Waiheke has always been on our list. Our, we must buy here one day list. Our, we must camp on our friends lawn at Christmas list, and then there is always New Year’s Eve on the island to do list.
This year, after 10 years of dreaming we ticked off all three.
What is not to like about the place – really?
It’s a glorious 30 minutes from Auckland city on a fast ferry, (skip the bad coffee and go straight for the beer). It always seem to be sunnier than the mainland, and the beaches and vineyards are just as plentiful.
And whilst the Auckland rich list do cruise around in convertibles between gated properties, it is still very much egalitarian. Just like a good English pub. Kids, dogs, the young and old are all welcome and mingle freely with messy, salt-fringed hair, broad open smiles and a twinkle in their eyes. This island makes you feel good.
Sorting the first item on the list involved a prolonged purchase of a small cottage in Palm Beach. Which, after a bit of financial analysis, was promptly rented out for a year.
Hence we quickly sought out a friends front lawn, complete with seaview for picture perfect camping.
For five days we got the chance to find a few more favourites on an island full of great finds.
1. Cable Bay Vineyard: if you haven’t made it here yet, run for the door and get on the next ferry. This place is shut-the-gate fantastic. Once you have managed to pick your jaw up from the view over the green lawns to the ocean with the sky tower in the distance, you can sit back in their outdoor lounge and feel like you’re on a James Bond set. I almost didn’t notice the food or wine, but we seemed to keep needing the waiter to reorder. This place is totally doable with kids on a day trip. Take a taxi from the ferry at Matiatia, or walk up the path at the end of the bay to Church road for the those with over fives. A good option if you brought your own boat from Auckland as well.
2. Oyster Inn. I’ve always known about this place and its reputation, but never ventured in. I’m so glad I have now. The perfect venue for an early evening chardonnay and oysters with Oneroa beach views over the rooftops. Kids were in the house and the staff were charming and efficient.
3. Car park. This feels like a silly one to add, but oh so necessary. Waiheke swells from roughly 8,000 residents to 30,000 in summer. If you are heading into the Oneroa shops you’ll need a park. After nearly 20 years of driving around the island, I never knew about the car park behind the shops. It’s on the right as you drive through the main village from the ferry. I feel silly I never knew.
4. Motuihe: when the crowds swell and the beaches full, the locals head to the outer islands. Motuihe is one of the closest. Find a friend with a boat and head over, laden with enough supplies for the day. There is nothing like leaving an island to go to another island for the day. It is the stuff honeymoons are made of. The clear blue waters here and the views on all sides do not disappoint.
5. The butcher in Oneora. Skip Countdown and head straight for the best meat on the island. We grabbed T-Bone steak, ribs and chicken skewers for our party of 10.
6. Anna Schwarz’s gelato. The NZ masterchef finalist has turned her talents to the best food in the world. You can’t miss her stylishly colourful container store in Oneroa. It’s the one with the all-day queue out front. We had our Ninja Ginga at 10am and happily engaged in conversations with locals while they drove past in their cars.
Oh and you might be wondering about the photo?- make sure when you’re on the island you demonstrate you are water conscious ( mainlanders get a bag rap for this) and give your kids the chance to wash in a bucket. They will love it. In fact, we are taking this idea back to the mainland with us.