Island's charms hard to resist

22:22, Apr 05 2009

When a chance encounter with a solitary sheep becomes the highlight of a holiday weekend, you may question just how enjoyable said trip was.

Not so with a recent trip to Waiheke Island with my family.

What turned out to be a memorable venture to Stony Batter Fort on Waiheke could have been another holiday disaster there's a small history of them for the Anderson family.

The last section of the drive to Stony Batter is over a windy gravel road, but it was in good condition and the views were often spectacular.

From where we parked, it's a 1.3km walk to the fort and its accompanying tunnels unless you wander off down the wrong path for close to a kilometre, hoping in vain that the person in front knows where they're going. When they turn around with a puzzled look and head back towards you, you know this isn't the case.

So we backtracked and trudged on, coming to a ramshackle shed that acted as a lowbrow visitor information centre.


An athletic father and teenaged son in front of us emerged from the shed with wide grins.

"There's no one in there apart from a sheep eating someone's lunch," we were informed.

On venturing in, we found the culprit in the corner, her nose buried inside a plastic bag which no doubt had earlier held an appetising sandwich.

The sheep was a relaxed host but ewe got the impression she'd struggle to make change for our tickets (but was also unlikely to fleece us) or give explicit directions so we found a couple of torches and headed out just as our guide emerged from the adjacent tunnel.

"I heard you met Sapphire," she smiled.

"She thinks she's human her mother died when she was young and she was brought up away from other sheep. Now she doesn't like them much."

Highly amused by the chance encounter, we headed off into the fort in a much brighter mood. We'd made it 30m down the first dark tunnel when we were startled by a chilling, loud outburst behind us.

Flashing our torches frantically, we discovered Sapphire had joined us. Apparently she wanted us to move aside while she regally led the way through her home patch.

The fort was planned in the 1930s to defend Auckland from enemy attacks not sure if this included Mooloo raids on the Ranfurly Shield but was shelved due to expense until World War II began and it became a priority.

The tunnelling was carried out by the Government's Public Works Department and took more than two years to complete as it was dug by pick, shovel and wheelbarrow.

Being underground gave a fascinating glimpse into what must have been a nerve-racking experience as Kiwi soldiers prepared for war.

When you emerge from a climb at the far tunnel, you're rewarded with an amazing panoramic view of the island's bays and out to the Coromandel Peninsula.

Our Stony Batter expedition neatly summed up Waiheke it's a diverse island full of entertainment and unpredictability.

We travelled over on the Sealink Seacat ferry after winding our way through the ever-expanding eastern suburbs of Auckland to the wharf at Half Moon Bay.

A gusty afternoon made for choppy conditions on the water and we had a nervous nautical traveller wary of sea-sickness but the 45-minute trip to Waiheke Island was all smooth sailing.

We enjoyed the views of the Hauraki Gulf from the deck then headed inside to a spacious, comfortable lounge complete with TVs to entertain the kids and a bar to placate the adults.

The return trip was spectacular under a pristine blue sky on sparkling waters that held a flotilla of sailboats of all sizes.

It's understandable to see why the option of living on Waiheke and commuting to Auckland is a thousand times more appealing than battling hellish city traffic to and from work daily.

During our two-night trip, we stayed at Punga Lodge in Oneroa. The most memorable stays are those infused with the personal touch, and Punga Lodge provided that. It's homely and idyllic, with the rooms nestled among the punga trees.

Not only are the location and scenery unique and enchanting, genial hosts Dyan and Rob add their friendly warmth. The family tucked heartily into the continental breakfast buffet in a cosy dining room but even better were the magnificent complimentary afternoon teas your selection of scrumptious freshly baked muffins and cakes that were summarily scoffed.

And if there's a better way to relax for the evening that doesn't start with a 30-minute spa, I haven't found it.

On Sunday we woke to a clear winter's day, which was perfect for a stroll among the shallows and rock pools at Little Oneroa Beach before heading to neighbouring Onetangi.

Wild on Waiheke is a multi-activity venue in a sensational vineyard setting and provides entertainment and pleasure for adults and kids alike.

Unfortunately, recent rain had made it impossible to attempt the claybird laser target shooting but we tried our hand at archery and I was pleasantly surprised to reveal some Robin Hood tendencies that soon had me daydreaming of Olympic glory.

The family followed suit, thanks to some excellent coaching from our host Karen whom I'm glad to say wasn't a sheep and we celebrated our modicum of success by tasting a sample of the range of beers and ginger beer made on-site. The beers Baroona Original, Wharf Road Wheat, Matiatia Malt, Onetangi Dark Ale are outstanding and the Gulf Ginger will also be a favourite over summer.

They also produce a range of wines from their Topknot Hill label, all made from grapes grown on Waiheke while you can also sample and buy locally produced food items the family heartily recommend the White Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce.

We could have easily sat back in the sun and enjoyed games of giant chess and petanque while sampling more culinary and beverage delights but time was against us as we had to leave the island, without Mr Roarke and Tattoo to see us of off. However, after savouring just a small taste of Waiheke Island life, there's no doubt we'll be baaaa-ck.

*Ian Anderson travelled to Waiheke Island courtesy of Sealink and Punga Lodge.


Waikato Times