Sunday 16 January 2022 – Waiheke Island, New Zealand.
Waiheke; an island of sun and sand, vineyards and restaurants and cafes, all connected by Auckland’s friendliest bus drivers. What else could you ask for in a weekend away?
Waiheke Island is the largest of the Hauraki Gulf islands and about forty minutes by fast ferry from downtown Auckland. It’s extremely popular with wine tourists, hen parties and other, less-alcohol focused day trippers. We spent the weekend there and it was a highlight of our time in New Zealand. Unsurprisingly, other than family and friend time, the moments I have enjoyed the most have been when we have left the city behind.
Over coffee earlier in the week a friend told me her brother and sister-in-law, who we’ll be staying with in Christchurch* in three weeks, were doing up an old bach (holiday home) on the island. I said we were going over for a day trip and was advised to contact them about staying there, which they happily agreed to.
It was finally time to break the backpack out from its long slumber, the last time it was used was in India in 2016. I love this backpack and can’t wait to be donning it for some sort of adventure in the future, pandemics and finances willing.
We left for the ferry as soon as Eleanor finished work on Friday afternoon. We arrived at the ferry terminal 30 minutes before the ferry, joining the end of an ever growing queue before getting on a full ferry. Those at the end of the queue, being forced to wait for the next ferry. It looks like the island is going to be busy.
Not being familiar with the location of ‘The Shack’ as our friends called their bach, we took a short taxi ride from the ferry. As the driver dropped us off he asked if we were sure this was the right address. The Shack is on a section that our friend’s US based brother bought to build on when he returns to New Zealand in a few years. The Shack will be demolished and a new house built. In the meantime our friends are making it habitable for use as a bach without spending too much money on it. We are the first to stay there. It sits just above, and has a view over, Sandy Bay and we loved it. It is very much my sort of place; informal, quirky and a bit ramshackle. A bit like me really.
I have seen some before photos and could see quite a bit of work had been put in to get it to a liveable state. My favourite interior design feature was this life-sized Donald on the loo door, and I now want one for my flat in St Leonards. Great for those suffering from constipation. I also particularly loved the astro-turfed floor.
The view from the deck is fantastic.
After unpacking we walked up the road and caught the bus into Oneroa. The first of six excellent bus rides with the nicest bus drivers in the world; they even wait for you to sit down before taking off, amazing! A number of the bus stops had mini-libraries in them too.
We had dinner booked at Vino Vino in Oneroa but were too early for our reservation so had a drink in a nearby bar. I think the state of their wind break is a visual summation of the place; no vaccine passports, no masks and the worst wine on the island. We won’t go back. Imagine having that view for your customers and caring so little.
Vino Vino was exactly what I want from an island break restaurant; a stunning view, great service, the best ceviche I’ve ever had and great wine, including the first glass of syrah from local winery, Man O’ War. A syrah I will now dream of, as at $50 a bottle I won’t be drinking it often. We enjoyed our evening and were the last out the door. They cleaned their windbreaks too, just sayin.
Saturday dawned wet, the first rain we have seen for a while, it wasn’t unexpected and we enjoyed hanging out in the Shack for a few hours until it stopped later in the morning. The rain was welcome.
We caught the bus to Ostend and visited the Saturday market where we shared a waffle for late breakfast.
The first stop on our unofficial ‘wineries on the bus route tour’ was the Tantalus Winery. We thought about going to Te Motu, and probably should have, but half the bus got off there so we went to the next winery on the bus route. We didn’t particularly enjoy the glass of wine we had at Tantalus so only stayed for one.
We walked up to Heke, a recently opened brewery/distillery/restaurant 100 metres up the road. It was busy and we got a high-table in the very noisy bar. I had another Man o’ War syrah, accompanied by some great fries and bread for second breakfast/early lunch. I mostly liked Heke, if the bar staff weren’t so loud it would’ve been nicer, credit to the staff for great service given the number of people there. The fries were great too. I tried a glass of one of their Waiheke whiskies. It was alright, a nice full round flavour but still a bit rough, though it was certainly drinkable. In a few years it will be a more enjoyable experience. Life is too short to not enjoy what I’m drinking. Eleanor had a gin and tonic with their gin which was very nice.
We caught another bus to our final destination, Onetangi Beach. We had dinner booked later in the day so took our shoes off and walked along the almost empty beautiful beach, feet dipping in out of the warm sea as the tide washed up and down.
Then up some steps; lots of steps,
to a great view over Onetangi from the top.
A hundred yards up the road we arrived at Casita Miro, our destination for the rest of the afternoon and my favourite place of the weekend. Casita Miro is a restaurant and small winery, heavily influenced by the flavour and art of Spain it serves tapas and makes a remarkable albariño, of which we had a couple of glasses.
Access to the winery is via a dusty brown gravel road with grapes growing down one side. Walking under the warm lazy, humid sun, if I squinted my eyes I could easily place myself on a similar road in rural Spain.
From the winery entrance to the tasting room is a long wall where a neo-Gaudi extravaganza is being created. Seeing the wall completed is reason enough to return when we are back in New Zealand next.
We relaxed for a couple of hours over a couple of glasses of wine and a mid-afternoon snack of manchego cheese with crackers and jelly. As the vineyard is quite small the vintner only produces a limited amount of each vintage each year and these are only sold in the shop. It was tempting to buy some, though they are expensive. It seemed much better to drink some wine in situ, enjoy the experience and have the memory to take away, and look forward to coming back with more money in the wallet.
Reluctantly we left the winery, walking back down the stairs (they seemed steeper and longer) and along the beach to our final destination of the evening, Restaurant 370, over the road from that fabulous beach.
We met a couple of friends for a drink outside before heading in for an enjoyable dinner, and a final Man O’ War syrah.
A tropical cyclone had been forecast to brush the east coast of the North Island late Sunday or Monday. We had been keeping an eye on the weather all day with the idea of going back to Auckland after dinner if it looked like the wind would make the crossing unpleasant. It didn’t, so we had a final night in the Shack before catching the first ferry back to the city on Sunday morning. It was a lovely smooth and unexciting ride back to the city and reality. Boo hiss to reality.
*We are flying to Christchurch on 14 Feb for a week in the South Island. With the omicron variant of Covid-19 only just making an appearance in New Zealand, we are hoping we’ll still be able to do this trip. However, the SI trip concludes three days before we fly back to London so we may be forced to re-evaluate that decision. I hope not.