There's something about an island. That 35 gentle minutes spent cruising toward Waiheke is enough to make you feel like you've truly arrived. The locals tell you they've got a unique climate, with more sunshine and warmth than the mainland. Even if that's folk law the proof is in their lush environment, with vineyards producing world class wines and olive oil. It's also the perfect habitat for native birds. Tui are plentiful. Their call through native bush is a melodious backdrop on the island.
We took our children on the 7.15pm ferry and were joined by a collection of weekend visitors alongside locals on the commute. We disembarked with ease at Matiatia Bay and were lucky enough to be staying with locals who have access to a car. We're all for Public transport but a car allowed us to see so much more of the island over a short weekend. Visitors who linger longer will have time to use the excellent bus route.
Our weekend base was near Little Oneroa Beach. We enjoyed the short walk down to the bay on a Friday night, enjoying the excellent wood fired pizzas from Dragonfired, a popular little pizza shack on the shore. Eating at the beach was also the perfect excuse for a sunset dip.
We woke a beautiful day and were keen for some exercise. Te Ara Hura is a fantastic network of tracks, making up the 100km walking trail around the island. Our friends directed us to their favourite stretch around the Owhanake Peninsula, starting at Owhanake Bay and rounding out to the lookout at the eastern tip of Island Bay. The views across the Gulf toward Motutapu and beyond are spectacular. No wonder so many of New Zealand's rich listers have built magnificent retreats along this coastline.
Post walk we rewarded ourselves with excellent take-out coffee (hot chocolates for the girls) from Double Shot in Oneroa. It's a busy little township on a summer weekend and we explored some of the boutique shops and the Island Grocer, a treasure trove for foodies. Soon we were ready for the beach.
Onetangi sits at the end of the bus circuit and is as famous for its annual horse races as it is for its beauty. It has the widest fetch of golden sand of any beach on the island and is more ocean that rocky cove. Winds had churned up the seas but on a good day the waves make great conditions for surfers and kite surfers alike. We were happy enough with an inflatable boogey board and the chance to swim in glorious conditions, before settling down for lunch.
We'd booked a table at Passage Rock. It's a lovely vineyard setting with lush green vines stretching as far as the eye can see, and scented by fresh lavender and herbs in the kitchen garden. We opted for simple pizza but the menu was extensive. The oversized jenga set provided enough entertainment for the kids to play while we sipped on wine from the cellars.
A late lunch set us up for a lazy afternoon, before heading down to a jazz festival at Little Oneroa. Waiheke is known for its arts and culture scene. A three-piece band playing a handful of sets brought crowds of locals with picnic dinners and oversized picnic blankets.
Sunday was a later start. The girls walked our friend's dog at one of the many doggy friendly beaches and I ran along the clifftop path toward Palm Beach. The boys took paddleboards out to explore the Island's south-western coastline, taking the boards down through part of the Park Point Coastal loop track. They enjoyed the chance to look back on the city, feeling a million miles away.
Tired and happy we rounded off our trip with a rewarding gelato from the Island Gelato Company. I had their award winning Lemon, Thyme and Shortbread. A heavenly gastronomic treat to send us off on the ferry home.