Spending 48 hours on Waiheke Island
Blame Aucklanders looking for a quick getaway that doesn't involve battling the traffic, or the string of tourism top 10s it has made it on to in recent years, but Waiheke Island is growing so fast it's scaring some of the locals. As visitor numbers soar, however, new places to eat and drink are popping up all over the show, which is great news for those heading to the island for a quick break.
Plus, especially outside of the heaving summer months, it's still surprisingly easy to find pockets of such tranquil beauty you'll forget you're just a 35-minute ferry ride from the big smoke.
There are plenty of pleasurable ways you could spend a couple of days on this Hauraki Gulf gem, but here are our top picks for making the most of 48 hours.
Kick things off with some caffeinated sustenance from Island Coffee. Jane and Stephen Burn have been roasting on Waiheke since 1999 and supply cafes and restaurants across the island. Their Ostend shop is a little gem, hidden down a drive next to the supermarket. Pick up a flat white and some beans to take home and browse the coffee-related paraphernalia for sale while listening to some classic vinyl. Don't sleep in, mind – it's open only til midday, six days a week (closed Sundays).
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If it happens to be Saturday, the Ostend Market just along the road is well worth checking out. Grab an empanada from South American Oven or a sausage roll from Babicka's Table (breakfast of champions) and buy some veges to take home from the growers of the Awaararoa Bay Eco Village. Before you leave, pop across the road to Franco's Panetteria to pick up a loaf of bread for tomorrow's breakfast.
Time for lunch! Tantalus Estate is just a few minutes' drive away, on the road to Onetangi. (Okay, if you feel you need to work off that sausage roll first, you could always hit up Wild on Waiheke for some archery or clay bird shooting? It's on the way.)
Campbell Aitken and Carrie Mendell founded Tantalus Estate in 2013 and set about revamping the tired winery building on the site they took on, eventually opening in September last year. Thanks to the design talents of Cheshire Architects, it's now one of the most impressive lunch spots on the island, all local stone and recycled kauri, with very cool lighting fixtures sculpted from vines that were removed from the site. Chef Paul Jobin creates beautifully presented, innovative dishes using interesting seasonal produce – try the seafood ramen in crayfish broth. Yes, this is a winery restaurant (and the vino is top-notch), but don't pass up the opportunity to try some excellent beers from the in-house brewery, Alibi.
Don't overdo it, mind – you've got another 40 hours or so of eating and drinking ahead, so pace yourself. On that note, how about an afternoon stroll on the sand, or even a swim if the weather permits? Onetangi is one of the island's best beaches, the kind of long expanse of golden sand that makes you think you just might be in paradise.
After all that exertion, you'll be ready for some more food and wine. Te Motu Vineyard, back near Tantalus, is old-school Waiheke – it's been in the Dunleavy family since 1988. Some very good Bordeaux-style reds are produced here, and there's no better place to sample them than at the winery restaurant, The Shed. Chef Bronwen Laight lives and breathes the local, seasonal mantra, with much of the ingredients in her dishes grown on site – you might have cauliflower, farro, smoked egg yolk, Brussels sprouts and Cwmglyn raw milk cheese, or crispy pig's head, ruby sauerkraut, apple, mustard and microgreens, finishing off with ginger-lime sago with pear sorbet, feijoa, coconut and persimmon.
You'll be needing somewhere to rest your weary head after all this wining and dining. May we suggest Woodside Bay? Tucked away on the south side of the island, this very special spot is home to Angela and John Goodwin and their small olive grove. Earlier this year the couple opened their two rather lovely guest suites, The Blue Room and The Green Room, both of which boast sweeping views over rolling vine-covered hills out towards the Hauraki Gulf. Angela, who hails from Yorkshire, makes a charming host, and if you ask nicely she might let you sample some of her award-winning olive oil. Make sure you take a bottle or two of the peppery Koroneki blend, which picked up a gold medal and a best-in-class award at the 2016 New Zealand Olive Oil Awards, home with you – you can buy it from Angela or at various retail outlets around the island.
When hunger lures you away from gazing at that view from the comfort of your bed, pop next door to Woodside Bay's well-appointed kitchenette to toast some of the Franco's bread you picked up yesterday and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before heading out for the day's adventures.
Due east from here as the crow flies is Poderi Crisci, but you'll have to follow the road northwards before curving back down to the bottom of the island. As fate would have it, this will take you right by Onetangi Reserve. From wetland to nikau forest and stands of kauri, the 50-hectare reserve is home to a growing array of wild creatures. Three linked tracks circle the reserve – start and finish your walk at Roy Nelson Gate, just up from the Onetangi Hall on Waiheke Road (it's marked on Google Maps). Picnic on your Ringawera pastries at the top on Pohutakawa Ridge, and take a break on the viewing platform in Kauri Grove. Allow a couple of hours.
If that sounds like a bit too much effort, you could always opt for a tour and tasting of some of the excellent olive oils at Rangihoua Estate, just a few minutes from Ringawera.
After all that nature or olive oil, you'll be more than ready for a long, leisurely Italian lunch. There's no better spot for such activities than Poderi Crisci, which is about as close to an authentically Italian experience you can get on this side of the world. Rows of vines set in a picturesque green valley, bountiful gardens and long wooden tables laden with antipasti and contorni, pasta and risotto, and wine, of course – what's not to like? Sunday is official long Italian lunch day, so set aside a few hours and let proprietor Antonio and his team look after you for $75 a head (excluding wine). Alternatively, you can of course engineer your own long lunch any day of the week from the a la carte menu, or if you're short on time, pop into the newly opened La Locanda next to the restaurant to sample some wine and antipasti delights.
If you've taken the less indulgent option, you'll be in fine shape to carry on another 25 minutes or so to the eastern end of the island. Man O' War Vineyards boasts the only beachfront tasting room on Waiheke and the casual platter lunch is a perfect match for the winery's rosé, the Man O' War Pinque. First released in 2014, Pinque is a classically styled pale dry rosé, a blend of 66 per cent merlot and 33 per cent malbec, grown on the steep hillsides around Waiheke's idyllic Cactus Bay. It's a family-friendly venue with park-like surroundings and a good swimming beach, although not so pleasant if an easterly wind is driving into the bay. If you fancy getting married on site, there's a cute little chapel especially built a few years ago for the wedding of the vineyard's super-rich owner, Berridge Spencer.
A nap back at Woodside Bay might be a good idea at this point, before you head into Oneroa, the closest thing Waiheke has to a big smoke, for a light dinner. The Oyster Inn is a great spot for (unsurprisingly, given the name) a few local Te Matuku oysters, and the salt and pepper squid is always a good time. Alternatively, just across the road you'll find excellent fish and chips with a view at The Local, or if the weather permits, head down to Little Oneroa for some woodfired deliciousness from the Dragonfired pizza cart.
Before you farewell the wonders of Waiheke, do not pass up a visit to The Annex in Ostend, owned by the Island Coffee crew. Jennifer Perry of Little Tart Bakery supplies the exquisite baked goods – think leek and cheddar galettes, peach melba tarts and baked vanilla cheesecake – and the setting is a charming, pint-sized historic cottage. It's open Friday-Monday.
Finally, if you've got time before your ferry back to the mainland, head around the corner to Factory Ceramics and pick up a bowl, platter or tumbler or two to take home as a memento of your island getaway.