What’s the town like? How easy is it to get around? Is it very expensive? What is there to do?
With international travel restricted at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, travelling within your own country and ‘staycations’ seem to be the way to go. Waiheke is a beautiful island just across the water from Auckland and is the second largest island in the gulf, after Great Barrier Island.
A few weeks ago Sharkey and I went to Waiheke for a quick 2-night staycation. I’d never been before and Sharkey hadn’t gone since he was a kid so it was an exciting little trip away given all the COVID chaos from earlier in the year.
Have a look at what we got up to and where we would recommend if you are thinking about going to the beautiful Waiheke for a weekend!
Getting There & Getting around
On Valentine’s weekend Sharkey and I drove down from our home town Whangarei to Auckland, where we would park and get the ferry across to Waiheke Island as foot passengers for a weekend away. The drive from Whangarei to Auckland was pretty painless, standard Auckland Friday PM traffic hit us as we got closer into town but otherwise we got to Auckland in relatively good time. It’s worth saying that we didn’t book the ferry in advance. With all the uncertainty of COVID and plans sometimes needing to rapidly change, we thought best to just go with the flow.
We arrived at the ferry terminal in Auckland and got on the next available ferry, we had a 30 minute wait or so, but it gave us time to pick up a bus pass which would enable us to use the hop-on, hop-off busses on Waiheke Island. The ferry cost us around $45 return each, which I thought for a foot passenger was quite expensive. The reason we didn’t take the car across was due to the cost! It would have cost $360 to take the car on the ferry leaving Friday and returning Sunday… CRAZY!
On the ferry, and at the terminal, masks had to be worn at all times (unless medically exempt) which wasn’t too bad and everyone seemed to be pretty compliant. After a quick 40 min ferry trip we arrived at Waiheke Island at about 8pm ready to head out for dinner and enjoy the weekend ahead.
Once on the island we used our bus cards, very easy to top up at the ferry terminal and in certain stores on the island. I had an issue with my card on one of the days and decided to top it up online/via the app. BIG MISTAKE! DO NOT TOP IT UP ONLINE/ON APP. It can take days or weeks to credit your account and go onto your card. To get instant top up, go into a qualifying shop or at the ferry ports to top up in person.
When booking a weekend on Waiheke Island there are LOADS of accommodation options, however some are very expensive, others booked up months in advance, and some that are not near to anything… so choose wisely when looking at where to stay. We stayed in Oneroa which was a great place to be based. Not far from the ferry as well as multiple wineries and the main town of Oneroa which had lots of lovely eateries, bars and shops.
We opted for an Airbnb which was perfect. A little 1-bed flat – nothing flash or fancy but perfect for a quick weekend away. Our hosts were lovely, really helpful, provided every amenity we could have needed and with contactless check-in and check-out it couldn’t have been easier. We paid about $400 for two nights, which for Waiheke seemed very reasonable given it was a weekend and on/around Valentine’s Day.
As we arrived quite late on Friday, we decided to head straight out for dinner rather than going to our Airbnb. We hopped on a bus at the ferry terminal which took us into Oneroa where we would have dinner. We were recommended several restaurants on the island by numerous friends and family, however The Oyster Inn came up multiple times and so we had to try it. It was busy when we arrived, had a lovely atmosphere and romantically lit inside and outside sitting areas. In the end we shared a delicious sticky chicken starter then I went for the Fish of the day which was absolutely divine! A huge piece of perfectly cooked fish, with sweetcorn salsa, broccolini and greens. Not a cheap dinner, but absolutely amazing food and impeccable service. Would absolutely go back and 100% recommend. Bookings are a must for a weekend as it was packed and fully booked!
After dinner we hopped in a taxi, which was ordered by the lovely staff at The Oyster Inn, and headed to our Airbnb to check in.
Saturday was our first full day on Waiheke Island and we packed heaps into the day. After a great sleep at the Airbnb, as it was a nice sunny morning, we decided to skip taking the bus and walk into Oneroa to find some breakfast and have a look around.
