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Waiheke Island, Auckland

Island life on the Waitemata Harbour


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By Richard MooreWaiheke Island, Auckland, NZ.



For a taste of something different in Auckland then all you need to do is hop on to a Waiheke ferry.

Waiheke is an island in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour and is both a step back in time and a place of escape for wealthy Aucklanders.

The passenger ferry takes about 35 minutes from downtown Auckland while the vehicle vessel leaves from Half Moon Bay in the city's eastern suburbs. The car ferry takes about 45 minutes.

Waiheke Island, Auckland, NZ.Waiheke is quite a small island - about 93 square kilometres - and needs three days to have a sedate explore around it.

The western part of the island, around Oneroa, boasts nice beaches - particularly Palm Beach - art galleries and some pretty good eateries.

Vino Vino is one to mention. It overlooks Oneroa Beach and has an excellent menu.

The central part has a lovely beach at Onetangi - along with more restaurants - and a cluster of wineries. We ate at Salt, having had the fish recommended, and found it excellent.

Waiheke Island, Auckland, NZ.In the east you can enjoy some lovely landscapes in relative peace and quiet.

The major eastern attraction is the World War II fortification at the strangely named Stony Batter.

The fort is the largest underground fort in New Zealand and was built with the help of the Americans to protect Auckland against Japanese invasion and Allied shipping from German raiders.

The main defences were 9.2 inch guns that could lob a 170-kilo shell 30 kilometres and hit targets sailing over the horizon.

Waiheke Island, Auckland, NZ.Stony Batter is a terrific place to visit if you have any interest at all in military history.

For $8, plus $5 to hire a very necessary torch, you can explore to your heart's content the concrete passages, rooms and gun emplacements.

You can drive most of the way to Stony Batter but a dispute with a local landowner - who doesn't seem to understand the phrase public access - means a 1.3km walk to the fort.

It is worth it - not only for the visit, but to ram it up an antipodean lord-of-the-manor wannabe.

Waiheke Island, Auckland, NZ.While checking out the eastern part of the island we can thoroughly recommend dropping into Passage Rock winery.

Aside from some rather fine wines - taste the sauvignon blanc and the syrahs - the winery also has a terrific cafe.

We had three entrees on a blazing hot afternoon and they were more than enough to satisfy the hunger. The calamari was fabulous.

I have to say Passage Rock was the best of the four wineries we visited during our stay on Waiheke.

Waiheke Island, Auckland, NZ.Two of the other places - closer to Oneroa - were pretentious with a capital P and, it must be said, a rip off.

Surprisingly, many Waiheke wineries are not overly friendly to folk travelling through wanting to taste their wares.

Passage Rock happily offered free tastings - which you would expect - and so did Man O War, but nearer the main centres things changed.

At Saratoga it's a $5 charge to sample only three of their wines, which comes off if you buy a bottle, and if it means going past their quota of tasting bottles they won't open another.

Waiheke Island, Auckland, NZ.At nearby Stonyridge - a lovely looking winery - you pay for each wine you taste.

The cheapest is $3 for a slurp going up to $8 for better quality offerings and $15 for a taste of the top-of-the-range $200 bottle.

Having spent many afternoons winetasting in Hawke's Bay and Australia I found some Waiheke wineries thought they were much better than their product proved.

The staff may try to baffle by pointing out the subtleties of the vino on offer but I have had many better in New Zealand.

Waiheke Island, Auckland, NZ.Still, Waiheke is a place where you can just roam, or laze, depending upon how you are feeling.

Oh, and here's a hint. If you are taking your car to Waiheke it will set you back quite a bit in ferry costs - about $140 return.

You are much better off to book your accommodation before you reach the island as in many cases you can get that same ferry trip tacked on to your motel bill for only $25 extra.


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