With its golden coves and many wineries, Waiheke Island is known to be a summer paradise – but it’s a worthy destination year-round. While it’s slightly sleepier in the cooler months, this just means less of a queue for the ferry and it’s easier to book accommodation, restaurant tables and transport around the island. Explore what’s known as the “far end” of Waiheke, and you’ll have even more to set you apart from the hoards.
If you’re looking to book a house that’s just as much an attraction as Waiheke’s activities, Kaitiaki Lodge is a luxurious stay for a group. Sleeping 10 across five bedrooms and three bathrooms, the lodge is situated about 8 minutes’ drive up the hill from the island’s largest beach, Onetangi. It overlooks native bush, sprawling hills and the sea beyond from a large balcony; plus, there’s a swimming pool and spa to make the most of your downtime. The architecturally designed, contemporary house is decked out in a palette of black, slatted wood and dark marble, from the high-spec kitchen to the heated-floor ensuite – and the sunset view from the master bedroom makes it very hard to leave.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more iconic casual Waiheke spot than Charlie Farley’s, which has been running since 1987. Situated on the Onetangi beachfront with a prime view of the stretch of white sand, it’s open from 8am until 11pm or midnight, seven days a week. Book in for breakfast (it’s less than 10 minutes’ drive from Kaitiaki Lodge) and make sure you reserve a roadside table on the front deck for your French toast, bacon and egg butty, or Charlie’s Big Brekkie – plenty of fuel for a stroll along the beach afterwards.
For a lazy long lunch, head to the tasting room at Man O’ War Vineyards on the eastern "far side" of the island. Even off-season, it was buzzing when Broadsheet visited – the big tables, indoor-outdoor feel and sprawling lawn hosting weekenders, multi-generational family gatherings, and seafaring visitors who’d come in from boats moored in the bay. Man O’ War’s restaurant is the only beachfront cellar door on the island, and opting for the winery’s drinks pairing will let you experience just how knowledgeable the staff are. The new spring sharing menu is full of crowd-pleasers such as Cloudy Bay clams in chilli, garlic, white wine and cream; stracciatella with tamarillo and Man O’ War’s own spiced manuka honey; a handful of pizzas; and truffle fries.
End the day with a relaxed dinner at a local favourite: Arcadia on Palm Beach – not far from Onetangi, the main Oneroa shops, and the ferry terminal at Matiatia. The cafe and restaurant has a cosy feel, with an unfussy menu of comfort food classics – you might order fresh, line-caught battered fish (in Arcadia’s secret-recipe beer batter) with chips, 12-hour braised beef cheeks, or a buttermilk fried chicken burger with all the trimmings. There’s also a covered deck and beer garden area for warmer evenings.
Linger on the eastern side of the island after Man O’ War, and you can visit Waiheke Distilling Co – Waiheke’s only dedicated gin and vodka distillery. The setting is nothing short of idyllic; a sloping lawn with beanbags and picnic tables, fronted by panoramic ocean views with a spray-free botanical garden up to one side. Owners and distillers Liz Scott and Glen Cadwallader are more than happy to talk shop, delving into the details of their boutique gins and vodkas – which you can try as part of a tasting paddle or mixed into cocktails, including high-end G&Ts and arguably the perfect Martini. Snack on an artisanal cheese or charcuterie board sourced from independent New Zealand producers, and there are blankets for laps if there’s still a spring bite in the air.
For when you’re not wining, dining or relaxing at your accommodation, one of Waiheke’s famous walking tracks will get your blood flowing and keep your appetite healthy. You might do a self-guided section of the Te Ara Hura trail that traverses the island’s border, or book in for a formal hike as part of the Waiheke Walking Festival – coming up at the end of October.
For an all-weather activity with a difference, Stony Batter Tunnels is another stop on the island's east side. There, you can have a guided tour of a former coastal defence fortress, dug out by hand during World War II. The heritage-listed site is now run by former music producer and archaeologist Tim Moon, who will show you around through 1200 metres of tunnels, passages and chambers – some of which he's decorated with quirky art and lighting. He has in-depth knowledge of the history and construction of the place, so this is a good one for any history buffs or enthusiasts of wartime paraphernalia.
Jump on a Fullers ferry from Auckland’s downtown ferry terminal, and you’ll be stepping off at Waiheke’s Matiatia Wharf in 40 minutes. If you’re truly on holiday time, head to the island during off-peak hours and a return ticket will cost you $29.50 – down from the normal $55 price. More chance of nabbing a window seat, too.
If you’re venturing further than just Oneroa (which we strongly suggest you do), travel can be daunting on the island unless you take your own wheels over. Graeme Rivett will solve this problem for you; the founder of Auckland and Waiheke guided tour business Kiwi Connect oversees a fleet of electric vans and is himself a cheery and knowledgeable guide. Choose from several Waiheke tours of varying lengths and prices; the Far End tour is what took Broadsheet to Man O’ War, Waiheke Distilling Co and Stony Batter on the eastern side, and Rivett will go above and beyond to make any trip the right kind of memorable.
The writer stayed on Waiheke Island courtesy of Waiheke Tourism Incorporated and Waiheke Unlimited.