Only about a 25 min walk or so into town (downhill I should add) we perused our options for breakfast. There was plenty of choice when it came to finding somewhere to eat. From restaurants and cafés to even pop up food trucks, we were spoilt for choice. In the end, we went for breakfast at Wai Kitchen, a lovely little café which overlooked the water. I could have stared at that view all day it was beautiful. They had a great menu with plenty of choice as well as fresh coffees, juices and smoothies. Even better was that the restaurant itself was lovely, with its clean, beachy vibe it was a really nice place to sit and enjoy the morning. Lots of outside tables on a glass surrounded balcony as well as a friendly, spacious indoor dining option – it was really inviting from the outside and just as lovely once you sat down.
We ordered – Sharkey went for the Bolognaise on Toast and an Iced coffee, whereas I went for an almond milk cappuccino and pancakes. Both dishes were generous portions and absolutely delicious. The coffee as well was lovely, which as a coffee snob, was a big tick in my book.
Price wise, it wasn’t unreasonable. Waiheke generally we knew wouldn’t be cheap, but I think the breakfast prices were reasonable given the size of the portion and lovely dining experience.
After breakfast we had a wander around the shops, which had some lovely things in. A couple of really nice homewares shops caught my eye, whereas a funky clothes shop had Sharkey heading through its doors. There was a nice mix of shops and things to look at in Oneroa town centre but I warn you… prices for homewares and clothes in some of the shops would make your eyes water!
We opted to bus home, after a big breakfast and with the thought of walking uphill on the way home, we used our handy bus cards and went back to the Airbnb to get ready for the day of wineries and fun ahead.
Winery #1 – Wild On Waiheke
After some down time at the Airbnb and getting all dolled up, we hopped on a bus to head to our first winery – Wild On Waiheke. On arrival, you head downstairs into the cellar where you are met by a lovely and cool, open cellar with an urban loft feel décor complete with comfy sofas, orange beanbags and wooden tables. With two flight tasting menus to choose, a beer and a wine tasting both costing $20pp there was a nice mix for those that didn’t want just wine. We both went for the wine tasting – we are on Waiheke, it would be rude not to right?
Wines: They had some beautiful wines on offer, and each tasting included 5 wines: 3 whites, 1 rosé and 1 red.
Sharkeys Favourite Wine: WanderLust ‘The Reds’ 2019 – Lovely and rich red Bordeaux blend wine with earthy notes.
My Favourite Wine: Rosé 2020 from Hawkes Bay. Very pale and dry French style rosé made from 100% Merlot grapes, crisp and dry – very easy to drink!
By the time we had finished the tasting, we were both a little peckish and also thought before we consume any more wine, we should be responsible adults and have some food before heading off to any more wineries. One of the reasons we chose to start at Wild on Waiheke was that they had a lovely restaurant above the cellar which offered a very comprehensive and reasonably priced food menu. We both went for pizzas, which were delicious but we didn’t need 1 each as they were HUGE and did not stinge on the toppings!
After lunch we headed off to the next winery which was a short walk away. One of the reasons we chose the wineries we did was because there were a few which were all within walking distance of each other. It was perfect for us as we were both drinking and without a car!
Winery #2 – Tantalus Estate
So, next on our little tour and probably my favourite winery we visited, the Tantalus Estate – which came recommended by a few people. But I have to admit, we also do have a friend that works there and so were keen to support her and give her estate a go. WE WERE GLAD WE DID!
One of the most impressive driveways I have ever seen, Tantalus Estate is perched up on the top of a hill which made it a bit of a climb in a pair of wedges, but the view at the top over the vineyards and surrounding rolling hills was absolutely unbelievable.
Tastings cost just $15 per person and are really well executed. Staff are very knowledgeable about the wines they offer which meant those getting a tasting really got to understand what they were tasting and could ask questions about the various wines as well as the estate itself.
