Over the years I have visited New Zealand a number of times, which made it all the more wondrous to me that I had never heard of Waiheke Island.

Waiheke Island is probably one of New Zealand’s best-kept secrets. However, since returning home, upon mentioning it to fellow travellers and friends, I have discovered it is not quite the secret I thought it was. Clearly, I need to get out more…

Our visit was some time ago now… sorry, my story got waylaid… but here it is now…

Located in the Hauraki Gulf a short 40 minute ferry trip from Auckland, in the North Island of New Zealand, Waiheke Island is a divinely beautiful wine-growing region of New Zealand.

Magical – and I emphasis magical – boutique wineries dapple the island. The only trouble you will have when visiting the island, is deciding which one of the many gorgeous wineries to visit in a short space of time (there are over 30). There are two solutions to this dilemma; one is to stay longer – we visited for one day, but could have easily stayed for three (or permanently). The other solution is to stick to what turned out to be a sensational shortlist.

Now, you can do a wine tour, which is an easy way of seeing the island and a nice selection of wineries, but I prefer travelling independently. I wanted to do a bit of walking, and visit places at my own pace and our little schedule, which turned out to be perfect. It is also a little bit more personal, as if you are not in a crowd there is a bit more one-on-one time at the cellar doors.

We chose to travel by bus, on foot and by a pre-booked island taxi. You could hire a car on the island if you wanted to, but then someone would inevitably have to draw the short straw and drive… We also booked for lunches and dinners, and while that is not essential, it will avoid disappointment in case the venue is booked out for a function. It also does hurt to check if there is a function even if you are just planning a quick stopover, especially if you are travelling a distance to get there.

For us it turned out to be a great adventure – a fun memorable day, the wines were sensational, the hospitality wonderfully warm and welcoming and the food EXCEPTIONAL!

Our journey started quite early. We took the ferry from the Auckland City Ferry Terminal to Matiatia Wharf on the island. Our ticket included a bus pass for the day, so we could have happily travelled around by bus all day. I did, however, pre-book a taxi for a number of pick ups, which proved invaluable… especially when purchasing (and carrying) bottles of wine…

The fare worked out similar to what a tour would have been for the two of us, except we had a little more independence.

We were visiting on a Saturday, so we took the bus from the ferry to Ostend Road and went to Waiheke Island’s Ostend Market that is held there in the morning – check times and dates here.

If you have a bit more time on your hands, or the markets are not on the day you are visiting, you could visit a few of the galleries and craft shops in this area but we only left time for the market… we had a schedule to stick to…

For me the market was quite a novelty and I love to get a sense of the local produce and community. It also gave me the opportunity to meet author, Mark Sommerset, who writes wonderful whimsical children’s books and who was one of the lucky individuals to live on the island and had a stall on this day in the hall. Equipped with my autographed copy of “The Boy and the Cherry Tree” (beautifully illustrated by his wife, Rowan Sommerset), I felt inspired and enjoyed a personal account of Mark’s own inspiration and how he came to live on this stunningly beautiful island.

Check out their website: http://www.dreamboatbooks.com

Shopping done, from there we took a bus to our first winery, Te Motu.

I really need to emphasise how beautiful this island is… glorious green rolling mounds with picture perfect vineyards nestled into enclaves in between, all taking advantage of their own spectacular vantage points. Breath-taking.

I had done quite a bit of research in the lead up to our visit, so the wineries I chose more for their individual niche merits. While there are some vineyards that are perhaps more frequented or popular, I really felt we had the pick of the bunch. Having said that, I had nothing to compare it to. Maybe they are all good.

We visited three – Te Motu, Te Whau (which has since closed) and Cable Bay Vineyard. We did attempt to visit a fourth – Mudbrick Vineyard and while it looked quite pretty and is also quite popular, due to a function later that day we were sent on our way, a little disappointed that we didn’t at least get to try the wines. Oh well, another day…

Te Motu

Sensational. Sensational. Sensational. We did the cellar door wine sampling in the garden, which we thoroughly enjoyed. We had walked from the roadside, where the bus dropped us off, and the walk amongst the vines to the cellar door was as wonderful as the wines that greeted us.

Te Motu focuses on Bordeaux style wines, warm rich fruity blends of cabernet, merlot and related varietals, each blend drawing inspiration, from the land on which it is grown, respectfully acknowledging the ancestry of the founding families. The tasting was well informed, relaxed and importantly, the wines were a wonderful testament to Te Motu and what it represents.

The wines are one thing, the food is quite another!

I had booked for lunch at the winery’s multi award winning restaurant, The Shed, and WOW, what a magical experience. We decided on a selection of ‘small plates’, a decision, which was borne more out of indecision than anything else – everything sounded so delicious – we just couldn’t decide. Each dish showcased fabulous fresh produce from the vineyard gardens, or local supplier, with great reverence to ingredients that showcased the diversity of the region and magical skill of the chef.

