PLAYGROUND OF THE GODS

2016 WAS A GREAT YEAR FOR WAIHEKE ISLAND WITH THE DESTINATION WINNING 3 INTERNATIONAL ACCOLADES.

1) Readers of Travel and Leisure magazine voted Waiheke Island the 4th best island in the world.

2) Waiheke Island was also voted 4th best island in the world in the Conde Nast Traveller Reader’s Choice Awards.

3) Lonely Planet rated Waiheke Island the 5th best destination in the world.

waihekeOneroa Bay Waiheke Island

ISLAND SUBURB

Waiheke (pronounced wi-heck-e and Maori for ‘cascading waters’) is an Auckland suburb. Covering an area of 92 square kilometres, (36 sq miles) it is the second largest of the 19 islands in the beautiful Hauraki Gulf.  Many of the 8.800 people who live on the island commute daily to Auckland. Another 3000 have holiday homes and live there part time throughout the year. Taking the land area/inhabitant ratio into account, Waiheke is the most densely populated of all the islands that make up New Zealand.

Matiatia is the entry point for the 1 million people who took the 35 minute ferry ride from the city last year. It is just 17.5km (11 miles) from the CBD of New Zealand’s largest city. The attractive bay is noted for the olive groves scattered along the hills curving around the water’s edge. The olives grown on the island are highly regarded and the oil they produce has won copious international awards. Local growers prefer the traditional way of bottling rather than factory production lines. It is a legacy of the island’s organic approach to doing things.

hand-bottling-stonyridge-hi-resHand Bottling Olive Oil

When I first visited Waiheke Island 15 years ago, it was home to hippies who didn’t want the place to change. It was a real backwater with rundown cottages surrounded by wandering chickens, dogs and even horses. There was an unkempt look to the countryside with overgrown grass edging the sides of the narrow, winding main road that connected the main settlements. However, since then, there has been a phenomenal change. Today, luxury homes dot the hillsides and peaceful bays. Exclusive resorts entice affluent tourists and the annual Easter Jazz Festival attracts international musicians. There are also upmarket art galleries but it’s the wine growing that has really put the island on the map and has given the boost to the economy that has transformed Waiheke into the classy destination it has now become.

waiheke54Luxury Living on Waiheke Island

WINE PRODUCTION

Waiheke is now called “the island of wine”.  The island’s wine producing achievements over the last decade have been remarkable with 11 varieties now available. In 2009, Kennedy Point’s 2007 Syrah won the “Best Syrah in the World” award.  Most of the 26 vineyards, all in stunning settings on the hilly island, have classy cafes or restaurants that offer quality food with wine tasting. Evocative names like Cable Bay, Goldie Vineyard, Jurassic Ridge, Mud Brick Vineyard, Obsidian Vineyard, Peacock Sky, View East Vineyard and Man o’War, indicate their individuality.

Vineyards, Waiheke Island, Hauraki Gulf, near Auckland, New Zealand

When I was gathering information for my book New Zealand Stopover: Auckland, the Largest City, I stopped at one of the vineyards for lunch. As I passed the entrance gates, a helicopter landed on a large lawn at the side of the road and four people climbed out. I discovered they had taken the 10 minute flight from Auckland to have lunch at the vineyard. I later found out it is a popular way for time strapped tourists to visit the island. There is definitely something different about flying to your lunch date!

UNIQUE ACCOMMODATION

New Zealand has won international awards for some of its luxury accommodations. Boutique hotels can be found in a number of locations around the country, especially in the South Island where many of the big spending visitors head to. The Boatshed Hotel above Oneroa, Waiheke Island’s main village, is unique in its design. England’s Independent Newspaper declared it to be one of “The Big Six Chic Nautical Hotels in the world“. Owner David Scott converted his holiday ‘bach’ or cottage into the unique hotel he runs today. It captures the laid back atmosphere of the island and is strongly influenced by the seas that surround it. The hotel is another indication of the rapidly growing sophistication of Waiheke Island.

waiheke662The Boatshed Hotel

ISLAND BEACHES

There are a staggering 29 beaches on Waiheke. Onetangi (pronounced on-e-tang-e) is the island’s largest beach and the houses, cafes and restaurants that line the 2.5km of white sand makes it the island’s busiest recreation area. This beach is also the venue for the Onetangi Beach Race which has taken place for 100 years and is a popular event on Auckland’s summer calendar. The highlight of the festivities are horse and tractor races. An odd mix of other activities such as wheelbarrow and waiter racing also take place during this colourful Waiheke event.

