Residents of Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest - and busiest -city would probably prefer that Waiheke Island remained their little secret. Unfortunately for them, the word is out.
Just a 35-minute passenger ferry ride away from downtown Auckland, the idyllic island has long been a bolt-hole for well-heeled city folk, an island retreat that’s a perfect day-trip or weekend destination.
Some Auckland jet setters sail their own yachts across the Hauraki Gulf to Waiheke, or take a 10-minute helicopter ride from the airport to a much slower world.
Waiheke, 19.3 kilometres long and up to 9.5 kilometres wide, has a sub-tropical micro climate and boasts myriad attractions; foremost among them a dozen or so wineries, many with top-notch cellar door restaurants, which are dotted among the neighbouring fruit farms, olive groves, cafés, art studios and galleries.
Even at peak periods, Waiheke has a somnambulant feel; you get a sense that even the residents are in holiday mode.
It’s the wineries, though, that have sparked a tourism boom. They tend to specialise in red wines with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and cabernet franc all doing well. Chardonnay and pinot gris have also been planted.
Family-owned and operated Mudbrick vineyard and restaurant (above), which has a Tuscan vibe, is a popular spot and many of the dishes feature vegetables and herbs from the restaurant’s own potager. It has been described as "one of the most romantic places on earth".
Residents say some of the best food on the island is found at Cable Bay winery restaurant while other wineries worth visiting include Goldwater Estate, whose vineyard overlooking Putiki Bay matches the views offered by Mudbrick and Cable Bay, cabernet specialist Stonyridge Vineyard and Te Whau.
Te Whau boasts it has “the finest wine list in New Zealand” and serves Pacific Rim cuisine, while Rangihoua Estate produces a range of extra virgin olive oils. The island’s biggest producer, Man O’War, also recently opened a new cellar door.
Art lovers, meanwhile, will want to pick up the Waiheke Arts Trail brochure, which highlights 30 island studios worth visiting, including the Waiheke Community Art Gallery, which is open daily.
Waiheke is also notable for a number of natural health therapists offering treatments ranging from massage to yoga, pilates and spiritual healing.
Visitors might well be tempted to spend a night or two operating at a slower pace and there can be fewer more chic spots to stay than The Boatshed; very exclusive, but very relaxed.
Overlooking peaceful Oneroa Bay, The Boatshed (below) has just a handful of designer suites and is cute and chic.
The rooms are gorgeous, the service attentive, the food outstanding. The ambiance here is reminiscent of a small European fishing village, making it a perfect spot for winding down.
The suites all feature king-sized beds, fine linens, open fireplaces and five-star amenities. The Lighthouse, a three-level retreat, offers absolute seclusion – and is perfect for a romantic escape.
Breakfast can be enjoyed in bed, around the hotel breakfast table, or alfresco, while lunch is served throughout the day; eat as and when the whim strikes. Dinner customarily features local ingredients; seafood, olive oils, fresh fruits and vegetables and organic homemade breads.
As you’d expect, there’s an excellent wine list featuring many of the red wines made on the island. Note: The Boatshed reopens after its winter break on July 12.
The Boatshed: Phone: +649 372 3242. www.boatshed.co.nz. To learn more about Waiheke Island, see www.waiheke.co.nz.