The fireplace warmed us from the cool weather and a light mist was beginning to envelope the island. It was all rather enchanting… or maybe that was the wine’s influence, not quite sure, but lunch was perfect. The ambience was perfect; rustic, relaxed, yet polished and unflawed – both food and service.

Right on cue, our pre-booked taxi arrived to take us to the next destination, Te Whau. BTW, this is pronounced with an ‘f’, as in Te Fau… Kiwi thing, we discovered. I didn’t think we could top Te Motu, but we paralleled it easily.

Te Whau

Since our visit, this stunning location that overlooks the bay, has been placed on the market and is no longer open to the public, which is a true shame… but you can always buy it…

To our totally unplanned good fortune, the owner Tony, was hands-on this particular afternoon at the cellar door as we embarked on our journey of wine discovery.

It’s probably a bit benign writing about it now, but it was an incredibly entertaining hour of vineyard history, wine knowledge and discovery as well as some extraordinary tale telling of Tony’s foray into the world of wine. And they produced some pretty special wines too. Alas, it is no more 🙁

Our last leg of the journey to Cable Bay Vineyard was met by a light drizzle that had stepped up its pace and become an absolute downpour.

It’s ok. We were prepared. Umbrella, raincoats, and a map, lead us to our next destination, we had planned to walk to anyway, and it was only a short walk (*run*) from Mudbrick Vineyard, where we had been dropped off.

Cable Bay Vineyard

While we had enjoyed the other vineyards all to ourselves, this was not the case here – it was extremely busy! I think partly due to its popularity and partly to the, now thickening, downpour. I can think of worse places to seek solace from the rain, but I am stretched to think of anywhere better!

We had booked for dinner, but we had arrived a little earlier than initially planned. No problem, lots to do. Wine to taste. Nibbles to be had in The Verandah (https://cablebay.nz/dining/the-verandah/). More wine to be enjoyed. Gorgeous views – totally misted in by the rain, but hey, a few wines and who cares! It was all beautiful! It is quite a dreamy way to spend the afternoon.

Eventually we relocated to the restaurant to enjoy a quite remarkable dinner in The Dining Room, at the hand of one very talented chef, Max Larbiose. Sublime.

The menu is stunning collection of dishes where focus is on fresh, premium ingredients sourced either from the onsite organic kitchen garden and orchard, or locally, paired with Cable Bay’s divine wines. It was the perfect end to a perfect day. These Waiheke Islanders know how to treat their guests to magical dining experiences, dazzling us with the finest in food and genuine, exemplary service. I couldn’t give them a greater compliment.

Regretfully, it was time to leave…

Retrospectively, we should perhaps have booked a taxi from the restaurant to the ferry, or perhaps taken up the offer of having a taxi called for us… but dinner was so sensational, our day had been sensational, we felt sensational (brought on by a few sensational wines) and we thought it would be a sensational idea to do the 15 minute walk to the ferry.

Yes… note to self… pay better attention to the directions next time!

So we embarked on our romantic journey in the moonlight back to the ferry, equipped with a map, and what we thought were a fairly clear set of instructions. The rain had abated, and while the air was moist and there were the odd patches of drizzle, we were happily enjoying our walk. That was perhaps our downfall. I think we were enjoying it a little too much, so much so that we entirely missed our very first turn in our very clear set of directions. By the time we realised… which was after about 30 minutes of walking and no ferry terminal in sight. Looking at our map via, an almost flat, mobile phone torchlight, we realised where we had gone so sensationally wrong.

Rather than turn back, we decided to do the rather rugged scenic route along the coastline, which made for entertaining journeying. Dark. Wet. Under the influence of the aforementioned sensational wines… we arrived at the ferry some 45 minutes later than anticipated, but on the positive side, our ferry had not yet left the island and we had seen a lot more of this beautiful island than we had initially planned… even if it was only by fading torch and moonlight.

So that was our wonderful adventure.

Waiheke Island is a must if visiting Auckland. While traipsing a rugged coast trail in the moonlight, might not be your thing (not that it was necessarily ours), there is the option of an organised tour, or a bit of preplanning like we did – just don’t miss the turn!

Big call out to all of our taxi drivers – we loved hearing their stories, recommendations and efficient and safe travel from one destination to another.

BTW sensational food and wine does come with a price, so if you want to experience the sensational stuff like we did, make sure you are cashed up. However, we both agreed that it was worth every cent.

More info:

Ferry – https://www.fullers.co.nz/timetables-and-fares/?from=AUCK&to=WAIH

Taxi – http://www.waiheketransport.co.nz/private-taxi-tour.html

Markets – http://www.eventfinda.co.nz/2015/ostend-market/auckland/waiheke-island?utm_campaign=were-you-looking-for-events&utm_medium=click-through&utm_source=2015%2Fwaiheke-ostend-saturday-market%2Fauckland%2Fwaiheke-island

Te Motu – http://www.temotu.co.nz

Cable Bay – https://cablebay.nz

This story was written by Petra Hughes – Pebbles + Pomegranate Seeds