Often referred to by tourists as New Zealand’s third island, Waiheke Island is located 40 minutes by ferry from Auckland viaduct offering an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the country’s largest city.
Home to some of the world’s best wineries, countries most expensive homes, some of the best bars, cafes and restaurants and wide variety of adventures Waiheke Island is definitely a destination you should add to your kiwi bucket list.
A few weeks ago I took my partner for a week in Waiheke, we decided to document our trip for our readers. When Ki-Wi was first started in 1995, Waiheke Island was our most popular article as the editor actually lived there, roll on 20 years and here’s a 2017 version of the ultimate guide for Waiheke.
Getting to Waiheke Island
The quickest way to get to Waiheke Island is to take a fast ferry from Auckland viaduct. There’s regular services throughout the day with ferries on average every 30 minutes and taking 40 minutes. Fullers is definitely the most popular option for foot passengers. If you’re taking the car you’ll need to use Sealink ferries.
With Fullers the price of the ferry is usually around (oneway/return) $24/38 for adults and $12/20 for kids 5-15. Under 5 is free. If traveling with a family of 4 there’s a slight discount with a $104 return ticket.
Fullers, Downtown Ferry Terminal, 99 Quay Street, Auckland; +64 9 367 9111.
If you’re arriving at Auckland International Airport you’ll want to take the airport express bus (every 15 minutes) right to the end of the route and walk across the road to the ferry terminal. The bus costs $16 per person one way and takes 45-60 minutes. A taxi will likely cost $100 for the same journey. Uber is available ($40-50) but you’ll need to walk out of the airport (1km) to the main road to book one.
SkyBus, Auckland Airport; +64 9 222 0084.
If the boat isn’t your thing or you’re looking for some adventure then you can charter a helicopter over which will take around 10 minutes. Usually the pilot will give you a tour of Auckland followed by a tour of the island before landing. A rough cost for a helicopter is around $350 per person.
Inflight Experiences, 1 Solent Street, Auckland; +64 9 377 4406.
While there is a small airfield in Waiheke you’ll need to charter a plane as there’s no direct flights there with any airline. There was rumor of Air New Zealand offering starting a service many years ago but no deal.
Arriving in Waiheke Island
Once you arrive you’ll need to decide where to go. If you’re visiting for the day then I’d strongly recommend booking a bus tour of the island. Fullers can arrange this at the ferry terminal in Auckland for an extra fee. Alternatively you can book a bus tour with Viator or similar web provider.
The bus tour usually lasts a couple of hours and will take you to many of the island sights. What usually happens is people ask the bus driver to stop at the local wineries as the bus passes to go in and enjoy some lunch or dinner. You then take a taxi back to the ferry terminal for your journey back.
If you’d like you can stay on the bus for the duration and then get dropped off at the town where there is a wide variety of restaurants, bars, cafes and craft shops.
Waiheke Island Explorer, 99 Quay Street, Auckland; +64 9 367 9111.
If you decide the bus tour isn’t your thing then you can use the three taxi companies however take note that due to the small size of the island there is a limited number of taxi’s operating and you may have to wait. It’s also likely your taxi will be expensive if you’re visiting wineries due to the remote nature.
Island Taxi’s, Transfers & Tours Available; +64 9 372 4111
Where To Stay In Waiheke Island
Fortunately you don’t have to spend a fortune to stay overnight in Waiheke with a wide range of accommodation on offer from guest houses, backpackers, luxury hotels and Airbnb rentals.
There are two popular backpackers with plenty of reviews on Hostelworld and Booking.com including Waiheke Island Backpackers and Hekerua Backpackers. Both are located slightly outside the main village, approx 15 minute walk. You can easily walk to the local beach within 5 minutes too.
Rates start at around $35 per dorm bed and $100-$130 for a private room. During our trip to Waiheke we stayed at both and they both offered similar facilities including a kitchen, comfortable beds and welcoming staff
Mid Range Hotels
If the backpackers isn’t your thing then you should checkout the mid range hotels on the island. By mid range you can expect to pay upwards of $170 per night. Most of the island hotels are located in Oneroa.
Some recommended hotels to checkout include Waiheke Island Motel, The Oyster Inn, Enclosure Bay and The Moorings. Check prices on Booking.com for the better deals than booking directly with the hotel.
Waiheke is an island that comes to life during the spring and summer months so if you want to get a cheap hotel traveling in the off season might be your best bet.
There’s a wide variety of luxury hotels on the island with prices starting at $350 a night going up to $1000’s per night. You can also rent entire villas for 5 figures per night.
We didn’t stay in any luxury hotels this time however when we attended a friends wedding a few years ago we stayed at, Delamore Lodge (Approx $1250/night) and Te Whau Lodge ($600/night). Both offer luxury accommodation, great food and wine and can organise tours and excursions.
