An Island of wineries, secluded bays and lovely beaches where artists are held in high esteem sounds like the unobtainable. Yet Waiheke Island is just a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland.
Once a sleepy getaway where families holidayed in humble baches, Waiheke has become a bustling destination for foodies, wine lovers and walkers. Just drifting past the islands of Auckland's Hauraki Gulf by ferry to Waiheke's Matiatia Bay sets the bar high when it comes to awe-inspiring scenery.
First port of call for many visitors, the Oyster Inn (theoysterinn.co.nz), was nominated by Tyler Brule, the founder of Wallpaper and Monocle magazines, as a highlight of a recent visit to the island.
He is not alone in singing the praises of the restaurant and boutique hotel - it has just three rooms - given the friendly staff, fine locally-sourced seafood and breezy holiday vibe.
The deck is ideal for a lazy breakfast or lounging with a cocktail and enjoying the view of Oneroa Beach.
Waiheke receives more sun and less rain than Auckland so there is no excuse for not exploring the island's walking trails. EcoZip Adventures flying fox (ecozipadventures.co.nz) on Trig Hill is a must for adrenalin junkies, with its three 200-metre ziplines and access to native forest.
Another way to explore Waiheke's beautiful coastline and hundreds of tiny bays, many not visible from land, is to master the art of standup paddle boarding with Waiheke Board Riders (boardriderswaiheke.co.nz).
Gliding around the rocky inlets in a sea kayak (kayakwaiheke.co.nz) is also an adventurous way to catch sight of the island's abundant birdlife, including its blue penguins, heron, black shags and oystercatchers.
Ananda Tours (ananda.co.nz) offers a more genteel style of island touring, specialising in gourmet food and wine tours to Waiheke's 27 boutique vineyards.
Growers have taken advantage of the island's warm microclimate to carpet it in chardonnay and bordeaux grapes.
Set among vines and olive trees overlooking Kennedy Bay, the cellar door at Kennedy Point Vineyard (kennedypointvineyard.com) is one of the more scenic spots to sample the island's drops.
The winery produces extra virgin olive oil as well as a selection of sauvignon blancs, syrahs and cabernets.
The olive press at Rangihoua Estate (rangihoua.co.nz) produces award-winning olive oil that is both life-giving elixir and tasty accompaniment to antipasto, vegetables or bread.
As the name suggests, Peacock Sky (peacocksky.co.nz) is nestled high in the hills of Waiheke where the vines are watched over by a flock of wild peacocks.
A highlight of Peacock's vineyard is the tasting room, where owner Rob Meredith's wines are paired with delicious food cooked by his wife Connie Festa.
The views at Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant (mudbrick.co.nz) are a wedding party favourite, as is the fine-dining restaurant's lavish menu, including a seven-course degustation, with matching wines. The vineyard tours and wine tasting are also a crowd puller.
Casita Miro (casitamiro.co.nz) is another scenic spot for laidback lunching, served in an art deco-style pavilion. Specialising in Spanish cuisine, meals are served to share either as tapas or raciones, washed down with the vineyard's wines and sherries.
Owner Cat Vosper is a convivial host and it's easy to see why she won Auckland's Restaurant Personality of the Year award in 2011.
Another award winner is The Wine Bar at Cable Bay Vineyards (cablebayvineyards.co.nz), where chef Sam Clark has created a menu of cured meats, French cheeses and seafood to complement an impressive wine list.
Stonyridge Vineyard (stonyridge.com) produces cabernet and Rhone-style wines, while its lovely Verandah Cafe is a must on any dining itinerary.
Wine is not the only alcohol produced on the island; the Waiheke Island Brewery (wildonwaiheke.co.nz) has boutique tipples including pale and dark ales, wheat beer, malt beer and ginger beer.
Creative juices of a different kind flow through the veins of the island's artists, some of whose work is displayed at Waiheke Community Art Gallery (waihekeartgallery.org.nz).
The gallery in Oneroa also features artworks from the biennial Sculpture on the Gulf festival (sculptureonthegulf.co.nz).
Nearby, TOI gallery (toigallery.com) features the art of sculptors Sally Smith and Chris Bailey, as well as guest artists. Creative types can also be found at Tivoli (tivolinz.com), a tiny outpost that houses an art gallery and specialist bookstore, and which hosts film screenings.
The island also has its own rather delightful annual book festival, Words on a Small Island (waihekebookfestival.co.nz), featuring workshops, writerly talks and, of course, a long literary lunch.
Andrew Taylor was a guest of Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand.
Fact File Getting there Fullers Ferries from downtown Auckland (fullers.co.nz). SeaLink runs car and passenger ferry services from Auckland's Half Moon Bay to Waiheke (sealink.co.nz) More information: aucklandnz.com; waiheke.aucklandnz.com
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- Sunday Star Times