A Day Trip To Waiheke Island: Fun Activities To Do From Auckland
Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist
The perfect island escape…
Ever since arriving in New Zealand, Waiheke Island has been on my mind as a destination. Primarily, I wanted to taste the wine there. In fact, if I’m honest, that was the main reason I wanted to go. I know the island is supposed to be beautiful, but, “wine before beauty,” as I like to say!
Things To Know Before You Go
Without an off-road vehicle, you can’t get to a lot of the Eastern part of the island.
Vineyards are crowded on the weekend – consider booking a tasting in advance.
If you’re taking the bus, due to Covid, no cash is accepted. You’ll have to buy a metrocard. There’s only one location on the island to do that. It’s the same card used on all Auckland transit, so you’re best off buying one before getting to Waiheke.
There are two ferry ports on the island, and two departure points from Auckland – make sure you review the correct schedule!
Half Moon Bay To Waiheke Island
Unfortunately, it’s fairly pricey to get there. To bring your car over, it costs roughly $100 on the ferry. So, when my friend offered to drive me to the ferry terminal, I jumped at the chance for a day trip to Waiheke island by ferry, as a pedestrian. I took the Half Moon Bay ferry to Waiheke Island which arrived at the Kennedy Point ferry terminal. (The other departure point in Auckland is Hamer Street.)
Things To Do On Waiheke Island
Being so focused on the wine, I didn’t realize there are gorgeous beaches that will entice you to stay for hours, hikes and gorgeous views of the surrounding islands. So, a day won’t be enough if you want to do more than the highlights. You can also zipline, dive, snorkel, ride horses and more. This is a destination where you can relax and do nothing, take walks, be a wine taster and foodie, or be extremely active.
“Beach, sun, wine and food – the perfect day!”
When I got off the ferry, I found out that passengers exit before cars, so remember to walk to your left so you don’t block traffic! I also discovered I was nowhere close to the center of a town, so walking wasn’t an option. The only transportation options available to me were waiting for a bus or choosing from a sea of taxis. I took a chance on one of the taxi shuttles, and was delighted to pay only 5 NZD (about $3 USD) to get to the town center of the island – Oneroa Bay. (A bus is about 2 NZD.) This is the area from which you can find car rentals, bikes, etc.
I hoped to rent a segwai but couldn’t find their office, nor any tourist office. I saw a sign to a tourist office, just not the office itself. I ended up at Bikes and Beyond. They said I wouldn’t be able to rent a segwai on my own and that the company only has a few of them. Instead, they suggested one of their motorized bikes.
While in Vietnam in 2018, I fell off a bicycle, narrowly avoiding a bad accident. A month later, in Thailand, I tried another bike, but was too shaky to ride it. I was determined to at least try a motorized bike because I knew I couldn’t get out to see the more remote parts of the island without one. Unfortunately, the trial is on a fairly steep hill up and down, in traffic. I was too scared. By the time I finished my trial ride and figured all this out, at least 45 minutes had elapsed, and I felt the pressure of time.
The Waiheke bus system – part of Auckland Transit.
Photos by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
The Waiheke Bus
Not wanting to spend too much money, and hoping to get going towards the vineyards, I decided to take the public bus to Onetangi Beach. Fortunately, the bus showed up within minutes after me. (Many popular routes run about every 15 minutes.) Unfortunately, I learned that, due to Covid, the buses no longer take cash, and I needed to buy a metro card. There’s only one place to buy it – the Foursquare on the main street of town. In true kiwi style, the bus driver told me to get on the bus anyway, and that most bus drivers would let me ride without the card.
I sat down and met a lovely woman, Danielle, traveling with her daughter. They got off a few stops before me, and I continued to the Onetangi Beach. Along the way I passed a few vineyards, including Tantalus which was the major one I wanted to visit. It was a perfect sunny day, and I was glad I decided to start at the beach – the last stop on this route of the bus. (Tip – bus routes also go to Man O’War Bay on the east side of the island, and to Maitiatia Bay, where you’ll find the other ferry port.)
One of the best beaches on Waiheke Island. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.
I walked along the sand for a while and decided on lunch at Charlie Farley’s. There are three restaurants on the main street that seem to offer differing levels of cuisine at fairly similar prices. The one that initially caught my eye was Ki Maha. However, the only eatery that had lighter sounding fare was Charlie’s. I was able to get the last remaining table with an unobstructed view of the beach. With the perfect weather, and an umbrella keeping me in the shade (the hole in the ozone layer means that staying in direct sunlight in New Zealand is not something you want to do) I was extremely content. I ended up with a salad and a glass of Kennedy Point Sauvignon Blanc. The staff was delightful. I loved the wine as well. Knowing it was locally made on the island was even better. The salad, however, was not the best; the chicken didn’t appear to be freshly cooked, but the kumara was quite tasty.
