Waiheke Island is a short 40 minutes ferry ride away from Auckland city. This paradise of an island is well connected by frequent ferry services from Auckland and Devonport wharf. On a beautiful sunny day, I decided to venture out to Waiheke for a day trip on a budget & using public transport alone. There are options to hire a car for a day at Waiheke for those who would prefer that. The return fullers ferry plus a full day hop on hop off explorer bus tour cost me $65 for an adult ticket and I was happy to spend that. Another option available was the urban bus service, however, I stuck to the hop on hop off explorer as it made the trip convenient and organised for first time Waiheke visitors and gave me a good sense of everything Waiheke has to offer.
The ferry from Auckland drops you off at Matiatia Ferry Terminal and the hop on hop off bus is conveniently parked right outside the ferry terminal and is easy to spot. So I was on my way a few minutes after arrival with the friendly staff on the bus. The 9 am ferry out of Auckland Harbour gave me a full day to spend at Waiheke as I hopped into the first hop on hop off explorer bus that departed Matiatia at 9:50 am.
The tour has 15 convenient stops and is easy to navigate. It takes a full loop around the island in 1.5 hours. It does help to plan your stops ahead of time. Our plan was to head to the wineries along the way first, then stop for lunch at Onetangi beach, then head to Batch Vista Point, the highest-altitude vineyard on Waiheke Island followed by coffee and shopping at Oneroa village with a final stop at the premium Mudbrick winery. That was a full day of Waiheke exploration.
Stop number 4 will get one to Stonyridge and the wineries surrounding it including Te Motu vineyard and Tantalus estate. Stonyridge is part of many of the cruise and ship excursions and hosts many groups in their tent for tasting, so don't be surprised if you are greeted with a large tourist bus group when you get there. There are helicopter packages to Stonyridge available from Auckland, that land directly at the winery and include a lunch at their popular restaurant. It's a great option for those special moments.
An hour and a half across 2 wineries was plenty of time (including walking time from 1 winery to another) and gives one some time to soak in the lovely surroundings and take plenty of pictures. Back on the bus, the next stop was Onetangi beach.
There are 3 popular restaurants at Onetangi boasting of beautiful water views across the beach. Charlie Farley's was immensely popular so was The Boathouse. Getting there for an early lunch is recommended to ensure you get the rest of the day to explore the island. Although I could have just spent the rest of the day just at the beach, I knew I wanted to cover a few more places before I head back to Auckland.
After a quick lunch and stroll across the beach, the hop on hop off bus looped again and this time headed to the Batch vineyard for the 360 degree island view. This is Waiheke's highest vineyard and has a beautiful restaurant which (in hindsight) could have been a great lunch option too. I'd recommend not missing the Sav Blanc here if you are wine tasting.
Back on the bus, the next stop was the Oneroa village for a stroll across the village and some shopping. As soon as the bus stopped, one is greeted by the beautiful water views and boutique shops. If it is a hot day (or not), grab a gelato from the popular island gelato company and savour their creative flavours. You'll find some vegan ones here too.
The winery closest to the ferry point is Mudbrick and Cable Bay. Both exceptional wineries and have great views of the harbour from the tasting room owing to their elevated location. One might find Mudbrick's prices a bit dear but it is well worth it for the exceptional wine, food, views and location.
If you are opting for public transport like me, definitely wear comfortable walking shoes and a hat and carry sunblock and water.
Other Waiheke experiences include helicopter tours, Zip Line adventures from EcoZip, Culinary indulgence in the award-winning wineries and the degustation menus and overnight tour packages. There is lots to do on the island for individuals and families and packages to suit all budgets and pockets. My introduction to Waiheke on a budget definitely gave me good tips for what the island can offer and what I would like to explore more the next time around.