Waiheke Island, in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, is home to some of New Zealand’s most scenic vineyards. That obviously means wine is a big reason for visiting, but is it the only one? I’m not a wine drinker (maybe my taste buds haven’t matured yet…?) but still found heaps of fun things to do on Waiheke Island, including beaches, hikes and viewpoints. Oh, I also tried some wine (my wife is a fan) — keep reading for a look at what Waiheke Island has to offer.
Getting to Waiheke Island
Ferries leave from Auckland Harbour every half hour — it takes around 40 minutes and you’ll see a couple of other Hauraki Gulf islands, including Rangitoto (which apparently has some nice hikes). Ferries start from Auckland at 5.30 am (6 am on Saturday / 7 am on Sunday) and the last boat back to Auckland is at 12.30 am (11 pm on Sunday). If you’re taking the hop on hop off bus like we did, the last bus arrives at the ferry terminal in time for the 7 pm ferry. If you want to stay longer I’d recommend finishing your day at Mudbrick Vineyard or Cable Bay Vineyard, as they are a short walk from the ferry terminal. The ferry drops you off at Matiatia Bay and from there you can rent a car, travel by hop on hop off bus (which is what we did) or public bus.
Walks Around Matiatia Bay
Walk to the left of the ferry terminal and you’ll find a rugged beach which leads to some hiking trails. We walked up to a track above Owhanake Bay and got some great views. You can walk all the way to Oneroa on these tracks — it takes around two hours and it seems like it could be fun.
The first stop on either bus is Oneroa Village — it’s only around 2 km from Matiatia and is the main tourist town on Waiheke Island. This tiny beach town has some cool places to eat and drink (including the all-important gelato stall) and a few galleries and shops. You could easily hang out in Oneroa for a few hours (or the whole day if you’re feeling lazy). From a few places in town you can see right over Oneroa Beach, one of the best beaches on Waiheke Island.
Oneroa Beach / Little Oneroa Beach
From town you can easily walk down to the beach. It’s a good place to hang out on a summer’s day (bring your own shade though) and the walk to Little Oneroa Beach is a good excuse to stretch your legs. You can walk there along the beach at low tide or there’s a path / road above it.
This is the first winery you’ll come to if travelling by bus and it’s probably the prettiest of the lot. It’s also the oldest vineyard on Waiheke Island, having been established in 1978. We arrived a bit late to try any wine (not that I would have appreciated it anyway) but we hung out above the vines for a while — such a peaceful spot! Goldie’s Estate is open from 12 pm – 4.30 pm and you can do some wine tasting for $15.
This is a slightly less touristy village, but it does have a few eating and drinking options as well as some places to stay (including Waiheke Island’s only motel). We stayed a 15-minute walk from Ostend, at Waiheke Guesthouse, and it made for a decent base for exploring the island.
Just after Ostend you’ll find a big clump of vineyards, including Tantalus Estate and Stonyridge Vineyard. If you want to visit a few different vineyards and are short on time this is a good place to go. The only downside is that these vineyards don’t have the views that you’ll see at some of the others. Spending time at a vineyard is one of the best things to do on Waiheke Island and it can be a bit hard to choose which ones to visit — you can’t go wrong with the ones in this area but there are heaps of others.
We did a wine and beer tasting at Tantalus Estate and it was a good introduction to the tastes of the region. There’s also a small museum across the road which could be worth a look.
This long stretch of beach is good for a walk or a drink by the water. You can also walk up the hill at the south end of the beach for some nice views. This is rated as one of the best beaches on Waiheke Island, and it didn’t disappoint. If you want to hang around a while you’ll find a couple of bars / restaurants and a small shop.
Palm Beach (and Little Palm Beach)
Palm Beach isn’t on the hop on hop off route, so we ended up walking there from Ostend (around 2 km). You can also take the public bus. Palm Beach itself is really nice, but the real highlight was the walk to and from Little Palm Beach.
You can walk to Little Palm Beach easily at low tide (although your feet might get a bit wet), but make sure to take the hilltop track either there or on the way back. The views over Little Palm Beach are the best on Waiheke Island (the best we saw at least).
We decided to try and walk from Palm Beach to Goldie Estate and saw some awesome views from the road. Then a friendly woman stopped and gave us a ride!
Next up on this things to do in Waiheke Island is, you guessed it, another vineyard. Batch Winery is the highest vineyard on the island and has some awesome views. We ate lunch there and had a free wine tasting (they are free if you spend over $20 on food). I can’t say I enjoyed the wine (Gia did though) but the food was excellent, and you can’t argue with the views.
Just across the road from Batch Winery you’ll find a track to the cascades. I thought there might be some views along the way, but you could barely see the ocean below and the cascades were disappointing to say the least. Skip it and have an extra glass of wine at Batch Winery if you’re into that kind of thing. There are other walks in the area too — let me know if you’ve done any and if you’d recommend them!
Mudbrick Vineyard / Cable Bay Vineyard
We finished up our time on Waiheke Island with a drink at Cable Bay Vineyard. There are some nice views from the bar / restaurant but good luck getting a table that take advantage of them. We also stopped off at Mudbrick Estate and again, the views were great. You can’t go wrong with either of these places, so pick one (or both) and enjoy a relaxing couple of hours before your ferry back to Auckland.
Other Things to Do on Waiheke Island
We, and most other tourists, stuck to the bus routes on our trip to Waiheke Island. If you rent a car you can see a lot more. Man O’ War Vineyards looks cool and there seems to be some nice walks on the eastern side of the island. I wouldn’t worry too much though — there is a lot to see on the “tourist trail” and you can easily fill up a day or two by sticking to the bus routes.
Waiheke Island Itinerary
Most people visit Waiheke Island on a day trip from downtown Auckland, and a day is long enough to see most of the things on this list. If you only have a day I’d recommend spending some time in Oneroa, then to Goldie’s Estate for a bit of wine tasting, followed by some more wine related fun at one of the inland vineyards, before heading to either Palm Beach or Onetangi Beach. On the way back stop at Mudbrick or Cable Bay for a final drink.
If you’re not into wine you’ll want spend most of your time in Oneroa, Palm Beach and the hiking trails around Matiatia. If you have two days, you can do all that and have heaps of time to relax. We really enjoyed our time on Waiheke Island and were glad we decided to stay the night.
Getting Around Waiheke Island
The hop on hop off bus is a good option — it takes you to most of the popular spots and you get an informative commentary along the way. The only weakness are that it doesn’t go to Palm Beach, costs a little more than the public bus and doesn’t start as early.
The public buses get quite full (we saw heaps of people standing at times) but it’s a bit cheaper and there’s a service to Palm Beach. The local bus doesn’t go up to Batch Winery though. Or, you can rent a car. This would be a good option if you want to explore the island more thoroughly. There are lots of places you can’t get to by bus, including some hiking trails, viewpoints, beaches and vineyards.
Where to Stay on Waiheke Island
Your best bet is to stay in either Oneroa or Ostend – those towns have the best eating and shopping options and well connected by bus. There are also heaps of holiday rentals on Waiheke Island – these are very popular with locals over the summer period. There are a few options on Booking.com – if you’re only staying a night or two those are probably better options than organising a holiday rental.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out my other posts (I have over 40 now!).
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