Waiheke Island: The Complete Guide

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If you're looking to add some Waiheke Island time to your Auckland itinerary, here's everything you need to know!

With around 10,000 residents, Waiheke Island is the most populated island in the Hauraki Gulf, one of Auckland's two main ports. It is located approximately 12 miles from central Auckland and is accessible by ferry or charter plane. While it is a popular destination for domestic and foreign travelers, it is also home to a thriving community. Many Waiheke Islanders come to Auckland to work, while others are involved in the island's growing wine production.

Waiheke Island is an ideal destination for a day or night trip from Auckland as it offers many natural attractions but is very close to the city. A great attraction are the many wineries on the island: there are about 30 scattered around the mountainous island. Other attractions include beaches, nature walks, sailing adventures, and pure relaxation.

How to Get to Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island can be reached by ferry or plane, but most travelers take the ferry from central Auckland because it is the cheapest option. The journey takes between 40 and 90 minutes, depending on the service you choose and where you come from. It's a very scenic cruise as you cruise the Hauraki Gulf, with the Auckland skyline receding behind you.

Many ferries run between Auckland and Waiheke Island every day. These are not just tour boats as many Waiheke Island residents use them to get to central Auckland for work. Ferries depart from the Auckland City Ferry Terminal on Quay Street in central Auckland. This ferry terminal is more convenient for travelers staying in or around the city center. Other ferries also depart from Half Moon Bay in the northeast of Auckland and Devonport on the North Shore. Ferries run from early morning until past midnight, so you will likely find one that suits your schedule.

Most ferries arrive at Waiheke Island at the main port, Matiatia Wharf, but some go to Orapiu Wharf and Kennedy Point. Most services are passenger only, but there are also some car ferries. If you do not have your own car, this is not a problem, as there are bus services on Waiheke Island that connect the main settlements. Many travelers also opt for some type of guided tour (a particularly good idea if you plan to drink in wineries, as no one needs to be designated a driver and stay on the sidelines!).

Things to See and Do on Waiheke Island

The main town on Waiheke Island is Oneroa, overlooking the Coromandel Peninsula. Oneroa is close to the main port of Matiatia Wharf, making it easy to get to, even if you don't have a car. It's a great place to hang out as there are boutiques, cafes, bars, art galleries, and even a small cinema in Oneroa.

With so many vineyards on the island, there are many places to drink and eat. Guided vineyard tours are a good idea as they will take you to some of the best. This usually includes a few tastings and often a meal as well, or you can purchase an additional meal.

Waiheke Island's beaches are beautiful and perfect for lounging around after bustling Auckland. Oneroa Beach is ideal if you are only on a day trip to Waiheke as it is easily accessible. New Zealand's native pohutukawa trees along the coast provide some shade. If you're staying a bit longer, add Palm Beach, Onetangi Beach, Enclosure Bay, and Sandy Bay to the itinerary.

Waiheke is a very rugged island and there are many walking trails with stunning views. A hike through the Onetangi reserve will take you through the Kauri and Nikau forests, and can take up to two hours, depending on how far you want to go. The reserve is close to Onetangi Beach, so you can combine a walk with beach time. The Church Bay loop is a three hour loop easily accessible from the passenger ferry terminal. Whakanewha Regional Park also offers moderate hikes of approximately 2.5 hours. Although Waiheke is not a pest-free reserve (as are some other islands in the Hauraki Gulf), you can still see kereru, gray warblers, tails, kingfishers, tuis, blue penguins, dotterels, and kaka parrots when walking through the Island.

With a long coastline and beautiful beaches, canoeing and rowing are fun activities. Several tour operators offer guided tours along the coast with the boat of your choice.

To get the activity level up a bit, cycling and mountain biking are also important on Waiheke Island. You can rent bikes near the ferry terminal or join a tour. Be aware that the terrain is rugged so if you are not an experienced cyclist you may want to keep walking. However, if you are into mountain biking, you will enjoy the Waiheke trails.

Where to Eat and Drink

There are many wineries on Waiheke Island, and many of them serve snacks or full meals. For a special lunch or dinner, you cannot stop by a winery. But there are other types of establishments as well, including cafes and bars in Oneroa and elsewhere.

Among the myriad of wineries, Wild on Waiheke is especially fun because, along with wine and beer tastings, it offers free activities like bocce and volleyball. You can also pay a little more and play archery and clay laser shooting!

Besides the wineries, another beautiful place is Waiheke Honey House and Cafe. Set amid regenerating swamps and hundreds of olive trees, Honey House serves food, ice cream, and of course honey. There is a shaded terrace to sit on and a boardwalk.

Seafood lovers shouldn't miss out on trying fresh oysters from Waiheke Island. The Te Matuku Oyster Farm is located in the uncontaminated Te Matuku Marine Reserve, off the coast of Waiheke Island, and the oysters it produces are considered some of the best in New Zealand. They are available in restaurants throughout Waiheke.

Tips for visiting

  • Despite being part of Auckland and being close to the city, Waiheke Island has a slightly different climate compared to other parts of Auckland. It is a bit drier and receives more hours of sun. This makes it an ideal setting for both wine-making and relaxing on the beach.
  • Waiheke Island is a very popular summer destination and is especially busy during New Zealand's summer school holidays, which run from mid-December to late January / early February. Local residents reserve accommodation, including camping, weeks and even months in advance. If you want to stay on the island, you will need to book in advance or arrive at another time. Outside of the summer school holidays, it's still busy on the weekends, but less in the middle of the week.
  • Every two years, Waiheke Island hosts the Gulf Sculpture arts festival. The work of New Zealand and international sculptors and installations is exhibited around the island. A walking path can be followed around the island to see the various sculptures, which are mounted in beautiful locations and are great for taking pictures. The last Gulf Sculpture festival was held in 2019, so the next one will be in 2021. It is usually late summer or early fall and lasts for about a month.

We hope you enjoy watching this video about top things to do in Waiheke

Source: Peter and Yend

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