator to describe the island as ‘having an embarrassment of riches’. Aside from food and wine, the island has 100-plus kilometres of easy walking tracks plus dozens of art galleries and craft stores that combine to form the Waiheke Arts Trail. It’s a place that easily lends itself to lazy relaxing days, punctuated by the consumption of great food and even greater wine.
New Zealand, we’re told, accounts for just one percent of global wine production. Waiheke, with about 220ha of plantings, accounts for just one percent of New Zealand’s production, yet its vineyards conspire to punch well above their diminutive weight. The island is renown as a region that produces critically-acclaimed artisan wines. Reds are predominant, with Merlot (19%) and Syrah 18%) the most common varietals, though many vineyards have recently begun planting white varieties, like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, with much success.
Waiheke’s vineyards, and the restaurants frequently attached to them, are notoriously informal; there’s no need for pretence, the food and the wine does the talking. We recommend allowing half a day for lunch plus tastings at one or two vineyards. Check out the Waiheke Wine Growers Association for more information on the island’s vineyards.
There are myriad easy ways to navigate the island’s many vineyards, including formal guides tours and an informal hop-on hop-service that allows you to create your own itinerary.
Getting to Waiheke
The island is linked to the outside world primarily by the Fullers 360 passenger ferry, which departs from downtown Auckland as frequently as every 30-minutes in summer. There is also the hourly Sealink car ferry, which offers both downtown and east Auckland departures.
Auckland Seaplanes offers a unique way to get to the island, with both amphibious and wheeled aircraft – the latter land right next to EcoZip’s base. Heletranz, Inflight Aviation, Helicopter Me and others offer heli services to the island (EcoZip has a helipad, if you want to start or end your tour in style).
Getting Around Waiheke
For guests visiting EcoZip, transport between the ferry terminal and our base is included. If you’re visiting independently, there is a frequent bus service which links much of the island. Alternatively, the hop-on, hop-off wine tour service offered by Fullers 360 is a great way to see the island.
Tour operators like Ananda Tours, Waiheke Wine Tours, Enjoi Waiheke and others, also offer comprehensive day and half-day tours. Bike hire is available from Waiheke e-Bikes, plus there are options to rent cars and mopeds. There are many taxi companies servicing the island and we recommend Easy Transport and Wai Cabs. We strongly recommend ascertaining the likely price of your taxi journey before confirming your booking. Check out our recent news post for more on the island’s transport options.
There is no shortage of superb breakfast, lunch and dinner venues on the island that cater to all tastes and budgets. Restaurants come in and out of vogue so we recommend checking out review sites, like Trip Advisor and Zomato.com for the latest feedback.
Perennial favourites of ours include:
- Mediterranean-inspired Casita Miro – the food and wine paring is a must.
- Onetangi beachside 372 – their flounder just made the list of Auckland 50 best dishes
- Dragonfired – wood-fired pizza truck set right on Little Oneroa beach. The calzone is incredible!
- Archive Bar at Mudbrick – informal dining in a beautiful atmosphere with incredible views
- Fenice in Oneroa – great Italian-inspired food and pizza at the heart of the island’s bustling cultural centre.
- The Veranda Café at Stonyridge Vineyard – consistently good food beneath a canopy of vines.
- The Local in Oneroa – inexpensive fish and chips, or burgers, with bonus of one of the island’s best views (and they have a liquor licence).