When an internationally recognized publication like ‘Travel + Leisure’ lists Waiheke Island as the Best Island in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific, and the fifth-best island in the world in 2018—and “Lonely Planet’s Best In Travel’ lists it as one of the ten best regions in the world in 2016—then you know for sure that there must be something extra special about this place! And there certainly is!
Why Visit Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island boasts sandy, pristine, tree-fringed beaches on 40 km of beach coastline, boutique vineyards with tasting rooms, and a variety of amazing restaurants with stunning views. There are also olive groves, a bohemian art scene, a network of walking tracks showcasing the New Zealand flora and fauna and birdlife, and outdoor activities for the energetic: kayaking, sailing, boating, surfing, snorkeling, mountain biking, or zip-lining through the trees. In short, why not visit Waiheke Island? There’s something to do for just about every type of traveler.
3 Best Things to Do on Waiheke
Sample Wine at Vineyards
The vineyards are definitely one of the most popular reasons to visit Waiheke Island. Serious winemaking started in the 1980s and grew very rapidly. Now there are over 30 vineyards on the island and they all offer something different and unique.
Onetangi Road has four wineries next to each other, with cellar doors and restaurants. Start your wine tasting experience at Wild Estate, then walk over to Stonyridge Vineyard?(amazing atmosphere) followed by a walk over to their neighbors at Te Motu (great wine and food) and finish with a visit to the spectacular Tantalus Estate?(they have an amazing beer brewers lounge called The Alibi).
Batch Winery has the highest elevation on the island with stunning 360-degree views. They have become well known for their high teas and bubbles and sunset vistas.
Mudbrick Vineyard is a well-established winery with magnificent views all the way to Auckland. They are a popular wedding destination and have lots of award-winning wines available from their Cellar Door. They have two restaurants and offer luxury accommodation.
Cable Bay is another well-established winery with award-winning wines. It’s the only winery on the Island with a female winemaker (Chloe Somerset). It also offers spectacular views and two restaurants. The Bistro restaurant showcases its seasonal produce from its own organic garden. Displayed throughout the building, it has an impressive private art collection from Kiwi artists. Like Mudbrick, it also offers beautiful accommodation.
Kennedy Point is Waiheke Island’s only certified organic vineyard, set among 300-year-old Pohutukawa trees overlooking Kennedy Bay with stunning accommodation.
Wild Estate Vineyards or Wild on Waiheke offers a huge range of activities along with its wine and beer tasting, and is great for families, too. It offers archery, clay bird shooting, petanque, giant chess, and a great kid’s playground area.
There are so many other great vineyards on Waiheke Island.
Casita Miro has a great ambiance and Spanish cuisine from a Metro Award Winning team. Poderi Crisci wins with its long slow Sunday lunches in its Italian restaurant, which start at 12.30 pm and progress through various courses until 4.30 pm. You can book the Man O’ War Vineyards bus to take you on a scenic tour to its winery at the eastern end of the island—it also offers accommodation.
Relax on Magnificent Beaches
With 133 km of coastline and 40 km of beaches, there are plenty of options to find your kind of beach to swim or engage in your favorite water sports. On the ocean side of Waiheke are the sandy beaches and on the landward side are the more shelly, rocky bays.
The longest beach is the two-km long Onetangi Beach. It’s great for swimming, fishing, paddle boarding, and beach walking—and when the north wind blows, the surf gets up and the surfers come out. There a couple of good cafes at Onetangi, too.
Oneroa Beach serves the most populated area and has the town of Oneroa, with picture-postcard pretty Little Oneroa Beach around the rocks at the eastern end. Both provide safe anchorage for boats.
Palm Beach, located between Oneroa and Onetangi Beaches, is another popular beach. Sandy Bay is a northern coast secluded beach and Cactus Bay is only accessible by boat or kayak, The very sheltered Enclosure Bay with its rockpools is enjoyed by families.
On the landside of the island, Blackpool and Surfdale Beaches are very tidal and popular for kayaking, paddle boarding, and windsurfing.
If you’re a keen camper, Whakanewha Regional Park, on the southern side of the island, has a campground. It has a beautiful bay and child-friendly beach, a large wetland area, and a mature coastal forest. It’s great for bird watching, too.
Immerse in the Arts
Waiheke Island was once considered an alternative, arty, hippy place, and the art scene is now one of the island’s key attractions. The biggest art event is probably the biannual Headland Sculpture event, where the southern headlands of Matiatia Bay and two kilometers of coastal walkway show an exhibition of outdoor contemporary sculpture from both Waiheke and international artists.
