New Zealand is famous for its wines and I was keen to indulge. So when a friend said she was organising a group day trip from Auckland to the island of Waiheke, I jumped at the chance to go on a Waiheke day trip.
Getting from Auckland to Waiheke
Just a 40 minute ferry ride from Auckland, this place seems to have a micro-climate of its own. When we left the city, it was grey and mild, but it blossomed into a beautifully hot and sunny day on the island.
Brunch with a view
Arriving in the village of Onerua, we stopped for brunch at Wai Kitchen, a newly opened restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows sharing a panoramic view of the beautiful Hauraki Gulf coastline. The restaurant had an easy ambience and the food was equally relaxed yet stylish.
The brunch dish that caught my eye was an innovative medley of pulled pork with asparagus, pecorino, sweetcorn and poached eggs, accompanied, in my case, by a very English pot of Earl Grey tea. The plate did not disappoint – it was a delicately balanced dish, light and fresh-tasting, and I savoured every bite.
After our appetites were satiated, it was time to explore. We found a route to the North of Onerua that looked appealing – an hour’s stroll exploring some of the island’s stunning coastline.
The island is quaint, but clearly wealthy. Cute signs for motorists warning to watch out for ducks and ducklings stand near multi-million dollar properties with yachts sitting in their driveways.
Notably, there are the vineyards. This sun-trap island and its nourished soil provides the perfect conditions for rows and rows of juicy, high maintenance grapes soaking up the sunshine and nutrients. There is even a vineyard owned and operated by the University of Auckland as part of its Wine Science programme. Now that’s a science lesson I can get on board with.
Then, there are the views, It seemed that every corner we turned, every way we faced, there would be a new, astonishingly beautiful vista of the island’s rugged coastline. We were transfixed.
We made our way down to some steep steps to a rocky beach, with the sea gently lapping up at the shore. It was completely isolated, except for a local woman walking her dog, who pointed out the narrow entrance to a nearby cave. She confided that, until recently, an old man was known to live within its cool stone walls.
As we continued our stroll, we passed through acres of lush green and purple vegetation. This place is humbling and as nutritious for the soul as it is for those diva-like grapes.
Taking our time to gaze out at the jaw-dropping views and pick prehistoric-looking shells from the beach, our walk had now been well over an hour. It was time to sample some of Waiheke’s famous wine before catching our boat back to shore. While it is undeniably laid-back, Waiheke definitely demands at least a day in order to even begin to take in everything it has to offer.
The first Waiheke winery we visited, a short walk or taxi ride from Onerua, was closed for a wedding. But this was a blessing in disguise. Just a couple of minutes up the road was Jurassic Ridge, a boutique family vineyard run by neurologist-turned-winemaker Lance Blumhardt.
There was no-one there when we arrived in the afternoon sunshine. We duly pulled on the stringed clapper of a hanging brass bell, attached to the building’s brick wall. Hearing the chime, Lance arrived, ready to introduce us to his great passion in life: wine.
Unlike the commercial approach of the other Waiheke wineries we visited, where there are hired staff and a fee charged for tastings, Lance presented a complimentary wine tasting with a great deal of love, respect and humour. There was no script at play here: this is simply his joy in life. He cultivates these wines by himself and he is, rightly, immensely proud of them.
Lance guided us to taste the wines from right to left – white to rosé to deep red. Starting with the fresh and fruity Sauvignon Blanc, he talked us through each of his award-winning vintages and their story – from Pinot Grigio Blush to Montepulciano to two varieties of Syrah. As well as being natural and pure wines, sustainably grown, these wines are fully vegan-friendly, employing no animal products as shortcuts in their production. Clearly, a great deal of love and care goes into these hand-crafted wines.
A typically down-to-earth Kiwi, Lance mentioned that his wife is from Southern Italy and I asked him how they met. He proceeded to tell us a true ‘sliding doors’ story. Lance and his future wife first encountered each other at a neurology forum in Italy: he was the Chair and she was one of the speakers. But Cupid didn’t strike until a few days later on his Italian trip. Riding on a public bus, the journey was inexplicably terminated and everyone was asked to leave. A few minutes later, Lance spotted the same bus, driving down the street, now full of passengers! So he ran after it, but the bus was speeding away. By some miracle, the bus driver spotted him, slowed down and opened the rear door. Lance leapt on, red-faced, out of breath and shocked to have made it onto the bus. And who should be one of the passengers, looking at him with amusement, but his fellow conference participant. Their conversation turned into a long and happy marriage.
Charmed by this romantic tale and with my taste-buds tantalised by his wines, I purchased a bottle of Lance’s light, berry-hinted Cabernet Franc. Jurassic Ridge is the only winery on the island to produce wine purely from this grape, and it certainly worked for me.
Reflections on a wonderful Waiheke day trip
Now evening was descending and soon it was time to say goodbye to the island. We returned to the ferry, contentedly quiet and feeling hazy from a combination of the sun’s heat and the fragrant wine. It had been a wonderful day on Waiheke, yet we’d only explored a small part of its land. As we sailed towards the bright lights of the city once more, we promised ourselves that we would return.
Now, read my full guide to backpacking Auckland.