Vineyard-hopping and beach-bumming are often mutually exclusive when it comes to a vacation; fortunately, you can have both if you've chosen New Zealand’s Waiheke Island—or “Wine Island” as it's affectionately referred to by Aucklanders—as your holiday playground.
Located an easy 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland, this isle features luxury lodging, food that's fresh from the sea and garden, gorgeous scenery, boutique wineries devoted to fine red-wine production, and plenty of envy-inducing vacation homes. The handful of sandy beaches and winding roads offer plenty for carefree discovery, even in the summer months, when an influx of Aucklanders retreats from the city. Although summer is the preferred time to visit due to the excellent weather, the island offers year-round pleasures, just at a quieter pace. But even during peak season the vibe is still laid-back: Only 8,000 residents live there permanently, and during the summer climax, the roads remain refreshingly empty.
Here's our three-day guide to making the most of Waiheke. As the sign that greets guests at the ferry terminal advises, “Slow down; you are here.”
Arrive from Auckland via a late-morning ferry and pick up a rental car near the docks. You'll disembark at Kennedy Point, making an exploration of the western side of the island a logical start. Head to small-production winery Jurassic Ridge, named after the ancient rocks that sit below the soil. Just up the block sits Mudbrick Restaurant and Vineyard. Sample the Reserve Syrah with lunch, though be advised that weddings often book the space. A short drive will lead you to beautifully situated Cable Bay Vineyards, where the views extend to the bay, Hauraki Gulf Islands, and Auckland's skyline, which is punctuated by the Sky Tower.
Follow signs towards Oneroa Village, stopping at Little Oneroa Beach foir a sandy stroll. If you're hungry, grab a crispy pizza snack at Dragonfired, on the east end of the beach, or a samosa at the dairy (similar to a deli) across the street. Regroup back at your lodging before venturing out for a dinner of tapas at the jovial Casita Miro, paired with Sherry or a meaty Syrah from neighboring Miro Vineyard.
Have breakfast at your lodging; if you're renting a private home, head into Oneroa Village and fuel up at local favorite Wai Kitchen. Afterward, amble through the compact town and visit corner grocery Waiheke Fruit & Vege to peruse local products including their version of a Cronut. Wander down to Oneroa Beach and watch kite surfers negotiate the often frantic wind.
Back in the car, continue toward the village of Ostend. Take a coffee break at hole-in-the-wall Waiheke Island Coffee Roasting Company and score a jar of Waiheke honey to take home. Up the road, you'll pass Franco’s Bakery on Belgium Street, a great place to watch the bread artisans at work.
Exiting Ostend, look for signs to Rangihoua Estate; pop in for a complimentary tasting of their range of locally produced oils. Then, head up the road to relative newcomer Batch Winery, built atop a hill with splendid island views. They've just started selling brown bag lunches and pie to go, but consider dining al fresco in the garden at The Shed Restaurant at Te Motu Vineyard instead. Sample the acclaimed reds as a complement to the lamb shoulder with mint yogurt. Next, continue down the road to Stonyridge Winery, home to one of New Zealand's most expensive wines, the Bordeaux-style Larose. Don’t confuse pricey wine with a somber experience—the winery transforms into a scene filled with revelers drinking and dancing during the summer. Once you've soaked in the ambience, head back to Oneroa for a sundowner and oysters at the The Oyster Inn, or for a more low-key option, dine on pizzas and pasta at the casually classy Fenice.
Have breakfast at your lodging before embarking on a long drive east, or indulge along the way with blueberry pancakes at Peacock Sky Vineyard (open weekends only). Head north along Man O'War Bay Road and snap shots of the scenic views as you curve down toward the sparkling blue bay. This remote spot on a gorgeous cove conceals an unlikely inhabitant: the renowned Man O'War Vineyards. The tasting room plays host to sailors arriving on Zodiac boats to spend a languorous afternoon in this hidden paradise. Join them with a glass of smoky Dreadnought Syrah.
Refreshed and relaxed, take the route south towards Connells Bay and its seaside Sculpture Park, showcasing New Zealand artists (be sure to make a reservation). Next, push ahead towards Passage Rock Wines. Perch on a picnic table amidst the vines and sip on Viognier. Finally, head north on Orapiu Road to boutique wine producer and restaurant Poderi Crisci. Dine on chargrilled kingfish with vegetables sourced from the garden, and consider extending your stay another day.
Where to Stay
Stick to one spot for three nights. Options include elegant inns, upscale B&Bs, or private home rentals. The island lacks large- and medium-sized hotels—part of its charm—but the small nature of most establishments necessitates advanced booking on summer holiday weekends.
If you're looking for an inn, consider The Boatshed, while Hei Matau Lodge offers a more upscale B&B experience. The owners serve exceptional breakfast spreads and nightly wine hour with bottles pulled from their cellar. Alternatively, if you're visiting with a large group or just want to indulge for a weekend, Stay Waiheke, run by a former New Yorker, offers a thoughtfully curated collection of homes around the island, ranging from cozy vineyard cottages to private beachfront estates.