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If you are planning a Waiheke weekend, check out these fun things to do on Waiheke Island including hiking, beaches, wineries, and more…
I first visited the beautiful Waiheke Island when I was a kid growing up in Auckland. I have hazy memories of deserted beaches and eating ice cream from the dairy (that’s a corner store for all of you that don’t speak Kiwi). I remember it feeling empty, especially compared to the busy city suburb we lived in.
It didn’t feel like we were still in Auckland at all.
These days it is definitely busier and more developed but it’s still such a special place. I’ve been on a number of day trips here but the best way to experience Waiheke Island is by spending at least a night there.
Waiheke Island is the second largest Island in the Hauraki Gulf and it is located 17km from Auckland City. Although it is a popular weekend getaway from Auckland, the permanent population of the island is around 9,000, but this can swell to a massive 50,000 over summer.
The Island is 12km long, with most of the population inhabiting the western end with the eastern half being mainly privately owned farmland.
Waiheke is known by New Zealanders as being either a rich man’s paradise or a hippie haven. Quite a contrast in reputations, but both are true. Once a magnet for back-to-landers wanting to escape Auckland’s rat race, the Island is now also home to wealthy Aucklanders who commute from here to work in the city, or who own a holiday home on Waiheke.
It is a weird mix, with barefoot hippies rubbing shoulders with suited-up businessmen, but it seems to work quite well.
There are buses on the island but they can be infrequent and don’t visit the less accessible east, so I decided to take advantage of a great weekend deal and take my car over there to be able to properly explore.
You can visit a lot more of the fun things to do on Waiheke if you have a vehicle and more than just a day to explore. Here’s what I got up to…
Fun Things To Do on Waiheke Island
Visit the Ostend Farmers Market
The farmers’ market in Ostend is a real community affair. Every Saturday the locals congregate at the Waiheke War Memorial Hall to buy and sell, swap stories, and catch up with friends.
There are arts and crafts, Waiheke-grown produce, food stalls, Waiheke-made products such as olive oil and organic skincare, hand-crafted jewelry, second-hand clothing, books, and collectibles. Very importantly, there was also fantastic coffee.
Waiheke’s laid-back lifestyle, strong community ties, and natural beauty have attracted a lot of international residents in recent years, and we saw the multicultural diversity of the island firsthand at the farmers market.
Unlike Auckland City, where migration in the past 20 years has predominantly been from Asian countries, Waiheke Island’s immigrants are mainly from Europe and North America.
We heard French, Canadian, German, and American accents during our time at the market, mixed in with a few Kiwi accents for good measure.
Sample Wine at Waiheke Wineries
One of the main reasons that Waiheke is popular with visitors is its wineries so sampling wine at different wineries around at the island is one of the top things to do on Waiheke. The island has its own microclimate and is both warmer and drier than mainland Auckland.
With sea breezes moderating temperatures, the end result is a climate comparable with hotter wine-growing regions, but without the extremes.
There are over 25 wineries on the island, with a lot of them housing tasting rooms and award-winning restaurants.
Of the four wineries that I have visited, I think that the serene Man O’ War Vineyards is my favorite. Set in a rocky bay at the underpopulated east end of the island, you can only get there if you join a winery tour, have your own vehicle, or REALLY like walking as it would probably take you all day to reach it.
Sitting in the sun, sampling some of their delicious wines paired with cheeses and accompaniments was so relaxing and I could have set up my tent right there, on the perfectly manicured lawns. That would probably be frowned upon though so I reluctantly moved on.
Other popular and more accessible wineries that are worth a visit are Mud Brick, Goldie Estate, and Jurassic Ridge.
Mudbrick is the most prolific vineyard and restaurant on Waiheke. It has an impressive setting atop a hill, surrounded by orderly rows of vines.
Mudbrick is pure class and the price to taste the wines and dine in their restaurant reflects that. Unfortunately, it was a bit out of my price range but it was nice to take a look around the beautiful grounds nonetheless.
Explore the Less-Visited East Side of Waiheke Island
As I hadn’t been to the east of the island before, I drove a loop that took me through grassy paddocks with hilltop views of the surrounding islands and sparkling water below. Driving along dirt roads, I barely saw any other vehicles as I bumped along.
I visited a couple of quiet bays and went for a bit of a wander through native bush to a secluded rocky cove. It was amazing how loud the tūīs were when I was walking through the bush, it was almost deafening.
I love tūīs. They are native New Zealand birds and are pretty common. They have distinguished white tufts of feathers at their necks that look like a gentleman’s cravat.