Charlie’s Onetangi Beach. Photos by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
With my stomach full of alcohol absorbing food, I wanted to get to at least one vineyard with my remaining time. I decided to skip one of the nearby hikes I would otherwise have taken. I jumped on another bus back towards the wineries. Unfortunately, my second driver was not as nice as the first. When I told him I didn’t have a card, he told me to get off and get a taxi. That’s when a nice bus passenger stepped forward and swiped me in with her card. She wouldn’t even let me pay her back. It’s times like this that I’m in awe of how the universe takes care of me, and it just gets better….
Wine Tasting On Waiheke Island
I got off the bus a couple stops later at Tantalus vineyard. I had read good things about it and the photos looked gorgeous. It was even more beautiful in person. I couldn’t stop photographing the rows upon rows of vines, imagining how good their wine must be. I walked up to the main building and noticed a lot of big groups enjoying wine and food. I couldn’t find a reception area, so walked over to the bartender and asked about a tasting. He directed me to a stand and told me to wait until the hostess came back.
Waiheke wineries are gorgeous, but even with spare seats, you might have a long wait for a tasting without a reservation. Photos by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.
The hostess arrived and told me there was no room for a tasting. She said there were only two servers, which surprised me, since it was a Saturday, and I presumed they should know their popularity. I looked around and felt under-dressed, and wondered if, maybe, my casual attire was the issue. The energy of the place was a bit chaotic and stressful. I was told I could book in at 4pm for a tasting. I told them I had to make a ferry before then. They said they wouldn’t be able to accommodate me. I couldn’t understand, with seats available on the veranda, and standing space at the bar, why they couldn’t hook me up with a flight to enjoy at my leisure. Feeling disappointed, I decided I was perhaps not meant to be there. I took a few more photos and walked down the road to Wild Estate.
From the outside, it has a “wild west” feeling, and I wasn’t initially drawn to it. I’m glad I pushed past “judging a book by its cover” and gave it a chance. I was highly amused that the first thing I saw was a group of women practicing shooting skills with laser guns, and another group shooting arrows at bullseyes. Perhaps not the best activities to do while drinking! But, they looked fun, nonetheless.
Like Tantalus, Wild Estate was also busy. However, it has a much more casual vibe. I inquired about a tasting and was told there was a big group. They asked if I could wait 30 minutes. I said I couldn’t, and they ushered me downstairs to the bar for a private tasting. That’s all I wanted! With no hesitation, and able to cater to the needs of their customer, I was set up with 4 wines and a table on my own. The Chardonnay was my favorite, and I’m no longer as huge a Chardonnay fan as I used to be, so was happily surprised! I would have bought a bottle but found the 50 NZD price a bit high. I took my leave and began walking to the bus, hoping I could find someone to tap me in and avoid an expensive taxi. On my way to the bus, I ran into Danielle and her daughter! Thank you universe! I asked if I could pay her for my bus fare and have her tap me in on the bus. Danielle did tap me in but refused to let me pay her.
When I got back to Oneroa, I went to the Foursquare and bought a bus card. I’ll be on the lookout for someone who needs me to tap them in on a bus. I spent my remaining time on Waiheke Island sipping a coffee with a view of the beach (shown above), and then walking down to Oneroa Bay to enjoy the afternoon sun, from the shade. I caught the bus back to Kennedy Point, this time able to tap myself on and off! I took some gorgeous photos, watched the ferry pull in, and chose an outside seat to enjoy the perfect weather for the ride back. I was graced with a group of sloppy drunk women behind me. It turns out they were celebrating a 40th birthday. They were frequently admonished by boat staff for pulling out their bottles of wine on the boat. (Tip – if you do an all-day wine-tasting tour on Waiheke and return on the ferry, you can’t drink on the ride back, and, if the motion of the ocean doesn’t mix well with your state of inebriation, the walk to the bathroom may be a bit far.)
All-in-all, this was an absolutely perfect day-trip, and I plan to return, and spend the night. Next time I want to get to Man O’War Bay and find a way to see the rest of the island, and maybe even practice my shooting and archery skills.