Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrA haven of stunning beaches, picturesque vineyards and olive groves, Waiheke Island is the perfect island escape, just a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland. The Lonely Planet travel guide recently rated Waiheke Island as the fifth best destination in the world to visit in 2016. It was also voted the fourth best island in the world in the Conde Nast Best Islands in the World List. Waiheke is a popular holiday spot, and enjoys a population boom during the Christmas and Easter periods.
GeographyWaiheke Island is located in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand, about 11 miles from the city of Auckland. It is the second-largest island in the gulf, after Great Barrier Island, covering around 36 square miles (36 square miles). It has around 9,000 permanent residents, with a further 3,000 who have second or holiday homes on the island. Much of the eastern half of the island comprises privately owned farmland and vineyards. The highest point on the island is Mount Maunganui at 758 feet (758 feet).
HistoryThe original indigenous Maori name for the island was apparently “Te-Motu-arai-roa”, which means “the long sheltering island”. By the time European explorers arrived, however, it was known as “Motu-Wai-Heke”, meaning “island of trickling waters”.
The island was first settled by the Te Uri Karaka iwi (tribe), whose semi-nomadic fishing lifestyle gradually gave way to permanent settlement and the beginnings of agriculture. Toi the Navigator arrived with a canoe of his people, who were welcomed by the Uri Karaka, only to be savagely murdered. Toi wreaked his vengeance, and the island was brought under his control. The island passed through the hands of different iwi in the following centuries, before Ngati Paoa became the dominant iwi on the island.
The first recorded arrival of Europeans on the island was a logging ship from the Coromandel, which mapped the Northern Shore in 1801. Native Kauri trees enticed European loggers and settlers, before deforestation put an end to the industry in the mid-19th century. Over the next century the island was settled further, and became a tourist destination for visiting Aucklanders.
During World War II, three gun emplacements were built on the eastern edge of the island to protect Allied shipping in Waitemata Harbour, in the fear that Japanese ships might reach New Zealand.
OneroaOneora is the seaside settlement located up the hill from the ferry wharf at Matiatia. With the relaxed feel of a New Zealand beach town, you will not be out of place dressed in just a beach towel and jandals (local speak for flip-flops). The town has ample options for eating and drinking, and services the yachties from Auckland who love to drop anchor here.
BeachesBeachlovers are in luck on Waiheke, with a variety of beautiful places to lay your beach towel. Oneroa is the main beach, found on the northern side of the town of Oneroa. Little Oneroa Beach is a small, secluded beach at the east end of Oneroa Beach, separated by a cliff wall. Palm Beach is similar to Oneroa Beach, and is so named for the phoenix palm trees at the east end of the beach. Little Palm Beach is a small beach found at the west end of Palm Beach, but beware, clothing is optional! Blackpool Beach is a popular spot for kayaking and windsurfing, while Surfdale Beach is popular for kitesurfing. Onetangi Beach is famous for its beach races and annual sandcastle building contests. Shelly Beach is perfect for kids – a small and sheltered beach between Oneroa and Ostend with calm waters perfect for swimming. Man o’ War Bay, at the bottom end of the island, requires a bit of effort to get to, but the bay rewards you with a prime swimming spot and the excellent Man o’ War Vineyard.
Waiheke Island ArtworksThe Artworks complex comprises the Artworks Theatre, the Waiheke Island Community Cinema, the Waiheke Community Art Gallery and Whittaker’s Musical Museum. On Korora Road in Oneroa, stop here to indulge your artistic side and appreciate the art the island has to offer.
Stony Batter Historic ReserveAt the eastern end of the island, Stony Batter is home to the tunnels and gun emplacements built during World War II. From the car park on Stony Batter Road, there is a 20-minute walk through private farmland. The reserve is open daily from 9am – 5pm, and entrance is NZD 8 for adults, and NZD 5 for children.
Wild On WaihekeMore than just a winery and microbrewery, Wild on Waiheke makes for a perfect afternoon for adrenaline junkies. Kick off with archery, laser clay shooting, petanque, or a game of giant chess, before quenching your thirst with a wine or beer tasting. Wild is found on Onetangi Road, and is open 11am – 4pm Thursday to Sunday, and daily during summer months.
Saturday marketOpen all year round, be sure to check out the Waiheke Ostend Market on Saturdays from 7:30am. Featuring local arts and crafts, fruit and vegetables, olive oil, coffee and more.
