Once Waiheke was a sleepy summer vacation retreat, and hippie haven, with beach houses dotting its edges. Now you'll find some 35 vineyards, many the passion projects of their owners, architectural holiday homes owned by the well heeled, and old-school tiny weekend escapes side by side. The island is earning a reputation for its vineyards, and many local cafés stock wines unavailable elsewhere. The annual Waiheke Jazz Festival at Easter attracts renowned overseas performers.
From the ferry landing at Matiatia Wharf you can walk five minutes to the small town of Oneroa, the island's hub, with its shops, cafés, bars, and real estate agents. Another minute's walk gets you to Oneroa Beach, one of the most accessible beaches. The north-facing beaches—sheltered bays with little surf—are the best for swimming. The most popular is Palm Beach, 10 minutes by bus from Oneroa. Around the rocks to the left is Little Palm Beach, one of Auckland's three nudist beaches. Another great beach,
Onetangi, is on the north side of the island, 20 minutes from Matiatia by bus. Whakanewha Regional Park, on the south side, is a lovely bush reserve leading down to a half-moon bay. You can hike and picnic here, and the wetlands is home to rare birds such as the New Zealand dotterel. You can get to the park from Oneroa by shuttle bus. If you go in summer or on weekends, it pays to get ferry tickets early as the island draws big crowds on fine days.