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Culinary escape to New Zealand's island of good taste

Travel

It was once a haven for hippies and those ‘between jobs’ but now it’s become one of New Zealand’s hottest destinations.

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Just a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke is the most populated and second-largest island of the Hauraki Gulf.

Its population of just under 10,000 triples during the peak summer period when visitors from all over the world descend to indulge in its more than 30 wineries, great restaurants, art galleries, epicurean specialties, hikes and water sports.

In this little piece of kiwi paradise, there are thriving olive groves wherever you look; more than 18,000 trees have been planted on the island which is well-known for its premium extra virgin oil and other olive products.

Since the late 1970s, Waiheke’s Mediterranean climate (often five degrees hotter than the mainland), stony soils and dry summers attracted winemakers to the island and their plantings have matured over the decades to produce wines that now garner world acclaim. The island’s Chardonnay is the standout.

With space at a premium – the island is around 90-square kilometres – this is also premium tipple. High demand, lots of travelling connoisseurs, international trophies and low yields mean you can expect to pay for the privilege of sampling the unique, sought-after wines of Waiheke.

Along with the gorgeous Chardonnay, the island’s winemakers have collected a swag of global prizes for Syrah and the Larose from Stonyridge winery won equal first place in Paris for the 30 greatest Bordeaux styles in the world.

If you’re more into snapping than quaffing, Waiheke is also a photographer’s paradise with its rolling hills, white sandy beaches and picturesque inlets. It’s a wonderful place to explore by foot with plenty of well-constructed walkways meandering through pristine bush, farmland and reserves to sandy coves.

There are also more invigorating walks along deserted beaches and sheer clifftops that reward you with spectacular views of the Hauraki Gulf and inner islands. Nature lovers will enjoy guided tours through native bush and wetlands where you might see rare New Zealand dotterels and giant kokppu as well as not so rare kereru wood pigeons, tuis, fantails, song thrushes, kingfishers and many other species.

After your hike, from late spring to late autumn, the water temperature is perfect for a cool down.

Waiheke, which means ‘cascading waters’ in Māori, was a land of plenty for its original inhabitants. These days, it is a diverse cultural and community mix with many different nationalities drawn to the island for its unique lifestyle.

Its physical beauty inspires a thriving community of more than 100 artists who work across a wide range of media. Dotted around the island are more than 36 studios and galleries that feature regular exhibitions and internationally renowned private collections.

Day tours can be tailored to specific interests including art lover tours visiting some of the talented locals at work in their studios.

Paintings range from vibrant pastels, oils and acrylic works to delicate watercolours, intaglio etchings, woodcut prints, collages, ceramics and innovative mixed media works in a wide range of styles.

You can also enjoy a studio lunch with an artist as part of the tour.

Waiheke is home to the award-winning biennial exhibition Sculpture on the Gulf which showcases the work of New Zealand’s premier sculptors in an outdoor arena along a spectacular coastal walkway above the ferry terminal of Matiatia.

A bus service runs around the main populated areas between Matiatia Wharf, Onetangi and Rocky Bay. There are plenty of taxis, cars and e-bikes that can be hired near the Matiatia ferry terminal.

The main town, Oneroa, is about 10-20 minutes’ walk from the terminal.

Worthwhile points of interest include Stony Batter set on a scenic headland with sweeping views. The large coastal battery was built in 1942 to defend Auckland against the threat of   invasion by Japanese forces. Three 23-metre guns, an underground complex of magazine rooms, gun stores and engine rooms are linked by one-kilometre of tunnels.

Whittakers Musical Museum located at Artworks features a collection of antique musical instruments, including an old Wurlitzer.

The Waiheke Island Historical Village at Onetangi boasts a Woolshed Museum, two cottages that display a fascinating collection of artefacts including a textile gallery, photographs from pioneering days, a wool press and a whalers cauldron. The small village gives a great insight into what life was like for the first European settlers here.

Waiheke is full of intriguing historic and modern architecture and amazing gardens and you can also enjoy a round of golf, kayaking, cycling, horse riding and fishing.

There is a focus on health and wellbeing on the island with lots of different holistic treatments from relaxation to healing therapies, various types of massage, homeopathy, counselling reiki, yoga and Pilates.

Accommodation is available to suit all budgets but remember to book well ahead.

After a visit to Waiheke you will understand why it has been voted Auckland’s best day out.

–  WellTravelled.Network

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