If you’re planning a wedding in Waiheke Island then both hotels are perfect, they have wedding planners who’ll help you plan your big day.
If you’re looking for a home away from home or a longer trip then you might consider using Airbnb. If you’ve never booked a property on there before you can get a $50 voucher here. There’s a wide variety of properties to choose from with rates starting at $150 per night up to $10,000.
Where To Eat
There’s a wide range of cuisines to savor on the island ranging from fresh seafood to pizza, bar snacks and thai food. Of course the main reason visitors come here is to visit the wineries and spend an afternoon in the sun with great company.
During our stay we managed to checkout a few places to eat, here’s what we recommend:
The Oyster Inn
This is the new gem of Waiheke Island – a seafood restaurant, bar, private room, beach shop, take-away and small luxury boutique accommodation rolled into one. They offer some of the best local produce with freshest fish and shellfish on the island.
They’re also proud to support a wide range of local and regional artisanal New Zealand food producers. Mains range in price from $20-$30 with a wide variety of entrees and deserts on offer too.
The Oyster Inn, 124 Oceanview Rd, Oneroa, Auckland 1081;+64 9 372 2222.
This place offers Mediterranean-style dining. Warm and inviting, this is the locals favourite, either out on the balcony, or inside. Waiheke wines and friendly service is what Vino Vino is famous for.
Vino Vino, 153 Ocean View Rd, Oneroa, Auckland 1081; +64 9 372 9888.
Enjoyed by both locals and tourists alike for its truly amazing views, laid back vibe and passionate focus on food, beverage and music, it’s not surprising that Sand Bar was voted one of Auckland’s top 15 bars in Metro Magazine.
Open from 12 in summer and 3pm in winter they offer a daily happy hour from 3-6pm. There’s a wide variety of drink specials including cocktails and spirits. If you’re hungry there’s a lengthy bar snacks menu from $10-$15 per dish.
Sand Bar, 153 Ocean View Road, Oneroa, Auckland, 1081; +64 9 372 9458.
Open for brunch & lunch Wai Kitchen provides innovative, fresh and seasonal cuisine in a relaxed and welcoming seafront environment. The views are to die for and are definitely some of the best anywhere on the island.
The menu consists of traditional brunch options such as eggs and bacon, through to a delicious lunch menu including fresh seafood, shell fish, pork belly and lamb. Mains cost $25 on average with entrees and brunch around $16. This is a very affordable place to eat in Waiheke Island.
Wai Kitchen, 1/149 Ocean View Road, Oneroa, Auckland, 1081; +64 9 372 7505.
What To Do Waiheke Island
Once you’ve stocked up on some of the finest food in the country you can head out and explore the wide range of activities available to visitors on the island.
EcoZip Adventure Tours
This adventure park features three 200 metre flying fox ziplines that allow you and a friend to slide side-by-side through the native bush on Trig Hill. Once at the bottom you’ll learn about local flora and fauna as you walk back to base.
This adrenaline filled activity costs $119 for adults and $79 for kids. You can also combine with winery tours. They offer free pickup/drop off from the ferry terminal.
Ecozip, 150 Trig Hill Road, Onetangi, Auckland 1081; +64 9 372 5646.
Waiheke Island Jet Ski Tours
Experience the island from a whole different angle with a jet ski tour. Board your watercraft alone or with a partner and take to the water to explore the scenic coastline and pristine beaches at your own pace.
This is a popular activity in summer months so make sure you book in advance. You may even see some dolphins or orca swimming past you as you glide along. They offer various services from 30 minutes to 7 hours. A 60 minute tour costs $220 per ski. The 7 hour tour is definitely for the adventurous and costs $750.
Jet Ski Tours; +64 2 21025439.
Adventure Fishing Charters Waiheke
Operating everyday is this local family business offering fishing charters around the island. Whether you’ve never held a rod before, beginner, expert, young or old they offer a smart Fryan 580 boat, experienced skipper and an action packed half day.
Their tours leave from Matiatia Bay (near the ferry terminal) and can be organised for the morning or afternoon. If you do manage to catch something for a small fee they’ll prepare your fish so you can go have a BBQ somewhere on the way back to your hotel. Prices subject to passengers and length of tour so request a quote.
Adventure Fishing Charters; +64 9 372 6023.
Waiheke Board Riders
Waiheke Board Riders is a water sports rental company that operates from both Oneroa and Onetangi beaches on Waiheke Island. They specialise in Stand Up Paddle Boards (SUP) but also have soft top surfboards and boogie boards as well.
They give comprehensive ‘on water’ SUP lessons to individuals or small groups, or basic beach instruction and let you have fun and figure it out for yourself.
