Waiheke Island: The Complete Guide

People on a beach on Waiheke Island

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

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Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand

With around 10,000 residents, Waiheke Island is the most populated island in the Hauraki Gulf, one of Auckland's two principal harbors. It's located about 12 miles from downtown Auckland and is accessible by ferry or charter plane. While it's a popular destination for overseas and domestic travelers, it's also home to a thriving community. Many Waiheke Islanders commute to Auckland to work, while others are involved in the island's booming wine production.

Waiheke Island is an ideal day or overnight trip destination from Auckland, as it offers many natural attractions but is very close to the city. A major drawcard is the island's many wineries—there are about 30 dotted around the hilly island. Other attractions include the beaches, nature walks, sailing adventures, and pure relaxation.

If you're thinking of adding some time on Waiheke Island to your Auckland itinerary, here's everything you need to know.

How to Get to Waiheke Island

It's possible to get to Waiheke Island by ferry or air, but most travelers take the ferry from central Auckland because it's the cheaper option. The journey is between 40 and 90 minutes, depending on the service you choose and where you're coming from. It's a very scenic cruise as you sail through the Hauraki Gulf, with the Auckland skyline receding behind you.

Many ferries run between Auckland and Waiheke Island every day. These are not just tourist boats, as many Waiheke Island residents use them to get to central Auckland for work. Ferries depart from the Auckland City Ferry Terminal on Quay Street in central Auckland. This ferry terminal is most convenient for travelers staying in or around the central city. Other ferries also leave from Half Moon Bay in north-east Auckland and Devonport on the North Shore. Ferries run from early in the morning to after midnight, so you're likely to find one that suits your schedule.

Most ferries arrive on Waiheke Island at the main port, Matiatia Wharf, but some go to Orapiu Wharf and Kennedy Point. Most services are passenger only, but there are some car ferries too. If you don't have your own car, this isn't a problem, as there are bus services on Waiheke Island connecting the main settlements. Many travelers also opt for some kind of guided tour (a particularly good idea if you plan on drinking at wineries, as nobody has to be designated driver and miss out!).

A hilly vineyard on Waiheke Island
TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

What to See and Do on Waiheke Island

The main town on Waiheke Island is Oneroa, from where there are views of the Coromandel Peninsula. Oneroa is close to the main port at Matiatia Wharf, so it is easy to reach, even if you don't have a car. It's a great place to hang out for a while, as there are boutique shops, cafes, bars, art galleries, and even a little cinema in Oneroa.

With so many vineyards on the island, there are many places to drink and eat. Guided vineyard tours are a good idea, as you'll be driven around to some of the best. These usually include some tastings, and often a meal as well, or you can purchase a meal extra.

The beaches of Waiheke Island are beautiful, and perfect for some downtime after sightseeing in busy Auckland. Oneroa Beach is ideal if you're just on a day trip to Waiheke, as it's easily accessible. Native New Zealand pohutukawa trees along the coast provide some shade. If you're staying a bit longer, add Palm Beach, Onetangi Beach, Enclosure Bay, and Sandy Bay to the itinerary.

Waiheke is a very hilly island, and there are many walking tracks with sweeping views. A walk through the Onetangi Reserve will take you through kauri and nikau forests, and can take up to two hours, depending on how far you want to go. The reserve is near Onetangi Beach, so you can combine a walk with some beach time. The Church Bay Circuit is a three-hour loop that's easily accessible from the passenger ferry terminal. The Whakanewha Regional Park also offers moderate walks of around 2.5 hours. Although Waiheke isn't a pest-free reserve (as some other islands in the Hauraki Gulf are), you may still see a kereru, grey warblers, fantails, kingfishers, tuis, blue penguins, dotterels, and kaka parrots while walking on the island.

With a long coastline and pretty beaches, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are fun activities. Various tour operators offer guided tours of the coastline from your watercraft of choice.

To take the activity level up a few notches, cycling and mountain biking is also big on Waiheke Island. You can hire bikes near the ferry terminal, or join a tour. Be warned that the terrain is hilly, so if you're not an experienced cyclist, you might want to stick to walking. If you're into your mountain biking, though, you'll enjoy the tracks on Waiheke.

Where to Eat and Drink

There are many wineries on Waiheke Island, and many of these serve snacks or full meals. For a special lunch or dinner, you can't go past a winery. But, there are other types of establishment, too, including cafes and bars in Oneroa and elsewhere.

Among the plethora of wineries, Wild on Waiheke is especially good fun because, along with wine and beer tastings, it offers free activities like petanque and volleyball. You can also pay a bit extra and have a go at archery and laser clay bird shooting!

Aside from wineries, another beautiful spot is the Waiheke Honey House and Cafe. Set amid regenerating wetlands and hundreds of olive trees, the Honey House serves meals, ice creams, and of course honey. There's a shaded deck to sit out on, and a boardwalk.

Seafood lovers shouldn't pass up the chance to try fresh Waiheke Island oysters. The Te Matuku Oyster farm sits in the unpolluted Te Matuku Marine Reserve off the coast of Waiheke Island, and the oysters it produces are regarded as some of the best in New Zealand. They're available at restaurants throughout Waiheke.

Tips for Visiting

  • Despite being part of Auckland and close to the city, Waiheke Island has a slightly different climate compared to elsewhere in Auckland. It's a bit drier and gets more sunshine hours. This makes it an ideal environment for both wine growing and lounging at the beach.
  • Waiheke Island is a very popular summer destination, and it's especially busy during the New Zealand summer school holidays, which run from mid-late December to the end of January/beginning of February. Locals book out accommodation, including campsites, weeks, and even months in advance. If you want to stay on the island, you'll need to book early or come at a different time. Outside of the school holidays in the summer, it's still busy on weekends but less so mid-week.
  • Every second year, Waiheke Island hosts the Sculpture on the Gulf arts festival. The work of New Zealand and international sculptors and installation artists is displayed around the island. A walking trail can be followed around the island to see the various sculptures, which are set up in beautiful locations, and make for great photo subjects. The last Sculpture on the Gulf festival was held in 2019, so the next will be in 2021. It's usually in late summer or early autumn and runs for about a month.
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Waiheke Island: The Complete Guide