Their call is quite unusual and is a jumbled mix of tuneful notes, clicks, and grunts, ending in a melody that sounds like falling water. Like parrots, they can mimic human speech and are rather intelligent.
Activities, Beer, and Wine at Wild on Waiheke
I had lunch at the fun Wild on Waiheke. There was so much going on! I saw people participating in archery and clay bird shooting. The place was abuzz with various events including a couple of stag and hen dos.
Settling in on their grassy lawn, I enjoyed pizza and a cheese platter and sampled some of the beer made on-site, as Wild on Waiheke also houses its own microbrewery – what don’t they do!
Checking out Waiheke Island’s Beautiful Beaches
Another reason for Waiheke’s popularity is its beautiful beaches and visiting at least a couple to swim and sunbathe is one of the best things to do on Waiheke. I checked out four of them during my time on Waiheke: Oneroa, Little Oneroa, Onetangi, and Palm Beach.
Every beach on Waiheke is beautiful but I definitely have a clear favorite: Little Oneroa.
Little Oneroa beach is stunning, with drifts of white sand, sparkling waters, and native bush encircling it. There were a couple of food trucks parked nearby and a grassy park with an adventure playground behind the beach. A little, beachy slice of heaven.
Camping on Waiheke Island
My accommodation on Waiheke was the simple but lovely Poukaraka Flats camping ground located in Whakanewha Regional Park, at the southern end of the Island. It is a basic Department of Conservation camping ground with flush toilets and running water, but no showers.
In the heat of summer, this wouldn’t be a problem as the camping ground has its own undeveloped beach. It was still a bit too cold to swim when I was there but as I was only staying one night, I didn’t mind going without a shower. The cost to stay there is only $17 per person – not bad for a beachfront property!
There were only two other campsites occupied and it was so peaceful. I fell asleep to the crashing of the waves.
Hiking on Waiheke Island
There are a few hiking trails on Waiheke and I decided to hike the Church Bay circuit, a scenic 6km hike starting at the Matiatia Wharf.
It was a gorgeous sunny day as I set out across the pebble-strewn beach and along a dirt trail up a hill to Te Whetumatarau Point. From the point’s lofty vantage point, you can see the rugged coastline of western Waiheke and the Auckland City skyline in the distance.
Continuing on, I passed Te Miro Bay before arriving at Church Bay, the site of the island’s first church in 1833. There is a tiny island, Motukaha Island, which is just offshore from the bay. It looked close enough to swim to if you had the inclination, which I didn’t.
I walked along the curved beach and then inland, uphill into green pastures, following a tree line. There were more great views from the top of the hill over Church Bay and Motukaha Island.
The second part of the hike was along quiet country roads, passing two more of the Island’s Wineries: Jurassic Ridge Wines and Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant. It was a beautiful and quiet hike.
Explore the Small and Bustling Town of Oneroa
The small town of Oneroa is the closest to the ferry departure wharf and feels quite large and busy compared to the rest of the island. This is where a quarter of the population of Waiheke Island lives.
There is an attractive main street with boutique shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, and even an art-house cinema. Everything you need really. It is a lovely little community that overlooks Oneroa Beach.
So as you can see, there are so many things to do on Waiheke, and it’s worth much more than a day trip. I could definitely see myself living here one day. This could be my island paradise.
How To Plan Your Waiheke Island Getaway
How To Get To Waiheke Island
As Waiheke Island is an island, you can only reach it by taking a boat or by taking an expensive chartered flight or helicopter from Auckland City.
The easiest and cheapest option to get to Waiheke Island is by taking a 35-minute passenger ferry from downtown Auckland with Fullers.
If you want to take a vehicle, you need to take the car ferry from Half Moon Bay or Wynyard Quarter in downtown Auckland with SeaLink which will take between 45 and 80 minutes depending on weather conditions and where you depart from.
Where To Stay on Waiheke Island
There are a number of options for places to stay on Waiheke Island. I loved camping at Poukaraka Flats DOC campground and that is definitely your cheapest option.
Another great budget option is Waiheke Backpackers Hostel at Onetangi Beach which has dorms and private rooms, a communal kitchen, and a huge lawn overlooking the beach.
If you prefer staying in a hotel or lodge, The Oyster Inn, Delamore Lodge, Wild Thyme, and Punga Lodge are great choices.
For vacation rentals, here is a pick of the best-rated, affordable options with a convenient location:
- Cozy Two-Bedroom Bach Steps Away From Little Oneroa Beach
- Comfortable Two-Bedroom Retro Bach
- Charming Kiwi Bach Close to Surfdale Beach
- Stylish Waterfront Retreat With 360 Views
- New Build Modern Apartment Overlooking Hekerua Bay
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