waiheke88rOnetangi Beach Race

Little Oneroa, sheltered by beautiful native pohutukawa trees that grow along its edge, has more of an island feel to it than busy Onetangi Beach. Set in native bush, nearby Palm Beach is another popular place to swim in the summer months.  I have visited some of these beaches and found they had a similar atmosphere to the empty beaches found in the South Island. The tranquillity and silence makes them special places. It is remarkable that these peaceful places are so close to the bustle and congestion of Auckland.

waiheke-beachWaiheke Beach

Apart from ambling along the beaches, you can also wander through the unique coastal forests found on Waiheke. These are tranquil spaces filled with the magical sounds of New Zealand’s native birds.  Check out my blog http://hewardblog.com/clumsy-flier-wins-top-award/  to hear these birds for yourself. These wonderful walks are popular with city dwellers who flock to Waiheke to experience the unique atmosphere this island offers.

waiheke993Waiheke Bush Walk

REMNANTS OF THE PAST

In 1956, Rocky Bay was the last settlement on the island to be reached by road. It is still the most isolated place and has the look and feel of Waiheke when it was a hippy outpost. Prior to the road access, Rocky Bay could only be reached by foot, horse or boat. This pristine little settlement has three sheltered bushy coves and offers great views across the Hauraki Gulf . The picturesque boatsheds the bay is noted for make it a popular destination for photographers and artists. I have a lasting impression of the place because of the peace and silence I experienced there. The clear call of a native tui bird pleasantly broke the silence like an angel singing. It was all rather magical. I had to keep reminding myself that this peaceful, unspoilt place is actually part of an Auckland suburb!

waiheke994Rocky Bay Boat shedswaiheke481Remnant of Waiheke’s Past

Whittaker’s Musical Museum is a home spun place set up by Lloyd and Joan Whittaker who wanted to share their love for musical instruments. They set up their impressive collection of pianos, harpsichords, piano accordions, harmonicas and organs in the front room of their house. Some of these instruments date back to the 1600s. There is even a piano built for a sailing ship which has a space saving retractable keyboard. This quirky place is another reminder of the island’s hippy past. The museum holds regular musical recitals. Visitors are given lessons in the history of music and are encouraged to play all the instruments. To me, this little museum seems right for Waiheke even though the surroundings have changed so dramatically since Lloyd and Joan first opened their home to the public.

waiheke8sWhittaker’s Music Museum

ISLAND OF ART

The Headland Sculpture on the Gulf is a unique art exhibition. First held in 2003, it has since become a major Auckland summer attraction. It was voted 35th in the “top 100 things to see in 2015” by the New York Times. Every second year, selected artists display their imaginative creations on one of the island’s headlands. Visitors have the opportunity to interact with some of the exhibits, adding to the appeal of this art display, and the scenic location makes it unique and appealing. A total of 31 sculptures lined the 2 kilometre walk along a headland for the last show. 35 artists have been selected for the next exhibition which takes place in the same location in February 2017.

Like the Wearable Arts Show with its imaginative art displayed on the human body, the Headland Sculptures also demonstrate how imaginative the Kiwi mind can be! Check out my blog on Wearable Arts here:

http://hewardblog.com/breathtaking-wearable-art/

waiheke554Sculpture on the Gulf

THRILL RIDE

A Zipline attraction has recently been introduced to Waiheke to appeal to tourists who want some thrills as they gaze at the scenery. This ride involves being harnessed to one of three Ziplines. These duel cabled flying foxes span a vineyard, a native forest and the third Zipline flies you into a small forest. The rides provide spectacular views across the Hauraki Gulf as you soar through the air for 200 metres at 60kmh. To me, this thrill ride seems a little incongruous on an island known for its laidback lifestyle but it is just another indication that Waiheke Island has left its hippy past behind and embraced a more sophisticated lifestyle.

waiheke43Zipline Waiheke Island

Ride one of the  Ziplines in this short video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1B8j-MMNzUA

Here is a short promotional video on Waiheke Island:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKPb7Ar5iiA

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