What to do in Auckland, New Zealand: The Day Trip to Waiheke Island

Destination: Waiheke Island, Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand
Origin: Auckland, New Zealand
Travel Time (Each Way): About 40 Minutes

Last month on AU Abroad we took you on a cruise through the Hauraki Gulf off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand. This week we’re taking you to the region’s most populated island – Waiheke – home to close to 9,000 residents and a popular (and affordable) day trip option for locals and tourists alike, with the region’s second largest island booming with a wide selection of wineries, fine (and/or affordable) dining options, stunning beaches, regular public transport options and accommodation (even hostels!).

Getting to Waiheke Island from Auckland is about as easy as getting a ferry from Sydney to Manly, and takes about the same amount of time. Though there are multiple options to get to the island, including car ferries and plenty of private operators – some of whom offer fantastic deals – the most popular option seems to be with Fullers, who run hourly services through most of the day, from 5.35am all the way through 11.45pm. They transport from Auckland’s Ferry Terminal to Matiatia Wharf on the island for $36 return (timetables and full list of prices can be found here).

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It’s a comfortable service with a cafe on board and staff who are helpful with maps and information for what to do when you visit the island. The first thing to keep in mind for your day trip is to get on the road early. With many of the wineries closing their cellar doors at 4pm, you want to try and fit in as much as you can. We made the mistake of leaving just after lunchtime, making it a shorter day than we would have liked – though we were certain to fit in as much as we could.

A local bus network helps get you to most of the major stops, though as they link up to Fullers’ services, which are usually hourly, you’ll have to plan your day wisely if you want to hit all the island’s finest spots. Naturally, there are plenty of wine tour operators who will ferry you from winery to winery – hopefully sneaking in a beach or two along the way.

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We chose to make our own path, however, and jumped onto the public bus network, which is recommended – for at least your first trip. The taxis – though available – are notoriously pricey. The bus costs $4.50 per trip, or you can put in $10 for an all day pass, which is the wise option for a full day on the Island. Not satisfied with the options at hand? Well, you can rent a car, bring your own car through one of the alternative ferry services, rent a bike or even walk it. Though at 92 square kilometres, that option may only get you so far. Still, the island is covered with walking paths, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it hard to resist a walk through some of the island’s stunning wineries – there are more than two dozen of them!

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Though we didn’t explore nearly as much as we would have liked, we took the bus to Wild on Waiheke and explored several wineries nearby. The first stop was one of the best, and seems as well loved for their beers and meals as anything else. Unlike many Cellar Doors here in Australia, the Cellar Doors on Waiheke do charge a small fee for a tasting. In the case of Wild on Waiheke, it was a cost per beer of a couple of dollars – though they had set tastings available too.

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Te Motu, our next stop, had a set rate for a selection of tastings, with the option to have the amount refunded should you purchase a certain amount of wine. Given the small quantity these wineries produce, you’re looking to pay a steeper rate than you may elsewhere, so the tastings are worthwhile to get a sense of the local flavour, even if you don’t leave with as many bottles as you may have otherwise.

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Also keep in mind you’ll mainly be traversing the world of red wines here. Though the wines at Te Motu were stunning, the Stone Flower beer at Wild On Waiheke was a real treat – with only 50 litres having been produced its unique texture and flavour made for a one of a kind experience. Which is, after all, what visiting a cellar door is all about. I just didn’t expect to be tasting beers! A pleasant surprise.

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From there we took a walking path through the wineries to Onetangi Beach, which is almost 2km long. It’s a stunning view, and this is where one of the Island’s main bus routes ends. From there, we were able to take the bus back towards the ferry to have a meal before the end of the day.

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As for dining, there are a myriad of options throughout the island. From a pub on Onetangi Beach to the cafes within the wineries themselves, you won’t be starved for choice. But your best bet, especially later in the day, will be to head to Oneroa Bay, which aside from being a beautiful spot, is bursting with places to finish up your day trip. It’s also a pleasant 20 minute walk from the ferry, meaning you won’t have to rush to make a bus to ensure the last ferry out of town doesn’t leave without you.

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Out of the many selections on offer, we finished up at The Local, one of the more affordable options on the Island, giving you fish and chips for a bargain, with a stunning view for free. They also do burgers which looked (and I’m told are) delicious. Eat in or if the weather is nice, get it takeaway and take it down to the parks by the beach below. Unfortunately as you can probably tell by the photos, we were greeted by an unfortunately overcast day, but it did little to take away from the beauty of the Island, nor the experience. There are certainly worse ways the spend the day and when it comes to a trip to Auckland, a ferry ride to Waiheke is unmissable…

All prices and information were correct at the time of printing. For latest prices and any related information, please head to the links provided throughout the piece or to http://www.waiheke.co.nz/. The writer covered all costs for this trip, including airfares, local transport and meals. All photos by the author.