If you’re not lucky enough to be on Waiheke Island when the festival is on, you can view some of these works at Alison Park on Waiheke, because the Waiheke Local Board has a tradition of purchasing one work from each exhibition for public display on the island, and it exhibits some of them in the park.
There are plenty of local art galleries and the Waiheke Community Art Gallery is probably a good starting point and can direct you to the galleries you’re most interested in seeing.
The Waiheke Jazz, Art and Music Festival runs every year around Easter. This hugely popular festival incorporates Jazz concerts, exhibitions and painting workshops, performance art, and wide-ranging music genre, including DJs, bands, and solo performances (including non-jazz).
And then there’s always that wonderful option of just putting your feet up in Waiheke, enjoying the view, chilling out, and recharging!
Why not also visit Great Barrier Island, another amazing island also located in the Hauraki Gulf.
Best Time to Visit
Waiheke Island is a popular destination all year round. In the summer months (October/November to March/April) swimming and boating activities feature prominently, but there is plenty to see and do during the winter months too. (May/June to August/September).
Locals swear that Waiheke Island has its own microclimate and is warmer and drier than Auckland, the nearest city, year-round. The temperatures average about 29 °C (84 °F) in summer and 18 °C (64 °F) in winter dropping to about 8 or 9 °C (46 °F) at night in winter.
How Long to Stay
Many local Aucklanders escape to Waiheke Island on a day trip. They enjoy a swim at one of the beaches and snorkeling, or a chance to check out the art galleries, and then head to the vineyards for a long lunch.
Weekend stays are also popular as there’s plenty to see and do, and a chance to unwind, for a one or two-week stay. One of the road signs that greets you as you arrive is, “Slow Down! You’re Here!”
How to Get There
There are four options for getting to Waiheke Island.
The most popular option is going by ferry from the Ferry Building in downtown Auckland. The scenic trip runs regularly and takes 40-50 minutes. It may stop at the picturesque village of Devonport on the way there or back.
By Rental Car & Ferry
Rental cars are available on the island, but if you wish to take your car to the island, Sealink car ferries leave from Wynyard Wharf in downtown Auckland, or Half Moon Bay in the eastern suburbs about 30 minutes from the city.
Half Moon Bay is the more convenient option if you are flying into Auckland airport, picking up a rental car, and heading straight over to Waiheke Island or vice versa.
The third option is flying. Several small seaplane, airline, and helicopter companies can whisk you over to Waiheke Island on a very scenic flight in twelve to twenty minutes. In Flight Experiences and Heletranz both offer these types of flights, or you can book a full day tour: Waiheke Island & Hauraki Gulf Scenic Seaplane Flight.
By Water Taxi
You can also book a water taxi from Auckland to Waiheke or vice versa through Hauraki Express, By Sea, or Auckland Sea Shuttles.
Getting Around Waiheke Island
Local buses meet the ferries at Matiatia Bay. Routes 50A and 50B are a frequent service, running every 15 minutes from 7 am to 7 pm from Matiatia Bay to Onetangi Beach via Oneroa, Ostend, and Surfdale.
The 502 route runs every 30 minutes from Matiatia Bay to Rocky Bay (Omiha Bay) via Oneroa, Blackpool, Palm Beach, and Ostend.
During the summer months, a 503 bus runs from Matiatia Bay up the hill to Oneroa Village (one way).
At the moment, the buses do not meet the Sealink car ferries that come into Kennedy Point Wharf, but when upgrade works are completed in 2020 this wharf will also have a bus service to meet foot passengers.
The hop-on, hop-off bus has 17 stops at beaches, vineyards, and restaurants. Or you can stay on for the one and a half-hour complete loop tour. Check out times, prices and at a variety of very interesting itineraries for these buses.
Where to Stay
You won’t find any huge international resorts dominating the coast on Waiheke Island!
At the top end of the market are places like Delamore Lodge with its stunning infinity pool and helipad and a range of luxurious private villas.
Many of the vineyards also provide accommodation.
There are boutique resorts and villas, self-catering holiday homes, apartments, typical New Zealand baches (cottages), and some motel units.
Both Booking.com and Airbnb offer great accommodation options on the island.
By Maureen Spencer from “So Many Places! So Little Time!”, an online travel magazine & blog.