Waiheke Museum and Historic VillageThe museum and village offers a glimpse into the history of the island. Located on Onetangi Road, opening hours are 12pm – 4pm Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and admission is by donation.
Sculpture on the GulfThe biennial sculpture exhibition, “Headland: Sculpture on the Gulf”, is held in January and February on odd-numbered years. The exhibition features outdoor sculptures set along a coastal walkway. Typically showcasing a mixture of classic, modern and plain weird sculptures, the walkway also offers a peak at some of the architecturally stunning homes on the island.
Waiheke Island of Wine Vintage FestivalThis festival held annually in mid-March offers wine lovers a blissed out five days of wine, food and music. The festival covers seventeen different vineyards, with shuttles operating between the different locations.
Waiheke Island International Jazz FestivalHeld over Easter weekend each year, the festival features local and international jazz acts and events. Gigs are held during the afternoons, evenings, and even into the wee hours.
HikingFrom native bush, to spectacular cliff-top views, walking on Waiheke Island will not disappoint. Many trails cover areas of historic interest, as well as large areas of reserve land. Keep your eyes open for the numerous native wood pigeons, which seemingly defy gravity as they fly their round bodies through the air. For a full list of walking tracks on the island, check out http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/en/parksfacilities/walkingtracks/pages/waihekeindividualwalks.aspx
Wine and EatingWaiheke Island is home to around 30 boutique vineyards producing both red and white wines, including Syrah. Given the island’s proximity to Auckland, Waiheke is the perfect location for a day away wine tasting at different wineries. There are plenty of other wineries to choose from, but the island’s most famous vineyard is Stonyridge, which produces vintages that have ranked up with the very best worldwide. The winery also hosts a great café – stop by for lunch, order a bottle of wine and one of the deli platters, and you’re ready to spend the afternoon in bliss.
For something extra special, try Cable Bay Vineyard. Showcasing an architectural gem of a building, top quality wine, excellent food and a relaxed terrace bar, you’ll be pushed to find a better view of the Hauraki Gulf to enjoy over your wine.
Poderi Crisci is a traditional Italian restaurant located on the quiet end of the island. Located on a vineyard that features Italian varietals, the restaurant serves up simple and delicious traditional Italian food that showcases the best produce the island has to offer.
AccommodationThere are many places to stay on Waiheke, with options for all budgets. One of the most popular accommodations is to rent a beach house. Try bachcare.co.nz, staywaiheke.com, visitwaiheke.co.nz or waihekeescapes.co.nz to look at options and book online.
Top-rangeThe Boatshed is a boutique hotel featuring luxury suites in Little Oneroa. Delamore Lodge, tucked away in the secluded Owhanake Bay, is one of Auckland’s most luxurious accommodations.
Mid-rangeThere are plenty of options for middle budgets. Self-contained apartments are plentiful: check out Onetangi Beach Apartments, Seadream Apartments above Oneroa beach, or The Sands Onetangi. Bed and breakfasts are also popular options: try Kiwi House or Tawa Lodge near Oneroa Village, or Punga Lodge near Little Oneroa Beach.
BudgetFor a beautiful bush setting, try the eco-friendly BioShelter Backpackers on Pacific Parade, which has dorms and private rooms available. Hekerua Lodge Backpackers is a short walk to Oneroa village, and an even shorter walk to the beach, on Hekerua Road. Lap up the rock pool in summer or the cozy fire in winter.
Getting thereWaiheke is the most accessible island in the Hauraki Gulf, with regular passenger and car ferry services. Fullers, Explore Group, and Sea Link (on weekends) run passenger ferries between Matiatia and downtown Auckland, with trips taking about 40 minutes. Sea Link also provides passenger, car and freight services between Half Moon Bay in East Auckand and Kennedy Point. Trips take about 50 minutes.
There is one airport on the island: Waiheke Island Aerodrome. Flight Hauraki operates a fixed-wing aircraft service, and there are a number of helicopter operators.
Getting aroundOnce on the island, the Waiheke Bus Company operates services to most parts of the island, connecting the ferry sailings from Matiatia. Scooters, bikes and cars can all be hired from Matiatia.
You can bring your own car onto the island via the vehicle ferry. When driving on the island be aware that the roads are narrow and, in some places, unsealed.
Other infoThe climate on Waiheke Island is mild: slightly warmer than Auckland with less humidity and rain, and more sunshine.
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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Mar 16, 2016