You can rent a stand up board for $30/hour, boogie board $5/hour and surfboard $10/hour. You’ll likely only find them open during the summer season so call in advance to avoid disappointment.
Waiheke Board Riders; +64 21 727 794.
If you’d like to join a segway tour in Waiheke Island then you should checkout SegWai. They offer two tours including a bay to beach day time and an evening tour. Prices start at $120 per person.
If your idea of fun is whizzing through wineries, along the side of beaches and posing for those all important Instgram selfies then you should book this tour.
Segwai; +64 27 545 2323.
Sea Kayaking Waiheke Island
If you want to see orcas, dolphins and other sea life then you should take a sea kayaking tour. They offer a two hour guided tour for $85 per person or a three hour option for $125. A full day tour will cost $195 and sunset tours are available.
If you take their half day tour you will visit coves, caves and canyons, beneath rocky cliffs where only Kayaks can reach. You’ll stop for refreshments on the beach and take in some great views on higher ground. Swimming, rock hopping & empty shell collecting are all possible along with endless photo opportunities.
Kayak Waiheke, Matiatia Bay, +64 9 372 5550.
Waiheke Horse Riding Tours
Ride through farmland and private roads coming to a heritage Maori Pa site (village) with 360 degree views over the Hauraki Gulf and if the tide is right the chance to take the horses into the sea. This is what you can expect on a half day horse riding tour ($195pp). If you’d like something longer you can take the full day option ($345pp).
Getting to the horse riding start point requires a 30 minute taxi, alternatively they offer transfers for $30 each way. Horse riding can be popular during the summer months.
Horse Tours; +64 021 438 54.
Waiheke Island Scooter Rental
IslandScoot have launched their range of retro scooters on the island offering you the chance to drive around at your own pace. These 50cc scoots won’t have you tearing up the streets but will navigate around with ease.
The scooters cost $79 per day and include insurance, a full tank of gas and a retro helmet. You’ll need an international driving license or a full NZ car/motorcycle license.
Before taking a scooter ensure your travel insurance covers you for motorcycle rental. You’d be surprised how many don’t.
Island Scoot; Cnr Tui & Mako St, Oneroa; +64 21061 5997.
Best Waiheke Island Wineries
If you’d like to visit a winery during your trip to Waiheke there’s certainly no shortage of ones to visit. Whether you’d like to take in a tasting tour or simply lounge outside with a platter and a glass of wine the choice is yours.
On our recent trip to Waiheke we visited three wineries, these ones we can recommend.
Mudbrick Restaurant and Vineyard
The Mudbrick Restaurant sits on the Mudbrick ridge overlooking the sparkling waters of the Hauraki Gulf and back to Auckland city. Its a romantic setting with outdoor seating, perfect for a warm summers evening also features a wood fire for those winter days where it’s too cold to sit outside.
They offer both an a la cart menu and degustation menu ($120/$185 with wine match) depending on what you’re looking for. Mains cost upwards of $40 with the wine bottles at around $60. A 30 minute wine tasting tour at the cellar door is available for $15 per person. You’ll taste no less than 4 wines.
Mudbrick, 126 Church Bay Road, Oneroa, Waiheke Island; +64 9 372 9050.
Nestled in a shimmering valley of olive trees, colourful vines, and the aromas of the south of France, their Veranda Café is one of the most romantic and exotic venues in New Zealand for café dining, private functions, and weddings of up to 1000 people.
The highlight of our trip here was the Stonyridge Platter ($65) which included a wide selection of local produce, breads, dips, oysters, cured meats, prawns and cheeses. A main course was upwards of $40 and a bottle of wine cost $50-60. A wine tasting tour cost $15 for 20 minutes.
Stonyridge, 80 Onetangi ROAD, Auckland 1840; +64 9 372 8822.
Cable Bay Vineyard
Offering two options, the formal dining room or the casual verandah for a more relaxed affair Cable Bay is one of the most well known vineyards in Waiheke Island. We opted for the verandah which focused on sharing platters, pizzas and good views.
Cable Bay is reasonably priced with a platter costing $52, pizzas on average $30 and a bottle of wine $55-80. It’s recommended you book a table if you’re heading in the afternoon (they open at 11am). Wine tasting is available for $10pp. A cellar tour is $20pp but refundable on a purchase of wine over $50.
Cable Bay, 12 Nick Johnstone Dr, Oneroa, Auckland 1840; +64 9 372 5889.
Poderi Crisci Vineyard
Recognised as one of the finest dining spots on the island it’s no surprise that there is no pricing on the menu online. If you do decide to go, they offer a wide selection of platters, main courses, seafood, pizzas and desserts. A bottle of wine will cost $60-$80. Wine tours are available on request.