This incredibly beautiful, 20 kilometre-long island was first “discovered” by artists and hippies. Now it also draws foodies and multimillionaires looking for a touch of peace and paradise, just a stone’s throw away from Auckland. Whichever category you fall into, you will be blessed with Waiheke’s very own dry, warm microclimate, gorgeous wineries and some of the region’s best sandy beaches.
The Māoris named Waiheke Motu-Wai-Heke or “island of trickling water” and it’s true that there’s plenty of it flowing amid the island’s abundance of coves, peninsulas and the Hauraki Gulf. On Waiheke’s landward side, emerald waters hit the rocky bays, while sandy shores hug the open ocean side.
Several dreamy sandy beaches slope gently down into the Hauraki Gulf and make for perfect for swimming, kayaking, sailing, strolling or picnicing in the sun.
Waiheke’s largest beach hosts February’s Onetangi Beach Races, an iconic equestrian event that’s taken place here for over 100 years. The beach is also very popular for swimming and fishing, as well as surfing when the northerly wind blows.
Hugging the northern shores, this beach provides safe swimming and year-round boat launching. If you’re lucky, you might see orcas swimming into Sandy Bay for a taste of the local stingrays.
A popular beach especially amongst boating enthusiasts who find good shelter here from the prevailing south westerly winds. At the eastern end of the bay, you will find Little Oneroa Bay. Within easy walking distance of Oneroa Village, this little beach has it all including barbecue areas, children’s playground and a beautiful, white, sandy beach. Palm Beach offers very similar facilities on its pristine northern beach and “Nudey Bay”, at its far western end, is popular with nude sun-worshippers and swimmers.
As the name implies, this pristine beach is backed on its western side by an abundance of Agavi cacti. With its pohutakawa trees growing out of the powdery white sands and clean, clear waters to swim and snorkel in, Cactus Bay is a must-see.
Whakanewha Regional Park
Nature lovers flock to the south side of Waiheke Island where Whakanewha Regional Park abounds with mature coastal forest and cascading streams. Whakanewha is also steeped in Maori and European history and Waiheke’s first cottage was built here in 1866.
Covering 250 hectares, the park comprises mainly bush, trees, a large wetland and a beautiful sweep of sandy beach, sometimes known as Half Moon Bay. At high tide, the wetlands are popular for safe swimming for families as well as being ideal for kayaking and boating. Several easy bush walks make discovering the natural habitat easy while a track connects Onetangi Beach to Rocky Bay.
If you enjoy a spot of camping, the island’s only campsite sits in Whakanewha Park on a prime seaside location – sheltered and with direct access to the beach.
While white beaches are Waiheke’s biggest draw, wine comes as a close second. There are around 30 boutique wineries scattered about the island, many with tasting rooms, fine restaurants and breath-taking views.
Waiheke Island is often known as New Zealand’s ‘Island of Wine’. Thanks to its unique maritime climate and ancient soil structures, Waiheke can grow a good selection of grapes to produce both red and white wines with distinctive character. With a total planted area of only 216 hectares divided among 30 growers, wine production is exclusive and vintages include the popular Goldwater Estate, Cable Bay, Passage Rock and Stonyridge Larose.
Home to world-famous reds, Stonyridge is Waiheke’s best known vineyard. You can tour the winery and of course taste the wines. Ordering a bottle of wine and a gigantic deli platter as you retreat to one of the garden cabanas could be the ideal way to while away a few hours.
Waiheke Island Artworks
Waiheke’s natural beauty and laid-back appeal attracts artists who have always found a wealth of inspiration here. The Artworks complex is the place to come for the Artworks Theatre, the Waiheke Island Community Cinema, the popular Waiheke Community Art Gallery and Whittaker’s Musical Museum with its collection of antique musical instruments.
For the ultimate zip wire adventure, EcoZip offers the thrills of three separate 200-metre long lines. Surrounded by vineyards, bush and the ocean, you’ll be spoilt for spectacular views too. Once you’ve completed your ride, there’s a gentle 1.5 kilometre walk back up through the bush to help you familiarise yourself with the varied natural habitat.
If you’ve booked in or are considering heading to Waiheke as part of a continent spanning trip to New Zealand, check out why you might need travel insurance.