It used to be a haven for hippies and the unemployed but now New Zealand’s Waiheke Island has become one of the country’s hottest destinations.
Waiheke Island is the most populated, and second-largest island in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand.
Just a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland, its population swells from more than 8,000 locals, to many thousands of holidaymakers in summer.
And it’s no wonder international visitors and New Zealanders alike head that way, it’s home to more than 30 wineries, great restaurants and many art galleries.
There are also thriving olive groves wherever you look- more than 18,000 olives trees have been planted on the island, which is also well-known for its premium quality extra virgin olive oils and other olive products.
Since the late 1970s however, Waiheke’s Mediterranean climate has enticed winemakers to head that way and plant vines and now some of these wines are making Waiheke famous around the world.
Waiheke enjoys temperatures often five degrees higher than the mainland, caused by its central position in the Hauraki Gulf.
The micro-climate, stony soils and hot dry summers are ideal for producing wines which are winning national and international awards.
Waiheke is a photographer’s paradise with rolling green hills, white sandy beaches and picturesque inlets.
It is also great for walking with lots of well-constructed walkways for visitors to meander through pristine bush, farmland and reserves to sandy coves.
There are invigorating walks along deserted beaches and picturesque clifftops and from late spring to late autumn the water is great for swimming.
Some walks may be a little steep, but reward you with spectacular views of the Hauraki Gulf and inner islands.
Waiheke, which means cascading waters in Maori, was known as the land of plenty for the original inhabitants. These days it is a diverse culture and community with different nationalities drawn to the island for its unique lifestyle.
The island’s physical beauty continues to be an inspiration to a thriving community of more than 100 artists working in a variety of contemporary media.
Dotted around the island are more than 36 artist studios and galleries that feature regular exhibitions and internationally acclaimed private collections, as well as sculpture parks.
Waiheke is also home to the award-winning, biennial exhibition Sculpture on the Gulf, which showcases the work of some New Zealand’s premier sculptors in an outstanding outdoor arena, along a spectacular coastal walkway above the ferry terminal of Matiatia.
It attracts thousands of art lovers and visitors alike.
A bus service runs around the main populated areas between Matiatia Wharf and Onetangi and Rocky Bay. There are many taxis and 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. You can also rent a car to get around the island.
Points of interest include Stony Batter that is set on a scenic headland with beautiful views.
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The large coastal battery was built in 1942 to defend Auckland against Japanese invasion. Three 23 metre guns, an underground complex of magazine rooms, gun stores and engine rooms are linked by almost a kilometre of tunnels.
Whittakers Musical Museum located at Artworks features a collection of antique musical instruments, including an old Wurlitzer.
While the Waiheke Island Historical Village at Onetangi features a Woolshed Museum, two cottages that display a collection of artefacts including a textile gallery, photography 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 settlers on Waiheke.
Day tours can be tailored to specific interests including art lover tours visiting local and internationally renowned artists at their studios, where you will soon understand why they live and work at Waiheke.
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.
Nature lovers will enjoy a tour where you can stroll through beautiful native bush and wetlands, where you may see rare New Zealand dotterels and giant kokppu as well as not so rare kereru wood pigeons, tuis, fantails, song thrushes, king fishers and many others species.
Waiheke is full of intriguing historic and modern architecture and amazing gardens and you can also play golf, kayak, go cycling, horse riding and fishing.
There is also an emphasis on health and well-being with lots of different holistic treatments from relaxation to healing therapies, various types of massage, homeopathy, counselling reiki, yoga and pilates.
There is accommodation to suit all budgets but remember to book early before the crowds do.
After a visit to Waiheke you will understand why it has been voted Auckland’s best day out.
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