New Zealand’s “isle of wine” may be tiny but its temperate microclimate and passionate producers have put it firmly on the global map.
An emerald dot in the Hauraki Gulf, just 40 minutes by ferry from downtown Auckland, Waiheke Island is where New Zealand’s style set goes to play. Lured by sunshine, chardonnay and just-shucked oysters, they mix with the island’s 8000 or so residents in a crush of linen, straw hats and bare feet. The island has the feel of a seaside town, with days as long as the queue at the gelato stall. But it’s a sleepy community with a sophisticated palate – long lunches are an art form here.
The 30 vineyards in the rolling hills beyond the main township, Oneroa, take advantage of the relatively warm maritime climate. They produce Northern Rhône-style syrahs, Bordeaux-inspired red blends, delicate chardonnays and pinot gris. Land is pricey on the island, which measures just 92 square kilometres, and the vineyards are small. Even Man O’ War, which contributes about 30 per cent of Waiheke’s wine, has only 60 hectares under vine.
You won’t find any $20 bargains here. Waiheke produces just one per cent of New Zealand’s wine and much of it is sold exclusively through cellar doors, the low yield keeping prices buoyant. With up to 1200 people arriving on the island every hour on summer mornings, wines often sell out the year they’re released. So if you taste something special while you’re on the ground, grab it – many wineries organise shipping to Australia for about $5 a bottle. Do we even need to twist your arm?
Stephen White’s Larose references Bordeaux and scores top marks from wine critics around the world. Join the VIP Club to secure an allocation.
Drink now Airfield
The Dunleavy family has been pivotal to the island’s winegrowing for almost 30 years, with three generations now stomping their topnotch grapes.
Drink now The Strip Cabernet Merlot
Cellar Te Motu
Obsidian has 10 hectares of prime Onetangi Valley vines. A name clash with a McLaren Vale wine means distribution in Australia has been stymied but you can buy direct from the cellar door.
Drink now Vitreous
Cellar The Obsidian
The Goldwater family founded Waiheke Island’s winemaking industry. Since 2011, their vineyard, now called Goldie Estate, has been under the care of The University of Auckland, which runs its Wine Science Centre from the winery.
Drink now Rosé
Cellar Reserve Cabernet Merlot Franc
In the south-east of the island, David and Veronika Evans-Gander produce highly rated wines, including some of the best syrah in the country.
Drink now Sauvignon Blanc
Cellar Reserve Syrah
Eat, drink, shop
For breakfast and coffee
￼Views of the steel-blue sea brighten every inch of this busy beach shack, where the Allpress coffee is so strong that you can almost chew it. Turkish flavours are woven through the all-day brekkie menu, which includes the light yet satisfying Istanbul Breakfast of poached eggs, fetta, olives and toasted pide.
29 Waikare Road, Oneroa
￼Aucklanders venture to Waiheke especially for the Sunday Long Lunch at Poderi Crisci winery. Set aside four hours for the tasting menu inspired by the family gatherings of owner Antonio Crisci’s Neapolitan childhood. Locally made organic cheese, stracciatella, shines with basil, juicy tomatoes and the estate’s olive oil – a simple antipasto that’s perfect with the winery’s citrusy arneis.
￼205 Awaawaroa Road, Awaawaroa Bay
The Archive Bar and Bistro
The belle of Waiheke, Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant is most beautiful at sunset, when guests gather in the gardens to watch the sun dip below distant Auckland. With its tent-style roof and flickering fire, The Archive is the less formal of the two dining options here. Order the slow-cooked lamb with sunflower-seed tahini and pomegranate – a menu mainstay.
126 Church Bay Road, Oneroa
For taking home
There are six commercial olive oil producers on Waiheke. Everyone has their favourite but you can’t go wrong with a bottle from Rangihoua Estate, which has been named one of the world’s top 20 producers. Head there for the full “cellar-door” experience, including tours.
1 Gordons Road, Rocky Bay
Overlooking Little Oneroa Beach, The Boatshed combines the warmth of a B&B with the privacy of a hotel. Homely touches in the nine Hamptons-esque suites and standalone cottage include a decanter of port left by the window and a carefully packed beach bag by the door. Then there’s the cosy log fire and hardback books that draw guests to the lounge, where the aroma of baking bread – studded with oregano and eschalots from the garden – announces dinner.
Corner of Tawa and Huia streets, Little Oneroa
The Oyster Inn
Feasting on local Te Matuku oysters on the sunny deck of The Oyster Inn is an essential Waiheke experience. Stay in one of the three guestrooms and, come breakfast, you can do it all again with a Taiwanese-style oyster omelette. A designer day bed, a spacious bathroom with Aesop products and windows that take advantage of the salty sea breeze make the simple, beachy rooms feel special.
124 Ocean View Road, Oneroa
If you don’t want to drive
New Zealand Premium Tours
You can get around the island by taxi or bus but your best bet is a private wine-tasting tour with Lily Garbaccio Valina. A local who lives and breathes Waiheke wines, she will adjust the itinerary as she gets a feel for the varietals you prefer. Her Audi Q7 is equipped with everything from a picnic hamper to handy red-wine stain remover. ￼