We were thoroughly spoilt as our friend gave us our tasting personally and answered all my many questions about the wines. They had some divine and smooth reds as well as a rosé I could quite happily drink every day of the summer!
Not just our Favourite wines of the winery – but our FAVE WINES OF THE WHOLE DAY….
Sharkey’s Favourite Wine: Voilé. A Tantalus Estate Reserve Syrah, Waiheke 2016. A vibrant, rich red wine which was very smooth and fruity.
My Favourite Wine: Évoque. A Merlot/Malbec/Cabernets blend from Waiheke 2016. Very smooth, deep, red wine which was not as acidic as Voilé. Deep red colour and a lovely blend of the grapes.
Winery #3 – Mudbrick Vineyard
Our third and final stop of the day was not walking distance from the others we had visited so we took a short taxi across the island to one its most famous vineyards, Mudbrick. The vineyard and the restaurant were stunning, made from beautiful old brick and stone, surrounded by lovely gardens with views right across the water all the way to Auckland, it was spectacular. We sat outside on their terrace as it was a very warm evening, which was lucky given how busy it was. We sat down at a front row table to take in the views and soak in the evening sun. By now we had drunk a fair few glasses of wine, and felt like a little break so ordered a cocktail each. Sharkey had a Pornstar Martini and I went for a Green Touch, a gin based cocktail which I can only describe as a Pisco Sour-type cocktail. It was fresh, botanical and delicious – I could have drunk a fair few of them but given how strong it was, as well as the hefty $20 ish each price tag, I think 1 was enough.
After a cocktail, we decided we would do our tasting. We both went for the red flight wine tasting which they kindly served us outside instead of the cellar which meant we could enjoy the view and approaching sunset.
I am not normally a red drinker as I normally choose to drink Rosé, but some of the reds in this tasting were yum and when they were all in a line, I could really see the difference between them all.
Sharkey’s Favourite Wine: Reserve Syrah 2019 Waiheke. A new vintage release. Dark and fruity red, which would go well with red meats. High tannin makes the wine stick to your mouth and have that lasting finish on the tongue.
My Favourite Wine: Reserve Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot/Malbec 2019 Waiheke. The 2019 Mudbrick Reserve Bordeaux blend very dark and smooth not quite as sticky on the mouth as the Reserve Syrah.
We finished our tasting, and instead of staying for dinner at Mudbrick, we decided to head back into Oneroa to try a smaller local restaurant. After pondering the choices one again, we chose to have dinner at The Courtyard, small restaurant in the middle of Oneroa town centre. We had heard great things about this place, and even our taxi driver that picked us up from Mudbrick Vineyard said it was one of his favourite places.
It was a small menu, but all local fresh ingredients and so we dove straight into a main course. Sharkey chose to have the calamari spaghetti and I had the seafood ravioli. Now, both were delicious, but the portions were pretty small for the price tag and left us both hoping we had a bit more coming. The staff were really friendly and it was clear that a lot of locals came here for dinner as it was pretty busy for a small restaurant.
After a quick pitstop at a Foursquare in town for some chocolate and crisps, we decided as it was a nice evening we would walk some of the way home to a little beach we walked past earlier that day to watch the moon rise and eat our after dinner treats.
After an hour or so, we walked across the road to wait at the bus stop to wait for the bus to take us the rest of the way home.
Check-out wasn’t until 11, however we wanted to be able to have some time in Auckland to go shopping and have a nice brunch or lunch before heading back up north. We left the Airbnb, locked the keys back into the lockbox and hopped in a taxi to the ferry terminal. On Sunday, the busses didn’t run early in the morning and so to avoid missing the early ferry, we opted for a taxi. As we were returning across to Auckland on the same day as The America’s Cup sailing races, we thought best to get an earlier ferry to avoid queuing for our entire Sunday.
We had such an amazing trip and lovely weekend away together – we cant wait to go back to see even more of the island and sample even more of the amazing wines from the many vineyards.
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